Hidden assumptions

by Erik Dolson

The other evening over dinner, my daughter K.C. asked why all the sailing magazines scatted around my house showed “older white people” in ads for boats.

“Is that because those are the people who have jobs where they can afford those boats? Would it be good to show people with brown skin like me (she is of East Indian heritage) in the ads?”

Since I published a small newspaper for most of my adult life, I explained that advertising costs money, advertisers wanted to aim their ads at those most likely to buy the product. Yes, demographically, older white people are more likely to have the income to buy boats. It’s just business.

It took a few days, but I have a lot of barnacles to grind off. K.C. supplied the grit.

To what extent do visual images in ads not just attract the target audience, but also create a negative landscape for others? Do ads aimed at upper income whites also convey the message, “This is not for you” to lower income, non-whites? How deep does it go? “You can’t achieve this?”

I’m not suggesting government dictate what advertising should look like, nor how companies spend their advertising dollars. But K.C.s question prompted a raft of my own questions about how social assumptions affect business, and how that in turn might affect social assumptions.

I think what K.C. was getting at is that there are many thumbs on the scale of injustice, some of which we don’t even see, at least if we have no reason to look.

End anonymity on social media

by Erik Dolson

Years ago when I published a small town weekly newspaper, on occasion we covered controversial issues. There were differences of opinion, and sometimes bitterness. Letters to the editor were occasionally “difficult.”

We strove to publish every letter, though at times we had to give writers a second chance to moderate their language. On very rare occasions, we fulfilled our responsibility to the community and refused to spread bile. Importantly, when doing so we acted in our role as journalists and mindful of responsibilities conferred by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Of course, not everyone agreed with our interpretation.

But there was one rule that was not bent, let alone broken: Opinions had to be signed. Our philosophy was that if one wanted to speak up, one had to own their speech.

I personally believe that guideline would greatly benefit social media, and in fact, American politics.

I believe each post on Facebook and Twitter and every other platform should be linked to its author, which should be a verified individual. Every political contribution should be linked to its contributor. If the Supreme Court wants to grant “personhood” to corporations (a decision I disagree with, by the way) then that corporate “person” should be identified when entering into the political area with vast sums of money.

The free market, to the extent it exists, depends on transparency. The “marketplace of ideas,” in the words of Jefferson, is no different.

Eliminating anonymity in the American conversation would go a long way toward improving our dialogue.

Rain on water

By Erik Dolson

At 6 a.m. I stretched tarp over hatches to keep out rain that had been falling for hours and found its way within, waking and alerting me the weather had changed with “tap, tap, tap” as drops hit the wood sole of the cabin.

Clouds heavy with rain snag in the low conifers of Brown Island, muffle the world.

Silence on board is so intense I hear clouds rip free from the overcast. Occasionally a soft veil tears loose with a small cry, pretends to be fog and drifts by at eye level, then sinks softly seeking to reunite with the ocean here, in this harbor.

A man across the marina drops a tool, it hits a ladder with metallic cymballic percussion followed by kettle drum boom as it strikes the deck.

Farther away, a single gull keens lonely disappointments. No one answers.

Tomorrow I leave the boat to a soft lapping of waves evenly punctuated by massive rumbles from green and white ferries serving the islands and emitting an occasional low bellow felt more than heard as inattentive are warned: commerce approaches and has a schedule to keep.

This boat rocks as they pass, fenders squealing in compression between boat and dock; latches and blocks knock as they adjust to tackle new angles.

Tomorrow, I reimmerse in a cacophony of demands, traffic, disputes and discussion.

Tomorrow. Today there is cloud, and rain tapping gently on canvas stretched tight overhead.

 

This is NOT a drill

by Erik Dolson

Another day lost to the coronavirus, another week gone by.  We’re in a row boat, Republicans have the only oar. They row on their side only and around, around we go.

“The states will do testing,” Trump says (on Monday, could change any time). Mitch McConnell says “blue” states should be punished for past spending by withholding money needed to pay cops, nurses, firefighters. “Let them go bankrupt,” he says.

It’s one thing if McConnell’s Kentucky opens up for business today or tomorrow. Agreed, that’s up to their governor. But then, do we restrict travelers from Kentucky because they can’t afford to test? How do we know if Kentucky is a hotbed of virus? If some states test and others do not, do we build walls between them?

Once again: The coronavirus is a national problem, affecting national health and the national economy, and requires a coherent national response. Here is a minimum national strategy, suggested by someone who knows, Paul Romer, a 2018 Nobel laureate in economics and former chief economist for the World Bank, as reported in the Washington Post:

“… federal government should test every American once every two weeks to reestablish national confidence and jump-start the economy — an effort he estimated at $100 billion, all told.

That cost, he said, pales in comparison to the amount of lost economic activity the pandemic has caused. Romer, an expert in economic modeling, estimates that the United States is losing at least $500 billion a month in domestic production; other economists have suggested the figure is larger still.

‘Every month of delay makes the recovery slower — and take longer,’ Romer said.”

This is not a drill. As Trump flounders, American’s die and prospects for the future grow dim.

Give Trump a break!

By Erik Dolson

God, it pains me to say it.

The press is being unfair to Trump.

His missteps last Thursday at the coronavirus update were serious. Talking about using light on people to kill the virus in a minute, or wondering if there was some way disinfectant could be used internally to destroy the virus, was not his best moment.

But if I usually try to look at what Trump means, as opposed to what he says, I have to do the same here. In his own way, Trump was asking if these things might be possible, not advocating that people mainline Clorox or stand outside, mouths open, facing the sun.

Of course, it’s Trump, so he got in this trouble hoping to take credit if a cure was discovered that could even remotely be tied to his questions. Great leader stops the volcano!

It was only Trump’s fundamental inability to express himself clearly (reflecting education and mental ability) that made it seem like he might have been making a recommendation. Which makes it no less dangerous, just less stupid.

But Trump’s inability to acknowledge shortcomings or mistakes made the situation much worse the next day, when he claimed his comment was made sarcastically as a way to trap a hostile press. There’s a lot of video out there that shows this was clearly not the case.

Trump was caught in a trap of his own making: he said something kinda dumb, then obviously lied about it. At that point, he couldn’t explain away his earlier statements without being caught by the classic lawyer’s checkmate: Are you lying now, or were you lying then?

No wonder the press briefing the next day was so short.

Since then, the story that Trump was advising people to treat their insides with antiseptic has been elaborated on and joked about (this writer guilty). Which simply reenforces the idea on the right that the Left is incapable of being fair to Trump.

The episode has deeper meaning, however. It is not just that those believing every Word of Trump is Gospel are put in danger by his inability to recognize that the office of President of the United States is an obligation greater than Trump. What the country needs right now is a leader to inspire during a true crisis that affects us all, to unite us, to bring out the best in us, to create a plan of action based on sound professional advice.

But since the coronavirus crisis struck, Trump has shown over and over again he is not that man.

Everything coming out of his mouth has been intended to serve his ego and preserve his power. From dismissing the virus as one person coming in from China, to blaming China and the World Health Organization for not giving him information he already had, to blaming impeachment as a distraction, to saying an obviously bungled program to test and provide protective gear was not his doing, to saying he was in control of virus strategy and then saying instead it was up to governors, and then undercutting governor’s orders, Trump has proven that a presidency founded on serving his interests fails when we need leadership the most.

So the press should lay off on the light / antiseptic miscommunication of last Thursday, and give the man a break. We all make mistakes when speaking, and there was a lot of pressure to seem like he was in command. Instead, we should focus on the real issue: Trump is simply unfit for the office.

What will survive the virus?

By Erik Dolson

The coronavirus is a once-in-a-generation event. As it has ended many lives, going forward it will define many others. It will perhaps define our country, what we have become and who we will be.

The virus is an insidious enemy, spreading among people who do not appear to be sick. It can attack in terrifying ways, causing blood clots and strokes in young and seemingly healthy people, invading the lungs in a way that does not cause shortness of breath until there is too little oxygen for life.

But the damage is not suffered just by individuals with the virus, and their families. Our economy teeters on the edge as we try to limit a death toll that reached 50,000 in this country alone in about one month. We have had to change how we live. The coronavirus and its aftermath are threats to the whole country, a threat to the whole world.

One argument against the U.S. going to war against the Nazis was they were “over there,” on the other side of a great moat that separated America from Europe. That was a false argument then, too, but there are no moats any more, if there ever were, against disease.

Diseases like this are wars between species, and ours is under threat. It’ s the type of threat that requires us to come together as a people, as humanity. It is a threat that should unite us in a battle where our collective will can overcome an alien species that takes individual lives and may destroy whole nations.

Others here know history far better than I, but phrases from past crises come to mind. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” “United we stand, divided we fall.”

America has excelled when faced with this type of challenge. Acknowledging  Winston Churchill’s back handed compliment, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else,” we have done the right thing, and we prevailed. We saved countless lives, we saved nations, we saved democracy, we saved freedom.

But we did it together.

Trump’s strategy of spreading fear and loathing, divide and conquer, winning is all that matters, has been shockingly successful in this Age of Facebook where ideologies are reenforced and common interests buried. The strategy helped Trump take over the Republican party and helped Republicans capture the debate of what it means to be an American.

But over the last several weeks, it’s been obvious that strategy is the wrong way to fight the coronavirus. The virus is not contained in New York. The Midwest is not a separate world. Louisiana is not south of the border. We can’t shrug and let each state take care of their own. We are in this together.

We can’t let urban states go bankrupt, as if they didn’t support rural states with money and expertise as they do. We can’t let rural states suffer as if their culture wasn’t a crucial strength of America, as we have in the past. We can’t turn our backs on anyone. If the virus hides out in a pocket in Kentucky, or in Africa, it WILL escape and come for the rest of us.

I am not advocating action as a liberal. There are many liberal agendas I do not support, and there are left wing interests I feel are destructive. But now is not the time to take sides. Despite two generations of depletion by liberals and deconstruction by conservatives, America united still has the ability to lead the world in this fight against an enemy that could kill any of us, and destroy all of us.

But only if we stand shoulder to shoulder.

If we can own our individual responsibility to America, and to humanity, we will defeat the coronavirus and future generations will look upon America with appreciation, and perhaps incorporate the principles on which she was built of value to each of us.

If our efforts are driven by selfishness, pettiness, and discord, if divided we will fail. The great American experiment will have been nothing more than a great American Dream unfulfilled, American exceptionalism will have been an exception we never meant it to be.

(Virus photo DAVID MARCHAL/SCIENCE SOURCE)

Just shut up

By Erik Dolson

Shut up! Just shut up, you Cheeto-colored, fat-headed blowhard! Shut up and quit using coronavirus updates to put your ineptitude on display, as if you were proud of it like a five-year-old holding up a drawing done in kindergarten. You are embarrassing America.

Your ignorance, your cluelessness, your egotistical grandstanding, your obvious floundering, are making the Pretend President Show painful to watch. And dangerous. More popular than “The Bachelor,” you say? Bigger audience than “Monday Night Football?” Are you kidding me? What kind of inane, insane monster are you? Turn it off.

Shut up, because we all know English is a foreign language to you, and that you’ve never been that bright, and that adults who still monitor your White House play pen should talk directly to America about the virus. I don’t mean Pence, either, that mealy-mouthed lick-spittle.

Shut up about your “perfect” early response to the virus, about how you prevented diease carriers from coming in from China, because  the virus was already here! People in the White House knew it! Shut up about the World Health Organization too, because for all their faults, they did a better job than YOU.

Shut up about “liberating Michigan,” after you turned virus response over to governors who are making agonizing decisions every damn day. Shut up about disapproving the opening of Georgia for business after you suggested they do exactly that! God, you are such an asshole.

Shut up about your greatness in testing, you pouting, soft-lip scum sucking incompetent, because it’s not true. Testing? We would be testing ourselves but there isn’t an oxymeter to be found in Oregon, nor a bottle of disinfectant, by the way. Why not? Why aren’t there gallons of alcohol disinfectant for sale in every damn drug store in the nation? Because that is clearly something you could do, if you’d stop putting it in our gasoline.

Shut up about your miracle cures, because they aren’t real and YOU ARE KILLING PEOPLE with your ignorance. You have the power of the U.S. government at your fingertips, and you promote bullshit from Rudy Gulianni? Just shut up.

Shut up about how great it’s going to be, real soon, because we are still mourning loved ones we have lost, more deaths to the virus than anywhere in the world, including CHINA!

You don’t think it’s that bad? How many friends have you lost to the virus, how many relatives? None?

Maybe that’s because you are just better than the rest of us, cleaner, more virtuous, you pig-faced grifter, you fake businessman, you shill, you flatulence-exhaling con man. Or, maybe you haven’t lost anyone, and maybe you don’t worry about disinfectant or tests or deaths, beause you live in a bubble of gold plated bathroom fixtures cleaned by servants after every crap you take.

Maybe you don’t care because you don’t have to, and you never did, you silver-spoon-fed pile of twisted  lies, damaged ego and disgusting selfishness.

So just shut up.

The 1950s are gone

By Erik Dolson

There was a time, 70 years ago, that liberals are now looking to with nostalgia, as are Republicans who want a return to that golden age. The problem is, that era was an exception, not a norm. The conditions that created the 50s no longer exist.

The U.S. had just won WWII, and thanks to the Marshall plan, was rebuilding the rest of the world. Europe and Asia had no industries left, their cities were shattered, and we had it all, including a pent up demand for homes and jobs.

In this situation, U.S. capital and labor were in high demand, with income from around the world that needed to buy what we could produce. The current “American Dream” was built on that foundation, especially that children would have a better life than their parents.

If there is something that should be called “American Exceptionalism,” it is that America was in an exceptional position after winning WWII and defeating fascism.

But remember what preceded that: the Great Depression. This was a time when the forces of industrialization and capitalism, mostly unchecked, led to violent swings in the well-being of the average person. It was also a violent time in Europe, after WWI.

We seem to have forgotten those wars and how they affected the world. In the last 70 years, we have seen nothing like that fear and turmoil.

There are ways to improve our “economies,” but we have to face a few facts.

We have to recognize that there will be winners and losers, through no fault of their own. That is both the strength and horror of capitalism. How do we remain a civilized society, a community, “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all?” (version until 1954).

We have to recognize that democracy and freedom are often enemies of each other, and that liberty, often tied to property rights, is fundamental in America.

We have to recognize that there is no such thing as a “free market,” that government setting rules to achieve a better society is often the only constraint that capitalism will obey.

No system is perfect. There are European countries that have achieved a fair balance. I am pessimistic that we can follow their lead, because our “system” has been captured by vested interests (banks, pharma, energy, tech, educators) that are not going to just give up what they have won, and we have a populace half of whom think science is an opinion and who are easily manipulated into advocating against their own interest.

Lest someone think I am blindly liberal, I believe in capitalism, business (especially small business) and capitalism as practiced elsewhere. And I know that only large business will be able to compete against the Chinese.

While I probably have liberal “values” such as universal health care (lose your job AND your health insurance?) and universal K-12 education (let’s make it more effective), the arrogance of the Left and the thrust that actions should not have consequences have had almost as corrosive an effect on American dialogue as unrestricted political contributions and the resulting concentration of power.

Failure of “free market” health care

By Erik Dolson

In the last two weeks of March, nearly 10 million people lost their jobs. Of those, more than 3 million also lost their health insurance.

With the coronavirus looming over every household, think how this might feel — your father is sick? Your child? Everything you worked for is on the line when you sign those hospital forms. Feeling sick yourself? Maybe just see if it clears up, right?

That loss of health insurance affects not just you and your family, but everyone you come in contact with.

The brilliance of capitalism is the efficiency with which it allocates resources. In theory, capitalism balances costs versus quality by giving buyers a choice in a transparent market place. This is the essential mechanism.

But health care has disconnects that violate the basic rules of capitalism: consumers (patients) don’t pay the bills and don’t really make the choices. Insurance companies and government pay the bills, and consumers rarely “shop around” for the best or least expensive care.

This malfunction of the market place is seen by comparing costs of health care in the U.S. versus other countries: U.S. health care is twice as expensive, for mostly mediocre results, than any other developed country in the world. Ultimately, the burden of this falls on citizens through high insurance rates and taxes. We just don’t get to choose.

It’s legitimate to ask, where does the money go?

Drugs cost ten to twenty times more in the U.S. than elsewhere in the world because drug companies have purchased the U.S. Congress.

Private equity firms have swooped in and purchased doctor’s offices and hospitals across the country. Like insurance companies, their goal is to maximize profit, which they do by increasing fees and cutting costs. If you notice absurdly high charges and confusing write offs on a hospital bill, or long wait times and hurried doctor’s visits, this is part of the reason why.

But wait. If the payers and the providers are both interested in reducing cost, why don’t we have the least expensive health care in the developed world? Because insurers and corporations take a large share, and fighting over that share costs about 30% of every dollar spent on “health care.”

Why don’t we have the best health care in the world? Because when we talk about payer and provider, what’s missing from the “free market” equation? The receiver of the service, the patient, you. The one who is most concerned about the outcome. For a market place to work, the receiver of the product or service has to make a choice between price versus quality, and that doesn’t happen in health care.

And, as we see with the coronavirus crisis, health is not an individual concern. You choosing which car to buy doesn’t really affect me. You coughing in line behind me at the grocery store does.

Narcissist strategy

By Erik Dolson

Donald Trump  does not care how many die of the virus. He does not care about the economy, either, except how it affects his own wealth. He only wants to be reelected, and rich, and prove he is the greatest man in the world.

On Monday, realizing the economy is getting ugly, he panics. He wants to reopen the country for business, now!  He says he has total control over the nation.

Somebody points out this isn’t true, and actually makes him responsible if things don’t work out. Deaths don’t matter, reelection does.

So on Thursday, he bellows that he’s giving governors the right to open — or not —their individual states. That he had no such power doesn’t matter — he gave himself cover if opening businesses too early results in more deaths. Not his fault! Deaths don’t matter, reelection does.

On Friday, he tweets support for those protesting restrictions, undercutting the governors he “allowed” to act just the day before. So if the economy falls off a cliff, he tried to prevent it! Not his fault! Deaths don’t matter, reelection does.

It’s a perfect strategy for the narcissist. If deaths go up, it’s not his fault! If the economy tanks, he tried to prevent it! And, who else is better qualified to lead the country out of a pandemic depression? Why, it’s Donnie Wonderful to the rescue! Four more years!