healthcare, politicians, politics

If this story is true, we’re getting even closer to Nazi territory.

This morning, I read a very disturbing article about Irwin County Detention Center, a privately run ICE facility in the U.S. state of Georgia. The center, run by LaSalle Corrections and located in Ocilla, is about 200 miles of Atlanta. It’s in the news because of whistleblower Dawn Wooten, a licensed practical nurse who worked in the detention facility and observed some horrifying conditions.

Wooten alleges that staff members at the ICE facility are not taking proper precautions against preventing the spread of COVID-19. She claims that cases are being underreported; detainees are not getting proper medical care, nor are they being tested; and, most shocking to me, women are having unwarranted hysterectomies without proper consent. Wooten claims that some women have seen a gynecologist for somewhat minor conditions like heavy menstrual periods, and the physician has been “treating” them by removing their uteri or ovaries.

In a letter she sent to the Inspector General Office at the Department of Homeland Security, Wooten claims that she was asked to triage a man with COVID-19, even though she did not even have a face mask for protection. She also says that warden David Paulk told a staff member not to let anyone know that the man with COVID-19 had tested positive because he “didn’t want people to panic” (where have we heard THAT before)? Wooten reports that nurses were claiming to have seen patients who complained of COVID-19 symptoms when they hadn’t, and that she had actually seen nurses shredding a box of detainee complaints without even looking at them. Two $14,000 rapid testing COVID-19 machines were purchased by ICE for the facility, but Wooten says she only saw them used once. No one was trained to use them.

When Wooten complained to the powers that be at the facility, she lost her full-time position and was demoted to an “on call” job, for which she was only offered a few hours of work per week. Wooten, who suffers from sickle cell anemia and is at an elevated risk for COVID-19 was deliberately exposed to patients who had the virus. Management at Irwin neglected to tell her that detainees she had contact with were symptomatic and, in three cases, had tested positive for COVID-19.

Wooten’s claims were corroborated by other medical staff at Irwin who did not want to be identified because they fear reprisals. It was also verified by people who are currently or had recently been detained at the center. As of Sunday, 42 people at the facility had tested positive for COVID-19, but no precautions were being taken to try to stop the spread of the disease.

Because the first article I saw about this was from Yahoo!, I started checking to see if more reputable sources were sharing this story. Sure enough, I found articles in the Washington Post and the Guardian, as well as the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The emphasis in the other papers seemed to be less focused on the mass hysterectomies.

It’s horrible enough that people are locked up in a prison with no way to protect themselves against a deadly virus that spreads through the air. But what got me to read about what’s happening at the center was a news article from Yahoo! that a friend shared. The headline for that piece was about the forced hysterectomies, rather than COVID-19. That, to me, just screams human rights violation– akin to the horrors of the Holocaust and awful eugenics policies that were carried out in another, somewhat recent, era in the United States. Have we learned NOTHING from our past?

The “doctor” who allegedly did these hysterectomies, along with removing the wrong ovary from one of his patients, rendering her sterile, has not yet been named. I would be interested in hearing his explanation as to why he’s doing these operations, especially since the women are apparently not being informed of the purpose of doing them or the risks. While it would be easy for me to conclude that he’s doing these procedures to prevent the women from having “anchor babies” (and he probably is), I would love to hear that there’s a reasonable explanation. The doctor who is performing the hysterectomies is being referred to as a “uterus collector”. To me, this practice conjures up an image not unlike veterinarians who desex animals and release them to the streets so they are rendered unable to breed. Maybe that makes sense when the subject is feral cats. It does not make sense when human beings are involved. Again… it reminds me of the dreadful eugenics programs that ran in my home state of Virginia as recently as the 1970s.

I doubt I will ever hear a reasonable explanation for the gynecologist’s practice of doing the mass hysterectomies. I’ll bet he’d say he’s somehow doing those women a “favor”– or, at least he’s doing the United States a favor by not allowing them to have babies that would be U.S. citizens. It seems to me that ever since Donald Trump took office, people who hate others based on their skin color or country of origin are incredibly emboldened to carry out barbaric acts motivated by their ignorance and hatred. These racists don’t see immigrants or migrants as fellow human beings. Instead, it’s more like they see them as akin to vermin who need to be exterminated, or at least no longer able to “breed”, a positively disgusting and horrifying mindset.

My heart goes out to the women who have permanently been rendered sterile because they had the grave misfortune of landing in the detention center in Georgia. Even if they are locked up for justifiable cause– not just because they were born in the wrong place and rounded up by ICE– there is no excuse for the cruelty that has been alleged by Dawn Wooten. I am also very sorry for everyone else who is incarcerated in that facility, completely helpless to protect themselves against what could be for many of them, a deadly virus and a potential death sentence. They must be terrified.

I think a lot of us are terrified right now. Yesterday, Forbes.com ran a story about Donald Trump saying that he will “negotiate a third term, because he’s entitled to it.” Clearly, Trump has not read the Constitution, but many of his supporters harp about that sacred paper whenever they justify voting for him. Their fervor seems to be mostly about their right to bear arms, which is, indeed, the Second Amendment. The rest of the Constitution apparently matters much less to them, as well as the humane and freedom loving image that Americans have always tried to disseminate, at least for as long as I’ve been living.

Four years ago, I might have laughed off Trump’s comments about a potential third term, which I hope will be rendered moot when he’s soundly defeated in November. But now that I’ve seen how much he admires dictators like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un, I find it terrifying that Trump is in office NOW, and that people are still championing him. Many of the people championing him are folks that I love and respect, but I feel very certain that they are going to be on the wrong side of history. They don’t seem to understand that Trump is not just a political joke. He’s done some real damage that will take many years to undo… and that’s if COVID-19 or the many natural disasters we’re facing don’t wipe out civilization. I worry that when the inevitable end of his tenancy in the White House comes, there will be actual bloodshed.

Anyway… I remember the days when I truly believed that the United States was the “best” country in the world. I don’t believe that anymore. In fact, I find myself feeling more and more empathy for refugees who feel forced to flee their homelands. I know my situation is not nearly as dire as theirs is, at least right now, but I do feel like I have an inkling. I really don’t think that fearing another four years of Trump is an overreaction. To me, it looks like he’s destroying the country and maybe even parts of the world. I can only hope that one of those Big Macs he’s always shoveling in his big maw causes him to have a massive stroke… preferably on live TV. But aside from that, I fear that there are worse people than Trump waiting in the wings, ready to pick up where he will inevitably leave off… whether by defeat, death, being being forcibly dragged out of the White House by a coup.

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mental health, rants

Here’s a cookie.

I could so easily write about Donald Trump’s latest nonsense, but I figure enough people are already doing that. Besides, as the campaign season heats up, I’m sure I’ll feel like ranting about his stupidity. So, for now, I’m going to write about gaiters.

Before the stupid COVID-19 pandemic, I had never heard of gaiters. I didn’t know what they were. Yes, I had seen people wearing them, but I wasn’t aware of the term for them and I never wore one myself. One of my friends mentioned that she liked to wear them instead of face masks because they make her feel less claustrophobic than face masks do.

I thought of my friend last week, as the news media reported about a simple study done by researchers at Duke University’s medical school. They were trying to find face coverings for the at-risk and underserved populations in Durham, North Carolina. Having been a student of public health and social work in neighboring South Carolina, I know that there are a lot of poor people in that region and one great mission of the universities down there is to provide assistance to people in poor and rural communities.

So anyway, one of the study’s co-authors, Warren S. Warren, a professor of physics, chemistry, radiology and biomedical engineering at Duke, was quoted as saying “There’s a lot of controversy and people say, ‘Well, masks don’t do anything.’ Well, the answer is some don’t, but most do.”

It was in the news, too.

Then, the news reported that the researchers had found that wearing gaiters might be worse than not wearing a mask at all. Naturally, this finding immediately caused controversy. Gaiter manufacturers, no doubt enjoying the increased sales of their products, rushed to clarify that not all gaiters are created equally. For about a week, people wondered if they should be changing their face coverings… and I’m sure some busybodies wondered if they needed to be confronting strangers about what they were covering their noses and mouths with.

And then yesterday, there was a news article in The New York Times called “Save the Gaiters!”. Sure enough, this was a piece about how people should not be so quick to toss their gaiters. Apparently even more studies are being done that show that gaiters are alright after all. The upshot was that any covering is better than none.

Naturally, I was annoyed by this news… but I was even more annoyed by some of the comments. Some of the comments were very good and insightful. For instance, one mom wrote that gaiters were the only covering her autistic son could tolerate. Another wrote that he preferred wearing gaiters because he wears hearing aids and they cost $6000. When he’s worn the usual face masks, the over the ear loops have knocked out his expensive hearing aids. Someone else wrote that they like the gaiters for exercising, since they are easy to pull up and down. I thought these were all good points, worthy of considering.

But then, not surprisingly, along came the virtue signalers… people who seem to think that face coverings are awesome and should be something we all wear forevermore. One person wrote about how the mask they wear is five layers thick and passes the “Bill Nye candle test” (if you can blow out a candle while wearing a mask, it’s no good). I felt like handing the person a cookie. The same commenter wrote that he or she was about to correct someone in a store who was wearing a gaiter because the news had reported the gaiters were no good. S/he wrote that in the end, s/he didn’t say anything to the gaiter wearer and was glad for that. You know what? Me too. Who appointed that person “mask police”, anyway? I can pretty much imagine how I would have reacted if some busybody stranger gave me unsolicited advice over my face covering. My eyes would have said it all.

Other people pointed out that the constantly changing guidelines about COVID-19 are very frustrating to people, causing a lot of them to just “throw up their hands”. I agree with that comment. The guidelines have been changing constantly ever since this became an issue months ago. The fact is, most people have no idea what to do. Not even the scientists do. That’s why the advice is constantly changing. Oh, but try and tell that to some people… (which I don’t because that’s a big waste of time).

More people were acting like experts– good students of Google, who think they are up on all the COVID-19 research. But opinions seem to differ on whose opinion one should take seriously. According to Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times reporter who wrote the piece on saving the gaiters, it’s Dr. Linsey Marr of Virginia Tech, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and one of the world’s leading experts on aerosols. But I’m sure other people have their favorite experts on this topic… and some people fancy themselves as more knowledgeable about this subject than they actually are.

I know that I’ve already covered this topic extensively. I still hate wearing masks and I hope that something better comes along that makes them obsolete. They do cause problems for a significant number of people, and they are inconvenient, uncomfortable, and a reminder of how much things suck right now. I wore a mask this morning when I went to turn in a new passport application. As I left the building where we turned in the paperwork, I noticed how the mask obscured my vision. I had to pull it down from my eyes so I wouldn’t trip on the stairs and face plant in the parking lot. I do that enough when I’m not wearing a fucking mask.

I do cooperate with the rules, but I’m not particularly happy about it. And I don’t think I have to be happy– which is yet another attitude about masks that I find irritating. Some people are going around preaching about the wonders of face masks and how we should all cheerfully do our parts. But the reality is, face masks suck for a lot of people. Some people can’t stand to wear them. Some people can’t communicate as easily because of them. Wearing them is definitely not the ideal, and not something that we should just accept from now on. If we simply accept the masks as the status quo, what incentive do we have to find a way to beat COVID-19?

People have every right to be upset about what’s going on right now. We’re all in this together, that’s true, and maybe griping or being grumpy about face masks isn’t productive. But neither is “toxic positivity”. Sometimes, things just plain suck, and it’s okay to acknowledge that. It’s okay to hate face masks, and to be irritated by cheerleaders who insist that face masks will save humanity (they won’t). It’s alright to be pissed off that people are dying alone in hospitals, even if they don’t have the virus. It’s alright to be angry that people have lost their jobs, and some are losing their homes, and young people are being denied rites of passage like attending college, going to football games and dances, hanging out in cafes, and being with their friends. Acknowledging how much this blows isn’t a bad thing. Hell, maybe it might spur some smart people into action so that this era will be in the past sooner, rather than later.

There’s even a good article about “toxic positivity” in the Washington Post today. It’s basically about how people should have the right not to be okay if they’re not okay. It’s okay not to give in to cognitive dissonance. It’s also okay to realize that we don’t always have to be cheerful and upbeat. I will grant that staying in a cranky place isn’t helpful, but neither is ignoring the pain within ourselves or in other people.

I’m getting pretty tired of the relentlessly cheerful folks. I’m tired of people who have no tolerance for naysayers and feel like they need to school them. Sometimes the naysayers have valid points and ought to be heard. I think the guy who prefers gaiters due to his hearing aids is a perfect example of someone who should be heard. People who don’t wear hearing aids probably don’t consider why the ear loops might present a problem for those people. People who are neurotypical probably don’t consider why a parent with an autistic child outfits their child with a gaiter instead of a face mask. But they sure have no problem judging others.

I have a friend who wrote a “delightful” post about how she had met a friend for lunch. She wrote about how she didn’t bother with lipstick because of the mask. Then she posted a picture of herself and the other person, grinning behind their masks as they sat in front of food and coffee. Naturally, this picture was simply for show, since as soon as the camera was put away, they took off those masks so they could eat and drink. So what the fuck was the point of that post? Here’s a cookie. You did your part. Good girl. *Sigh*

The fact is, people are going to get sick whether or not they wear a face mask, a gaiter, or nothing at all. Sometimes, shit just happens. When shit happens, it sucks. I did read that South Africa has reported a much diminished flu season this year due to the widespread use of face masks, and that’s a great thing. But COVID-19 is a lot more contagious than the flu is. It’s going to be a problem for a long time. It’s okay to acknowledge that and realize it sucks. Positivity has its place, and I’m not saying it’s good to dwell in the bad. But trying to force people to be positive is a toxic habit. And if people are doing anything at all to show solidarity– even if the media says they’re “wrong”– people should appreciate it and leave them alone.

I’m glad to be in Europe, where people seem to be a lot more pragmatic about this stuff. People cooperate for the common good, but they don’t crow about it incessantly. They don’t nag people to be happy when they don’t feel happy. And I’ve found that in Europe, people seem to understand that some things just suck. We have to get through them somehow, but no one is handing out cookies for having a great attitude.

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language, modern problems, psychology, rants

A profoundly unhelpful comment…

Last night, I happened to notice that Carole King (or someone on her social media team) posted a picture of herself donning a turquoise colored face mask. She had typed “Just wear the mask” “#MaskUp” on her post. Many people were praising her for encouraging people to wear masks. I decided to hide her post because I’m tired of the constant social media face mask reminders and nagging from people. I mostly stay at home, but I do cooperate with the mask rules when I’m around other people. I neither want nor need the reminder to “#MaskUp”. If I want to be nagged, I’ll call my mother (although my mom, as a general rule, isn’t the type to nag).

However, just because I can’t help myself, I decided to read a few comments before I hid the post.

As to be expected, some people were posting that they can’t or won’t wear masks. I noticed that lots of people were arguing with them. I’ve written before that I don’t think arguing with these people does a lot of good, even though I expect to see them do it. I suppose it’s human nature. But one guy took it a step further. For each person who was not championing the idea that face masks will save us from doom, he posted “RIP”. On a couple of people’s posts, he added something along the lines of “and we’ll dance on your grave when you’re dead!”

After reading that same hateful comment from the same guy several times, I finally left one of my own. I posted, “What a profoundly unhelpful comment.”

I think wishing sickness and destruction on people is childish, stupid, and short-sighted. You think someone deserves death for not wearing a mask? Well, I think you’re an asshole for spreading hate and wishing the virus on another person. The virus is spreading just fine without your help. You don’t need to wish for it to affect more people than it already does. Every person who gets infected can potentially infect many other people… people who are completely innocent. It’s not productive to hope that someone who doesn’t cooperate gets sick and dies. I think it’s much more productive to hope that we can come up with a treatment, cure, or protocol that makes the masks unnecessary.

I do not, for the life of me, understand people who try to get cooperation by wishing bad things on other people. How is it helpful to wish illness and death on someone just because they don’t want to wear a face mask? Even if someone doesn’t wear a mask simply because they’re a selfish jerk, I wouldn’t want to wish illness and death on them. Their illness and death would certainly affect blameless people. Everyone from the healthcare professionals who must take care of them, to the people to have to handle their remains, to their friends, loved ones, and co-workers would be affected, along with any other person who happens to be nearby when they are infected with the virus. Those people would all suffer, to some extent, because someone got the virus, got sick, and died. But people who wish death on the uncooperative never seem to think about that part of the equation.

I get that people are frustrated and angry, but why in the hell would you want the virus to spread? Even if it’s to someone you think “deserves it” for not doing as they’re told?

Of course, this example is specifically about the coronavirus, but it can be applied to most other situations, too. Being mean to people isn’t likely to make them want to cooperate with you. Wishing death on someone and being hateful to them is more likely to make them hate you right back, rather than inspire an attitude of solidarity. If your goal is to change someone’s behavior, you have to make changing the behavior appealing. Posting #RIP to them is just unkind, and it does nothing to make things better.

Someone I knew in high school posted a comment to my thoughts on this issue. This person is now a lawyer. I met her when we took speech (public speaking) class together. She always impressed me as a very bright, empathetic, and kind person. I remember my ex bestie didn’t like her, though, because she was only at our school for a year and yet was ranked third in our class. Ex bestie was ranked fourth, hence the burning resentment (and likely jealousy).

My high school acquaintance wrote that the “gotcha” attitude has gotten way out of hand and has affected freedom of thought and freedom of expression. I thought that was an interesting comment, especially since I know she’s a lawyer and she’s always been very intelligent. Even if you think someone is wrong, it’s probably worth hearing what they have to say. At the very least, you should hear the arguments against something, so you can come up with a rebuttal. But if you just dismiss someone and wish they’d drop dead, you haven’t really learned anything and it’s likely that you’ve strengthened their resolve. It’s just a really antisocial attitude to take. It doesn’t help anything. In fact, it makes things worse.

Recently, I was hanging out on RfM and encountered several regular posters who often behave like bullies. A couple of the posters are females. Both are clearly bright people, and one is supposedly a brilliant attorney, but they both have a habit of shouting down anyone who doesn’t agree with them. One of the posters actually seeks out certain people she doesn’t like and leaves hostile, bullying comments. Granted, sometimes the people she targets deserve some derision, but it’s almost like it’s a sport for her. She gets to the point at which she doesn’t consider anything the other person writes. It’s all negative all the time– and she insults, belittles, and bullies them. I’m not yet one of her targets, yet even I find her constant badgering tiresome and unproductive. I know she’s intelligent and she might even be a nice person, but she comes across as overbearing and obnoxious.

I don’t think that insulting people and wishing bad things for them is a very good strategy, especially if they’re perfect strangers. I’m not impressed with people who claim to be very smart, but don’t consider other perspectives. It seems to me that someone who argues for a living would want to hear what others have to say, consider their points, and then come up with a counter argument. Moreover, if you value freedom– especially of speech and expression– then you should value and respect it for everyone, even those with whom you disagree.

In any case, I strongly disagree with posting RIP to people who are against wearing face masks, although I guess the person has the “right” to post that. I don’t think it’s helpful to wish death on most people, although I will agree that some people might “need killing”. But I usually confine my feelings about people “needing killing” to those who have deliberately and maliciously done something horribly wrong. Refusing to wear a face mask has not been a dangerous thing for that long. It takes time for people to change their opinions and habits. Yes, it’s been five months already, but that’s not very long in the grand scheme of things. I don’t think the constant nagging and shaming helps, although I can understand why people feel compelled to do it.

Coronavirus is going to kill a lot more people. Most of them won’t “deserve” death. Death, unfortunately, is part of living. It’s something that happens to everyone. Hoping someone gets very sick and dies a horrible death just because they don’t want to wear a face mask is petty, cruel, and makes you no better than the most disrespectful and egregious face mask protester. It serves absolutely zero purpose and makes things worse than they need to be. Just my opinion.

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karma, politicians, politics, Trump

Trump’s decision to move troops out of Germany…

Have you ever heard the expression “Even a broken clock is correct at least twice a day?” Well… that’s kind of how I was feeling yesterday when I heard the news that Donald Trump plans to move about 12,000 troops out of Germany.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I don’t like the idea of him reducing the number of troops here in Deutschland. I think it’s a petty and short-sighted plan, and I kind of hope it goes down in flames, along with his bid for re-election. But I must admit I was a little bit tickled to hear the news yesterday. As I read about the people who would most be affected by this plan, I realized that Stuttgart is going to be the most affected of all of the areas in Germany.

European Command (EUCOM) and Africa Command (AFRICOM) are both outfits that Bill has worked for in the past. They are both located in Stuttgart, and they employ thousands of American people. If those two commands are moved out of Stuttgart, that will mean that there will be significantly fewer American military folks and civilians in Stuttgart. The military folks who are based there with the remaining tenants will probably almost all end up living on the installations, and the number of civilians who are ineligible to live on the installations, but need a place to live, will be in shorter supply.

Stuttgart has four local installations, one of which is entirely used for housing. So moving EUCOM and AFRICOM would mean that most people who are in the military, working in Stuttgart, will not need to rent accommodations on the economy. What few American civilians remain will be in far shorter supply than usual, and that will mean they’ll probably rent places closer to their workplaces, and more will be available to them, because of the decreased demand. It could mean rental prices will be forced down, and many fewer landlords will have the opportunity to blatantly rip off “ignorant Americans” of their deposits when they move out of their rental properties. I understand that practice among some landlords is at an epidemic level down there.

Now… this plan of Trump’s is hardly engraved in stone. Whether or not it happens as he envisions it will depend on if he’s re-elected and if he literally survives after he’s re-elected, as more and more government representatives are testing positive for COVID-19 and telling their staffers about it in person. It’s also going to be very expensive, time consuming, and cumbersome undertaking to initiate this plan. Housing and other infrastructure will have to be constructed in the areas in which he wants to move troops. Italy and Belgium, by the way, pay even less toward their own defense than Germany does, so his complaints about Germany not paying its share of defense expenses, while basically true, are kind of based in bullshit. Is he going to demand that Italy and Belgium pay up, too? I doubt it. I think Trump is simply holding a grudge, and/or doing Putin’s bidding. I also doubt either Italy or Belgium is especially interested in having more Americans living there.

Germans seem less interested in seeing Americans leave. It’s true… we’ve been here a long time and we pump money into the economy and add security against Russia (although Trump is awfully cozy with Putin). The infrastructure is already here and we already have a longstanding relationship with Germans.

Our landlord has approached Bill on multiple occasions, wanting to know what our plans are. In fact, when we went to Poland a few months ago, he thought we were going there to house hunt. Nope… it was just for a conference and I tagged along because it was our wedding anniversary. I wouldn’t be averse to living in Poland, Italy, Belgium, or Spain, but I like Germany very much, and I’m not particularly hoping for a move anytime soon. At the very least, I’d like to stay out of the United States because I don’t wish to catch the coronavirus.

Besides… these things take time, especially when the world is ever changing. I know that RAF Mildenhall in England, which is where my father did his last assignment in the 1970s, has been slated for closure since 2015. It was supposed to shut down in 2020. Then they pushed it to 2023. Guess what. It’s still up and running. At this point, they’re predicting it will close in 2027. I won’t hold my breath.

Fortunately, it appears that not only is Bill doing good work in Wiesbaden, but none of the groups based in Wiesbaden were mentioned as areas where troops would be cut. So our current landlord, at least for now, can rest easy. Stuttgart area landlords who especially prefer renting to Americans, however, might soon have some cause for concern, especially since some of the moves may be happening within the coming weeks. Some of them might want to re-evaluate the way they do business or, perhaps, get out of the business of renting to “cash cow” Americans affiliated with the military for good. I know of at least one person who should really consider that option.

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healthcare, modern problems, music

Cool your head and warm your heart…

Back in 1981, James Taylor released a beautiful song called “That Lonesome Road”. It was on his album from that same year, Dad Loves His Work, which was released around the time he and Carly Simon split up. This morning, I’m reminded of that song. It’s not as if it’s even one of my favorites of his. In fact, the first time I heard the album version of it in its acapella glory, I kind of cringed a bit. I was young and rough at the time. But then some years later, James Taylor’s Live album came out and I developed a new appreciation for it. I played it for my mom, who declared that she loved it.

Beautiful harmonies on this…

As I was opening my blog to write today, I was reminded of this part of the song…

If I had stopped to listen once or twice
If I had closed my mouth and opened my eyes
If I had cooled my head and warmed my heart
I’d not be on this road tonight

Over breakfast this morning, Bill and I were talking about the crazy state of the world right now. It seems like a lot of problems are hitting us all at once. Personally, I think they’re all hitting us because we’ve gotten to the point at which we have to do something about the state of the world. The old ways of doing things are no longer sustainable and simply don’t work anymore. We’re in a crisis.

Many people are talking, but they aren’t listening or observing. Many people are reacting, often in fear or anger, but they aren’t taking a moment or two to collect themselves so they can respond with kindness and empathy. And as James Taylor and Don Grolnick conveyed in the song they wrote, if we had just been more mindful, maybe we would not be on “this road tonight”.

In many ways, I think our online culture has contributed to this problem. A lot of people seem to have lost the ability to connect to other people with empathy and kindness. We find ourselves rubbing elbows with people in comment sections for memes or news articles. Someone posts something that another person disagrees with, and instead of having a rational and civilized discussion about it, the conversation immediately devolves into a loud virtual cacophony of insults from “all knowers”. Here’s a timely example of what I mean.

Yesterday, I read a very sad story about a woman who is personally affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Elaine Roberts did not speak until she was eight years old, and at age 35, still lives with her elderly parents because she has a form of autism that makes her unable to live alone. However, she is one of the longest tenured employees at the Randalls location where she works. She has a boyfriend, and is well liked by her bosses and co-workers.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Elaine Roberts took precautions. She stopped using public transportation, wore masks and gloves, and was careful to wash her hands. Nevertheless, despite doing “everything right”, she still got sick from coronavirus. Her case of the illness was relatively mild, but unfortunately, she passed it on to her parents. Both of them became severely ill; her mother was so sick that doctors were afraid she was suicidal due to the medications she was taking. Her father is currently on a ventilator and requires dialysis.

Elaine Roberts is unable to work until she’s free of the virus. Her sister, Sidra Roman, blames people who came into the store unmasked for making her sister sick, causing her to pass the virus to their parents. She said,

“Wearing a piece of cloth, it’s a little uncomfortable… It’s a lot less uncomfortable than ventilators, dialysis lines, all of those things that have had to happen to my father. And it’s not necessarily you that’s going to get sick and get hurt.”

“Whoever came to the grocery store and didn’t wear a mask,” she added, “doesn’t know this is going on.”

I decided to read the comments for this article. Naturally, most people were blaming so-called “anti-maskers” for not doing their part. Their comments were mostly angry and insulting. They were calling anti-maskers “morons”, “covidiots”, “selfish”, and all manner of other degrading names. And anyone who did not join in the chorus was quickly “shouted down” in written form.

I noticed one commenter (not me, because I’ve given up on commenting on news forums) kept posting that social distancing is the answer. For her comments, she got mostly laughing or anger reactions, as well as many condescending rebuttals from people who have clearly attended the Google School of Medicine and think that face masks are what will ultimately save us all. It’s my guess that people assumed the woman meant that it’s okay to go out in public without a mask, but simply stay six feet away from people. They weren’t actually hearing what her proposal is. What she was saying is that people in the United States simply need to STAY HOME and give the virus a chance to peter out. If you stay away from other people as much as possible, you’ll have much less of an opportunity to contract the virus from the infected.

Personally, I agree with her. Living here in Europe, where the virus is much more under control, I’ve seen firsthand what happens when communities work together for the benefit of everyone. Spring 2020 in Europe kind of sucked, but it wasn’t all bad. Bill and I stayed home for weeks. We are fortunate enough to be in a position in which we can do that. He did (and still does) all of the grocery shopping alone, and only very occasionally went into his office when he had to do something at work that he couldn’t do from home. Other people were also doing that, and European governments were doing their part to make sure that people didn’t lose everything. There are government run social welfare safety nets in Europe, but I also saw evidence of landlords being kind to business owners– forgiving a month or two of rent so that they didn’t lose their livelihoods (although there were still some casualties).

But you can’t tell people this in America. In America, it’s complete chaos. We have a section of people who are, indeed, very selfish and only care about themselves. They won’t do anything to help anyone else. They’ve got theirs, and SCREW YOU if you don’t.

We have a section of people who are angry and confused, and don’t trust the government or healthcare professionals. Frankly, I can’t necessarily blame them for that. When you have extremely wealthy government officials who are drunk on power and totally corrupt, and you have a healthcare system that is driven by profits, it’s hard to trust them to say or do what is right. The people who don’t want to listen to officials are not necessarily “selfish” people. They just trust themselves before they trust people in authority. Don’t we tell people to question everything? Well, this is a side effect of that. You can’t ask people to think critically and not expect that when they do that, they’ll sometimes come to a conclusion that isn’t the same as what the people in power are preaching.

We have a section of people who have decided that now is the perfect time to protest. Frankly, I can’t necessarily blame them for that, either. It’s long overdue. But for better or worse, the protests are making it tougher for people to work together because people are taking sides and pointing fingers instead of simply fixing what’s wrong. It’s super easy to cast stones at people, but not so easy to take stock of what you, personally, can do to make the situation better. Moreover, the protests are putting people in close proximity to each other. Although I can see why the protests are happening, they are making it more difficult to contain the spread of the virus.

And we also have a section of people who think that because something is easy for them, it must also be easy for everyone else. Many of them refuse to listen to anyone who doesn’t share their perspective. They won’t even have a conversation about it. Instead, they post a meme or a gif that insults the person who doesn’t parrot their point of view. They insist that they’re right, and you’re wrong, and if you don’t agree with them, you’re a spoiled brat, incredibly selfish, or willfully ignorant.

Oh, but people DID have a problem with most of these examples. I remember very clearly how long it took to get people to automatically put on a seatbelt. I myself have hated seatbelts for most of my life. I still don’t like them. That doesn’t mean I don’t comply with the law, but I’d rather not be legally forced to comply. Seatbelts are also a completely different issue than face masks are. Or, at least they are in my opinion.

I’ve found that that the people who say mask wearing is “easy” often don’t want to look at the big picture. They’re usually the ones who compare wearing face masks to wearing seatbelts. In fact, I saw the above meme this morning. It’s about how we have all these safety regulations now that no one questions, yet people are fighting the masks, which they say should be “common sense”. Somehow, they forget that when most of those safety regulations, like mandatory seatbelt and helmet use, were originally implemented, there was a big backlash about them and people did rebel. Some people still refuse to wear a seatbelt, even though it’s been the law in most places in the United States for well over 30 years. Likewise, there will always be people who will refuse to wear a mask, and you won’t ever convince them to wear one.

I have repeatedly stated that I don’t agree with making face masks a legal mandate. I don’t see wearing a mask as the same thing as wearing a seatbelt. Seatbelts have ALWAYS made driving or riding in a car safer. Wearing a mask is a new thing for most people. Eight months ago, no one would bat an eye if you didn’t wear a face mask downtown. Now, certain people in the United States will look sideways at you if you simply go outside without one (thankfully, that’s not how it is in Europe, because people here are more sensible). But the vast majority of us haven’t worn a face mask FOR 99% of our lives so far. It was mostly safe not to wear one when there wasn’t a pandemic and, so far, most pandemics have eventually been controlled or contained. Many people don’t want to be expected to wear the masks forevermore. I’m one of those people. I’m hoping and expecting that we can come up with a better solution than legally forcing people to cover three quarters of their faces from now on. They should be a temporary measure until we have something better. And I expect that we eventually will have something better.

Like it or not, the face masks are problematic for a significant number of people, and once laws are made, they can be hard to strike from the books. Are the masks important right now? Yes, I can agree that they are. But, just like the commenter on the New York Times article who kept posting that social distancing is the real answer, I am not convinced that masks are what will ultimately save us.

Unfortunately, I think what’s going to have to happen in the United States is an enforced stay at home order. People simply must stay home for several weeks until the sick either get well or die, the virus has less opportunity to spread, and the healthcare system has a chance to recover. That, to me, is what social distancing really means, and it’s the only thing that will ultimately work. Face masks are for when you must be in close contact with others. Most of us don’t really have to be in contact with other people. We’re not staying home, because the almighty dollar is more important than stopping the virus. People are bored, fed up, and tired of the virus disrupting their lives, and they want to be able to come and go as they please like they could a year ago. But until we stop giving the virus the chance to spread, the situation is only going to get worse.

Masks only help a bit. They don’t completely solve the problem; they can’t save humanity; and they aren’t the whole answer to stopping the virus. As you can read in the article that inspired this post, you can do everything right, and still get sick. I’m afraid that would be the case even if every single person on the planet wore a mask– particularly when you consider that not everyone is handling the masks properly and not all masks are created equally. Those viruses are still going to circulate regardless.

Try to explain this, though, and you’ll immediately get labeled a “covidiot”, “willfully ignorant”, “selfish”, “out of touch with reality”, or “stupid”. Once you say that you don’t think masks are the answer, people jump all over you. Forget about cooling their heads and warming their hearts. They think they have all of the answers, and if you don’t share their opinions, you’re automatically a selfish asshole who is out of touch with reality.

Well… I don’t know about you, but when someone insults me, I tend to stop listening to them. I am not inclined to cooperate with them. In fact, I simply want to respond to them in kind. I have a functioning brain, just like you do. You don’t have to agree with me, but you should at least take a moment to listen and consider what I say. Even if you reject what I say, you might learn something new or consider something you hadn’t.

The fact is, people have the right to their opinions, and at least in the United States, they have the right to be heard. You might not agree with what they have to say, but you would be wise to hear them and at least try to understand where they’re coming from. That’s the only way to come up with a solution. Besides, when you make assumptions about someone else and tune out what they’re saying, you will almost always miss out on important information.

I think we’d all do well to heed the advice in James Taylor’s old song, even though he was going through some significant personal problems when he wrote it– drug addiction, divorce, and career issues, to name a few.

Walk down that lonesome road all by yourself
Don’t turn your head back over your shoulder
And only stop to rest yourself when the silver moon
Is shining high above the trees

If I had stopped to listen once or twice
If I had closed my mouth and opened my eyes
If I had cooled my head and warmed my heart
I’d not be on this road tonight

Carry on

Never mind feeling sorry for yourself
It doesn’t save you from your troubled mind

Walk down that lonesome road all by yourself
Don’t turn your head back over your shoulder
And only stop to rest yourself when the silver moon
Is shining high above the trees

Listen to other people… close your mouth and open your eyes. Cool your head and warm your heart. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. We’re all in this together. Even if you think someone’s a “covidiot” because they aren’t agreeing with what you think is right, it’s not productive to wish illness on them or their families. It’s not helpful to insult them or cast stones. The truth is, the coronavirus problem is a complex issue, and it’s not going to be fixed easily or quickly. We all need to cooperate, but everyone has the right to be heard. If you deny people the right to have and express an opinion, you will just make the problem worse. You don’t have to agree. Just listen and empathize and hopefully learn.

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