Monthly Archives: February 2021

CPAC’s stage design (and ensuing silence) adds to Nazi comparisons

It was probably college the first time I was called a Nazi for my membership in the Republican Party. It might’ve been for the crime against humanity of not nodding like a decent human being when my college newspaper decided to endorse Walter Mondale for President.

At the time, it was a refreshing change from being called racist and being told I got sexual gratification from the prospect of inevitable American-initiated nuclear war. I also considered it lazy, self-indulgent, and irresponsible.

Me, at the thought of nuclear war in the 1980s, if I were Meg Ryan and faking it. (Yes, it was a long way to go for a joke.)

This week, the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) is meeting at the Hyatt Regency in Orlando. Its stage design is creating waves for its similarity to the ODAL Rune, used by a the SS-Volunteer Mountain Division of the Waffen SS. It’s an odd shape for a stage. More telling, after the design was called out, CPAC made no attempt to modify it, and didn’t release a statement in response.

There’s no denying that the shapes are the same. And it wouldn’t be the first time something wound up looking like a Nazi symbol. In 2007, media attention focused on a barracks at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, south of San Diego. From the air, the barracks looked like a swastika. It was build in the late 1960s, when Google Earth wasn’t a thing. Odds are pretty good that the Navy, which still had a lot of people in its service who fought the Axis, didn’t purposely build a monument to the enemy.

Odds are pretty good that the people who designed the stage at CPAC weren’t looking to send a secret message to neo-Nazis the world over, especially considering they’re busy criticizing the Biden administration for not supporting Israel enough.

Then again, this is the same conference that created an actual golden idol of Donald Trump, which “[stole] the show.” The statue is actually a mold that was used to make a stainless steel status its artist, a guy named Tommy Zegan hopes will adorn the Trump Presidential library when it’s built.

The first time I saw the statue, my first thought was “Holy hell, it’s an actual golden idol.” The people who thought this was a good idea had to know that comparison would come. They didn’t care. (Either that, or they were so blinded by allegiance that it never occurred to them.)

Which brings us back to the CPAC stage. This isn’t the first time Trump imagery’s been called out for similarity to Nazi symbols. In addition to a t-shirt design, a Trump and RNC ad was removed from Facebook because of its similarity with a Nazi symbol used to mark political prisoners and people who rescued Jews. BBC video showed an alt-right conference from 2016 showed a Nazi-like salute to Trump, along with exclamation Heil Trump.

Donald Trump has also been known to say something blatantly over the line, only to recoil in mock horror after being called on it. In the brawl that seemed to launch his campaign, candidate Trump was asked some difficult (but reasonable) questions by Megyn Kelly, then a conservative darling. After he said she had “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” he acted every bit the victim after people thought he implied she was menstruating at the time.

On the other hand, this is the same political force that held a key post-election news conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, featured Rudy Giuliani’s bleeding hair, and unleashed Melissa Carone on the world.

Given the way Trump has cozied up to people who would give Heil Trump salutes, it’s at least feasible that the rune symbol was intended. Given some of the other missteps, it’s believable this group couldn’t passively present a Nazi symbol even if it wanted to.

Either way, for a man who makes a play at demanding excellence, it’s another embarrassing misstep. Or worse.


Fibro Saturday: A moment of awe

When I was sick in 2015, it took about three months for me to get a diagnosis. Those three months were scary for me.

As I start to read about fibromyalgia, I’ve read of people who went years without understanding what they have. During that time, they’re often doubted–told they’re making it up, that everyone gets tired or has pain every now and again. That it’s all in their head. That they need to suck it up and do what everyone else does.

Meanwhile, they wonder about themselves. What do they have? Is it deadly? Is it really just in their head?

Even the people who have been diagnosed still climb big mountains. I walked 45 minutes this morning. It wasn’t fun. There was pain and I wanted to lie down and stay there any time I let my mind go there. Relative to a lot of people who have this, it’s a moderate case.

In the two and a half months I’ve had this, I’ve had my low points, where I look the time I have yet to work either over the rest of my life, or just today, and it figuratively buckles my knees.

There are people, including people I know, who have managed this for years–decades, even. The people who should be supporting them sometimes aren’t. I can’t imagine having the people closest to you doubt your statement that it feels like someone’s smacking your knee with a ballpeen hammer.

If that’s you, then you are a hero. You’re doing something most people can’t understand. It’s an amazing thing.

* * *

As I write this, I really don’t want to work today. I’d rather just crash on the couch. And then have the same option tomorrow and the day after and the day after.

On a typical day, my mind starts slipping around 4 pm. And yet, I’ve had meetings after 4 every day this week. Most evenings, I crash on the couch and take up space, watching reruns of The Goldbergs and Big Bang Theory, followed by guest-host Jeopardy because that’s what my wife put on.

And yet, even when I’m tired and my attitude sucks, I’ve come to look forward to work, and even enjoy it in a way I haven’t before–mostly because it gives me purpose and a reason to get up. It stops me from lying around in a puddle of my own slobber.

* * *

My goal was to use Saturday’s to post what I’ve learned this week, but to be honest, it’s been hard to get to the learning part. My mind is often oatmeal at the end of my day. I’m hoping that I’ll add more than just stories about my viewpoint in this space in future weeks.

* * *

Things I feel good about right now:

  • Walking every day for two weeks, plus one day, even when I felt miserable in the morning.
  • Keeping up with my blog every day.
  • With the exception of a mess of spiced jelly beans Thursday night, I’ve eaten pretty clean over the last two weeks.
  • I created a pretty slick spreadsheet that helps people know if they need to submit something for re-approval.
  • I worked outside a couple days, which was nice.

If you’re on the same journey, it seems important to keep track of the accomplishments that make you feel good.


It’s not just the men who harass women, it’s the culture they create

The most disturbing part of Lindsey Boylan’s accusations against New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo weren’t the things he did–though they were certainly inappropriate. The most disturbing part was the statement that “Governor Andrew Cuomo has created a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected.”

Lindsey Boylan and Governor Andrew Cuomo

Boylan says she expects attacks from the Governor or his top aides, saying, “They’d lose their jobs if they didn’t protect him. That’s how his administration works. I know because I was a part of it.”

It’s not just his administration that works that way. It seems a defining characteristic that many abusive situations start with a powerful man at the top whose very purpose for being is to continually amass more power. Because the culture is more or less closed, you either play ball or functionally die.

In sports, there’s discussion about psychic income–that is, you don’t necessarily get paid a lot, but you have the job of your dreams and you get to be around important people. it’s no surprise that sports is one of the spots where the same type of abuse flourishes.

Just this week, former US Olympic gymnastics coach John Geddert committed suicide after being charged with human trafficking, sexual assault, and racketeering, after working with disgraced sports medicine doctor Larry Nasser. Nasser is currently serving a combined total of up to 360 years in prison for child pornography and sexual assault convictions involving USA gymnastics.

John Geddert with USA gymnastics team members

In baseball, the New York Mets have seen former manager Mickey Callaway, general manager Jared Porter, and hitting performance coordinator Ryan Ellis all accused of sexual harassment. The accusations against Callaway and Ellis stemmed from alleged assaults before the new ownership team took over. Porter was fired within 24 hours of when the accusations against him went public.

In all these cases, the women (and sometimes children) around the abusers have worked for a long period of time to reach their positions. Walking away would brand them in their entire closed industry. It’s not as easy as saying “if it were a problem, they should’ve said something.” If Boylan had come forward before Cuomo’s star started to fade, she’d have been crushed as just another political opportunist trying to bring down someone she didn’t like. (For the record, Boylan’s Twitter account identifies her as a progressive Democrat–she’s not a Republican dirty trick with legs.)

While there isn’t a single unified rape culture aiming to keep women down by any means necessary, there are countless insular power cultures where women are just part of how you keep score.

To be fair, Governor Cuomo is denying everything and he’s entitled by due process. But given his actions against Ron Kim, they seem credible.

Cuomo, the Mets, and people like Harvey Weinstein, all have the ability to create the culture they want. They succeed in an arena where ego to the point of hubris is almost a job requirement. It shouldn’t be a surprise that men like that create cultures that view people (specifically women, in this case) as part of the score-keeping apparatus.

Those views will never go away, so we need laws that allow victims to step forward, and to protect them when those cultures turn on them.


(Short) Story time: The Black Ticket

Four hours earlier in something that used to be a Motel 6, Linda towered over me, smiling sideways. She wanted to celebrate my winning Powerball ticket and this was the nearest place handy.

She drank up my groans as she gyrated gently atop me. Her green eyes ensnared me, not that I wanted to break free of them.

“Trust me?” she said.

I nodded.

Then she slid forward and back like the world’s slowest metronome. Tick…tick…tick…tick.

You’d think after a month, the novelty would wear off, but there I was, sacrificing myself on the altar of her will. Again.

“How do you do that?” said a voice that sounded vaguely like my own.

“I’m a magician, baby.” And then she slowed down and I stopped thinking.

Good? Evil? I didn’t care. A sound I’d never heard before escaped my mouth as she denied my desire to release myself to her.

*  *  *

I’d known her from the day I got to Laughlin, the little Las Vegas that sprouted up on the Colorado River, just north or where Nevada, Arizona, and California meet. I’d come from Vegas, short on luck and hoping a change of scenery would help my finances. It did. I hadn’t cleaned up the all damage I’d done playing in Vegas, but I was close.

She sat at a bar nursing a Scotch-rocks. Her jeans were tight enough to stop blood flow and she wore a black shimmery top with lose short sleeves and a bottom cut like a triangle that formed just low enough to make you want to see more of her ass.

We wound up commiserating about how the cards fell over drinks. I ran into her again two days later and from there it became ritual. If things went well, we’d meet at a casino bar. If not, one of the lesser bars. One day, things went so poorly, we had to meet in an abandoned parking lot behind the In-N-Out, where we shared a couple burgers, a bottle of cheap-ish hooch, and complaints about our shared lifestyle. That happens when you gamble to pay the bills.

She talked of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where she grew up and never wanted to return.

“It’s cold and small and miserable. There aren’t a lot of ways to make money and the heat’s not free in the winter.” She didn’t look at me as she spoke and seemed like she didn’t want me to look at her.

I did, though. Couldn’t help myself.

“I didn’t like making money the easiest way, so I learned to play cards.”

I handed her the bottle—a knock-off vodka that tasted like whipped cream. Her choice.

“The skill set’s the same, you know?” She didn’t wipe the bottle before she took a long drag from it. Clearly, I’d be driving her home.

“What?”

She shrugged. “When you’re with a guy, like with a guy, you gotta build the experience for him—except it’s really for you. If you let on, the whole façade crumbles and neither of you believes it. And you both lose. Like cards. You can never let the façade crumble. Never let them know what you’re thinking.”

That was before we became us. She never spoke of it again.

I drove her home and after we both lingered awkwardly at her door. Her eyes were glassy and I knew if I asked to come in, she wouldn’t object. But I liked her. Laughlin isn’t that big and the desert’s enormous. It’s easy to feel little. If I ever got to being big in her eyes, I wanted it to be for more than twenty drunken minutes.

I decided to go home.

That went on for three months—playing at the casinos or whatever pick-up games seemed okay. Then meeting to compare notes. We were both good enough to pay the bills with a little left over most weeks, but neither of us would ever get rich on it. You’re always a bad streak away from oblivion.

Three weeks ago, after we’d played against each other and both of us crapped out, she stared at me until I had to work not to look away. We were outside, in a little city park that overlooks the Colorado River. It was quarter to one in the morning and the empty swings swayed in the gentle breeze. The breeze held a chill so she slid into me and moved my arm so it was draped over her shoulders. She smelled like cherries. I didn’t move, for fear I’d spoil the moment.

At that time of night, you’re either playing, working to support those who play, or home sleeping. A lot of the people live across the river in Bullhead City. You could almost see a life that takes place outside a casino from our bench. We shared a bottle of peanut butter whiskey, my choice.

She took a drag and held it out to me. “If this whiskey sucked, we wouldn’t be friends anymore.”

“What?”

She shrugged. “Guess it’s good for both of us it didn’t suck.” And there was that smile. “What do you think it’s like over there?” She nodded across the river. “You know, having dinner, then watching TV before bed? Taking your two-week vacation and getting health insurance that doesn’t cost a fortune?”

I closed my eyes to push the memory of it back. I’d had that. Once. “I think it’s like you imagine it. Mundane. Familiar. Safe.” I remembered Dianne when she said she wanted a divorce. Those were the words she’d used. I’d just bought her the Jeep she’d always wanted. It had been a very, very good month. Apparently, not good enough.

It’s never about the Jeep.

“I can’t play against you.”

Linda’s words pulled me from my regret. We weren’t a thing, so why did this feel like it had with Dianne?

“What?”

She didn’t quite meet my gaze. “I can’t concentrate on the game.”

“You had a bad day. We both did.” Damage control. It hadn’t worked before but…

She leaned in and kissed me, almost nibbling on my lower lip first, then plunging her tongue into my mouth. It had been a long, long time since anything like that had happened. My arms encircled her and she leaned into me.

She tasted like peanut butter whiskey, which isn’t a bad thing.

Though her eyes sometimes had a wall I couldn’t get thought, it had always come down if I waited. Now, as she pulled back from the kiss, they had a force of gravity I yearned to give into.

She stood up, taking my hand in hers. “Come on.”

“You sure?” It was a stupid question.

She nodded and pulled me along with her. “If we stay here, one or both of us’ll need bail money for lewd and lascivious. ‘Sides, I heard jail sex is vastly overrated.”

She bought a room at the Colorado Belle with points. She made me get into bed and turn the lights out while she underdressed in the bathroom. I almost said I wanted to see her, but decided to let her lead. She ran across the room into bed, which was the last coy thing she did that night.

Just to prove I wasn’t a total free-loader, I bought breakfast the next morning.

*  *  *

Since that first tryst, nothing was mundane. Even on this rough bedspread, it was amazing. I moaned again.

“Not yet, baby,” she said, slowing her movement more and pumping her eyebrows. “I’m not done with you.” And then she flashed the smile.

The heat within me built and it took effort not to speed things up.

I reached up, compelled to touch her. She swatted my hands away, then tucked them under her knees, pinning them to the bedspread.

I let her.

She smiled again, leaned forward and did something with her mouth, and I couldn’t stop myself. We bucked and shuddered against each other while time stopped just to give us this moment.

Then it was over and she collapsed on me, her body damp and cool against mine. Outside, it was 102 degrees and a world away.

“I could stay like this forever.” I pulled the other side of the bedspread over us. Then enclosed her in a hug as she snuggled against me.

I felt her lips move as she smiled, her face pressed against my cheek. “You hit Powerball last night and said we should leave before you gambled it all away. If I’m running away with you, I have to tie up some loose ends.”

“But—”

She propped herself on an elbow and silenced me with a firm index finger against my lips. “Just a couple hours, then you’re stuck with me.”

As if I had a choice in the matter.

She nibbled my ear as she got up. “Remember that and you’ll be fine while I’m gone.”

She washed up, put her hair up, then let me watch her as she dressed.

It was the first time she’d done that. For all she could do in bed, she seemed self-consciousness when she was naked and you looked at her. She blushed a little as she slid on her underwear, but she didn’t turn away. She even smiled—not the crooked smile–as she her bra put and reached behind to fasten it. Then two hops as she put on her jeans, followed by the top and the sandals.

“I’ll text you. Shouldn’t be long.”

She leaned over and kissed my cheek, letting her lips linger there a few seconds extra before laughing silently and standing up. This laugh was different. Normally, her laugh had an edge to it. Not this time. This was like…it was like joy.

“If I don’t leave now, we’ll be here forever.”

I’d have been okay with that, but she turned and left, sneaking in a sly smile as she pulled the door shut behind her.

Only the smell of her remained, and that was enough for the moment.

*  *  *

Four hours later, in an old metal garage in the middle of the desert, she towered over me again, her scent a mixture of sweat and desperation. The green eyes weren’t placid. There was no metronome. No crooked smile.

Nothing was familiar. Or safe.

We were on a concrete floor surrounded by cobwebs and the crap you find in an abandoned building. My own sweat fused my shirt to my torso and the hot desert air made it seem hard to breathe. She knelt between my knees as a guy named George stood impatiently across the dust-scented room, not exactly aiming his gun at us.

George was the guy I won the ticket from, before it was worth $54 million.

Her face filled my field of vision. “Come on, babe. I need the ticket.”

I heard George shift behind her.

“You have to give it to me.” Her gaze hardened as she begged, as if she commanded me. “I need you to trust me.”

“It’s ours,” I said. Though for the moment I wondered if there was an us to share ownership of something. Or if she’d built an experience for me.

She shifted forward and I felt her breath on my face, heat on top of heat. I let my eyes close and tried to get back to that moment in the motel, but that was a fiction.

When I opened them again, her eyes, which had controlled me just a few hours ago, seemed to plead. It wasn’t like her to lose control.

She reached for my forehead, then pulled back. “He’s gonna take it, babe.”

I wanted to stand, protect myself. Protect us. But there was nothing I could do. George had the gun and it was all up to her. Whatever she did would determine our fate. My fate.

I heard him move behind her. Aiming the gun, maybe.

She’d told me to meet her here, so we could leave together.

She’d opened the door and I saw something in her eyes, almost like she didn’t want me there. I noticed the tear in her shirt, the tousled hair, now down, and the beginning of a bruise on her right cheek.

Then I noticed George.

“Get the hell in here.” His voice seemed guttural, like an animal warning growl.

She took my arm as he aimed the gun at me, his arm rigid, the dark hole of the barrel seemingly endless. He told me to walk to the other side of the room. Linda walked with me three steps, then let go. There was nothing in her eyes.

“On the ground,” he said.

I turned and faced him, then kneeled.

“On your back. Harder to get up.”

He was close enough to hit me with as many shots as it took. A mile outside the edge of town, no one would hear.

George nodded at Linda. “Get my ticket.”

She glared at him and came over to me.

I knew I’d die. My fate had been sealed as soon as they drew the last number.

“What did he do to you?”

She let out a slow breath. Her eyes were lifeless. “Nothing. He just…he wants the ticket.”

*  *  *

He gave up the ticket three days earlier in the back room of a bar across the river in Bullhead, when he lost to my two pair. He couldn’t cover his bet.

“There’s always his car,” one of the other players, a guy named Sid, said. He seemed to relish saying it. George had been around a while. None of us really had friends, but George didn’t have many acquaintances.

Sid, in particular, didn’t like him.

“I need my car.” George’s voice seemed harsh, too harsh for what we were doing. You don’t yell at people you’re playing; it’s not done.

Sid looked at me, his eyes gleaming as he spoke. “Watchya gonna do, Slick?” He liked to call people Slick, and to stir the pot.

George had a reputation for making life difficult if you pissed him off. I was just about flush and didn’t need the hassle. He’d pulled out a Powerball ticket when he got out his cigarettes.

I nodded toward it. “You’re two hundred short. Give me the money in the pot and the lottery ticket. Then we’re square and you keep your car.”

He glared at me as he flipped the ticket out into the pot. “Asshole.” Then he got up and left.

“Sign of weakness, boy. Shoulda taken the car.” Then Sid cackled as he got up and shuffled across the room.

*  *  *

Back in the abandoned building, my words were harsh as I responded to Linda. “I could’ve left him with nothing. I did him a favor.” I let him hear what I said. “That ticket’s mine.” The gun was his. I’d lose this hand. The question was how much it would cost me.

“Trust me.” Under her ripped shirt, she wore no bra. She leaned closer and the cherry scent washed over me again.

I pushed it away.

“Time’s up,” George said.

“You kill me, you’ll never get it.”

I lied. The ticket was in my right hip pocket.

“Check his wallet,” George said.

As she reached into my back pocket, she leaned down into me. The physics were the same as in the hotel room, except with several layers of fabric, a gun, and impending death. She got my wallet. Her lips moved, but I didn’t catch what she said, couldn’t read her as she sat up again.

She leaned back and looked through the wallet, then turned to George and shook her head.

“Pockets. For your sake, it better be there.”

She checked my left pocket.

“You gonna kill me if it’s not?” I tried to sound brave, but my words were small. Scared.

He laughed. “I’m gonna kill you either way. Question is what I do with her.”

“Trust me,” she mouthed. No bra. And a bruise. What had he already done to her? What had she done to him?

“Maybe I’ll bury you both in the same hole, not all the way. Let you both bake to death.”

I nodded toward the right hip pocket. No reason not to at this point. Maybe if he had the money, he wouldn’t kill us. Then again, players come and go, and people don’t tend to notice. The desert’s a big place, with plenty of options for hiding bodies.

Her hand formed a fist as she reached in and pulled it out. Her eyes lingered on me and for an instant, I thought they were the same as in the motel, or on that bench that night.

She stood. As she’d taken the ticket from me, her shirt had untucked in the back. She tucked it back in, fiddling with it as if it wouldn’t tuck right. Odd time to make sure your shirt’s tucked in.

Then she stopped. She looked down as she opened her hand, then turned to me. The slow, sweet torture that seemed so real in the motel was a mirage. In its place, her eyes bulged with anger and fear.

“You fucking moron.”

Her tone hurt. She’d never spoken that way to me. Then again, I guess she’d been building an experience.

She held up the ticket. It was black.

“I told you not to leave it in the glove compartment. I took it out and gave it to you. It’s a heat-printed ticket. You stupid fucking dumbass!” She kicked me hard in the leg. Hard enough to hurt. A lot.

I kept the damn thing with me, tossed it on the nightstand at my place and stuck it in my jeans after checking the numbers at breakfast with her. While we celebrated our new fortune in the shitty hotel room, it stayed in my pocket.

George’s arm drooped. He looked like I’d just killed his dog. Or taken his car in a poker game. His voice was an inhuman growl. “You ruined the ticket. You…”

His mouth opened, then closed. He grabbed it from her hand. Flipped it back and forth. His face convulsed as he crumpled it and threw it to the floor. Then he slapped Linda hard enough to drive her to the ground next to me.

Blood ran down from Linda’s lip in a single scarlet line.

He raised the gun toward us and she slid back next to me.

“Killing us over millions? I get that. Over nothing? Four other people were there. They’ll know. You’re not that stupid.”

I think she wanted to sound confident, to push him. In reality, her voice gave her up. She was afraid, like me. She was on the ground in a hot shithole facing death, and she was playing her weak hand as hard as she could.

He fired. About a foot to the right of my head. In the enclosed building the sound couldn’t escape and all of us jumped, even George. A shard of concrete bit into my cheek and I felt blood.

He glared at us, then his arm collapsed to his side. He screamed and threw the gun at the wall. I started to get up, to go after the gun, but she grabbed my wrist. Her grip was firm, but not harsh.

“No,” she mouthed.

He walked over, picked the gun up and left, slamming the door behind him. His car started and we heard stones shoot across the ground as he gunned the engine in the car I’d let him keep.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out the ticket. Perfect. Worth millions.

“You palmed a different ticket.” I wiped the blood from her lip. “The ticket in my pocket couldn’t have been ruined. It was in my pocket the whole time.”

“You gotta build the experience.” She rolled over onto her stomach in the dust and kissed me. “He had one in the cupholder, told me he plays every drawing, but his luck is for shit. He was waiting for me—said he’d been to your place and you weren’t there, so he came after me. He was waiting when I got there. Told you I’m a magician.”

I looked at the tear in her shirt.

“Did he…”

She looked away. “He hit me.”

She stood and held out a hand. I took it and stood, though I could’ve done that on my own.

I kept her hand in mine and she let me, using her other hand to dab at the blood on my cheek. I dropped her hand to open the door and she slid it into my back jeans pocket. I put my arm around her, putting her head on my shoulder.

I was hers, for as long as she wanted.

© 2021, Chris Hamilton. All rights reserved. Any rebroadcast, retransmission, or other use of the pictures, descriptions, or accounts of this short story without express written consent of the commissioner’s office is prohibited. So there.


Let’s pump the brakes on the panic over the California Covid variant…for now

As I write this, the 7-day rolling average for Covid infections is the lowest it’s been since October 23. The death rate is the lowest it’s been since December 3. In Florida, where the Super Bowl was supposed to have been a massive super spreader event, the new casts are the lowest they’ve been since November 15 and the death count has remained steady for a couple weeks after dropping the week after the Super Bowl.

More people are getting vaccinated. And the vaccination rate is expected to pick up over the coming weeks. In short, we’re not out of the woods, but the data’s showing that we’re moving in that direction.

It’s against this backdrop that the LA Times and later Yahoo News published an article with the worrying headline California’s coronavirus strain looks increasingly dangerous (dun-dun-DUN): The Devils is already here.

He’s already here! HE’S ALREADY HERE!!!

The story says that the new California variant spreads more readily than its predecessors, evades antibodies created by vaccines, and “is associated with” severe illness and death. The new variant, which its friends know as B.1.427/B.1.429, will probably account for as much as 90% of the state’s cases by next month. Dr. Charles Chiu, the leader of a multi-disciplinary bunch of scientists at University of California at San Francisco, said the strain should “spur more intensive efforts to drive down infections,” including “both public health measures, such as masking and limits on public activities (emphasis added) and a campaign of rapid vaccinations.”

The article poses the potential for a “nightmare scenario” in which the California and UK variants meet in a single person, fall in love, and create an even more dangerous strain, presumably named Damien.

A little Barry White for the lovers.

Before we start clamoring for shutdowns and making breathless “people before profits” proclamations, though, consider the mitigating factors. For one, this analysis is still under review and hasn’t been formally published, The article is filled with words like “seems to have” and “could make” and “raises the specter of”.

Currently, California’s new case rate is the lowest it’s been since Veteran’s Day and the 7-day average for death is about the same as just after the first of the year. In other words, although the California variant is increasing in percentage of cases, the number of cases is down substantially (though the number of deaths has not decreased at the same rate).

Furthermore, the devil might already be here, but according to the Times article, it’s been here since the middle of last year. In other words, this isn’t a new variant. It’s been around for more than half a year.

In other words, absent data that shows a rate of increase in the US, it’s not time to start imposing new restrictions. (That could change, though, as numbers in Europe may be starting to rise again.)

People should continue to wear masks and practice appropriate distancing. And we absolutely need to step up the rate of vaccinations, making sure to use every dose of the vaccine and target the people needed to reduce the carnage.

It’s not being anti-science to say that the scientists have gotten it wrong sometimes with this virus. That’s what happens when something brand new occurs. Science combined with data should guide us in our efforts to minimize efforts while trying to provide as much freedom as responsibly possible.

In this circumstance, if it saves one life isn’t a remotely reasonable guidelines. At the risk of sounding callous, we can’t prevent death from happening. But we have to reasonably balance risk against the need for people to live their lives.

There are always outliers–people who party like it’s 1999. But the vast majority have done what we’ve been asked to do. To ask more without a sound scientific approach backed with actual data, is unrealisitc.


No, you can’t do this forever. Do it for today.

Note: Three days ago, I said I wouldn’t be allowing fibro to dominate this blong, hence, Fibro Saturday. Technically, this post is Fibro-adjacent. Also, it’s my blog, so…

The days have been a little harder lately. When I woke up yesterday, my body–that one that had given me a tough Sunday, told me it would be a tough Monday. I still did my walk, though I scaled it back to the minimum of half an hour with a very slow pace.

As I logged in and started work, I thought of the entire week in front of me. Then I thought about all the weeks that would be required of me. Although that number isn’t nearly as high as it once was, it’s pretty big.

I can’t do this, I thought.

Unless I hit Powerball, I have to do this. although some days will be hard, I can probably get myself there. It’s just gonna be a lot of work. But if I keep thinking about the totality of days required, the trek to the end won’t be much fun.

So maybe I shouldn’t think about the totality of days. Maybe I should get through today. Then repeat it all tomorrow, then the next day. To consider anything more is to allow the days to become an endless gray void, bereft of color or fun. I want more than that.

Richard Castle by way of Roald Dahl

Six years ago, the last time I was sick, each morning when I woke, my thought was of how many more times I had to haul myself out of bed before Saturday came and I could rest. Four more times. Three more times.

That approach got me there, but it assumed that each day before Saturday would be tough and miserable. Whatever I had in 2015 went away. (I had a friend tell me it would.) Maybe it will this time, too. I could wake up tomorrow feeling the way I before. Odds are against it, but I can’t discount the possibility.

It’s not just fibro where this approach is useful. If I could go back to younger-Chris as he went through the various struggles of life, I’d have told him just to get through today, that everything ends eventually. And in most cases (at least so far) it’s ended pretty positively.

So why not do your best today, then let tomorrow take care of itself when you get there?

The day to day approach right-sizes problems in a remarkable way. Sometimes Fibro flares for a period of time and goes away. It’s possible that’s already happened to me once.

If you’re looking at an endless gray void, I feel for you. I’ve been there. I’ll probably be there again. If that happens, at last I’ll have written this, so I can tell myself to go back to what some smug, self-assured bastard wrote that day, and pretend it’s real and valid, at least for a few hours.

Then I can sleep and try it all again.


It’s not just Ted Cruz. It’s everywhere. Elected officials forget who they serve.

For a time, I worked in the New York State Legislature. During session, I was one of the few people standing outside whatever office we had to be at to get the day’s legislative calendar. Then I took it back to the office, where I took each bill and added a legislative summary, and position papers from various lobbying groups. On the summary, I added who was for and against the bill. I paper clipped it together and put it in an accordian file for use during session.

Toward the end of session, that meant being in the Capitol at seven after session got out the previous night at one or one-thirty. Then, when he came in an hour or so before session started–usually late morning–I hauled everything back to the Capitol, stayed with him all day. During dinner break, while he went wherever with whomever, I got whatever I could fit in while I went through everything again, weeding out what we’d already covered.

I didn’t mind. that was the gig. I was good at it.

As session wound to a close, we were packed in an elevator, going back to his office at the Legislative Office Building. He looked at me and said, “We need an elevator that’s only for members, not staff.”

Needless to say…

Ted Cruz, toughing out the storm in first class.

I thought of that when I heard about Ted Cruz’s tone-deaf trip to Cancun–and the lies he told to try to justify it. To be clear, this isn’t a Republicans suck issue. Gavin Newsom’s no Republican and he told everyone to stay home and invoked some of the most stringent lock-down rules in the country, then had an inside dinner with lobbyists at The French Laundry. Austin, Texas mayor Stave Adler, who lectured everyone to stay home because of the Covid, cutting a video from his vacation in Cabo, is a Democrat.

Never once did they say, “You know what? I was a tone-deaf bonehead. I get it now.”

This is a bipartisan issue.

The people we elect seem to view themselves as a separated class, smugly dispensing wisdom and making rules they exempt themselves from.

In fairness, that’s not always the case. As much as I disagree with Beto O’Rourke and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, they’re doing something to help in Texas without having to be shamed into it. Just because I disagree with them politically doesn’t mean they’re awful people.

AOC working at a Texas foodbank

I don’t begrudge elected officials their luxuries. Done properly, being a legislator is a difficult job. And when you’re in session, sometimes important work gets done while you’re dining at a nice place while staff has a Quarter Pounder back at the office.

But the divide between elected officials and the people they, uhh, serve, is real. When government serves us with arbitrary rules that have no basis in science or data, it places undue burden on us. It’s important for government to take a leadership role in a pandemic, but that doesn’t mean their decisions don’t have to be justified. If you aren’t providing me food and shelter or a salary, because I said so isn’t a valid justification.

I hope Senator Cruz, Governor Newsom, and many of the others who’ve been similarly tone deaf are defeated at the polls. And I hope they take the time to realize it’s not the radical liberals and white supremacists’ fault. It’s their own fault for forgetting who they serve and what that means.


When intent isn’t part of the cancel conversation, anyone can be screwed

A friend of mine posted on Facebook about Coca Cola’s diversity training. According to reports on social media, some of the slides include one that says to be less white is to:

  • be less oppressive
  • be less arrogant
  • be less certain
  • be less defensive
  • be less ignorant
  • be more humble
  • listen
  • believe
  • break with apathy
  • break with white solidarity

A follow-up slide said Try to be less white

My offline response was Not gonna comment on the Coca Cola thing. Any comment rusn the risk of aging poorly.

An article posted by Reason magazine this week talked about cancel culture. The article highlighted the New York Times firing a 45-year veteran reporter named Donald McNeil, Jr., for saying the n-word during a 2019 trip to Peru. After the story became public within the Times, 150 employees demanded he be fired. He said the word at a dinner conversation with a student about a the suspension of another student for using that word in a video as a 12-year-old. In the conversation, he asked the context for using the word and used the word himself.

Donald McNeil, Jr.

The Times responded that they don’t tolerate racist language regardless of intent. You could easily argue that in 2019, Mr. McNeil should’ve known not to use that word in any context. I don’t know his past, but it’s possible there’s more to it than him simply repeating a word in a conversation. On the other hand, if there were no other issues in 45 years, the penalty seems extreme for a single lapse in judgement. He was clearly not using the word as a weapon, even if he did show horrible judgement.

A couple years ago, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam rode out pressure to resign for being in a 1984 yearbook picture where he wore blackface or a KKK hood (he says he doesn’t remember which). Northam faces this pressure while Billy Crystal doesn’t face the same pressure for wearing blackface several times in Saturday Night Live sketches the same year. And Ted Danson has worked non-stop in spite of being in blackface at a Friar’s Club roast in 1993.

Billy Crystal as Sammy Davis, Jr.

It’s a given that you shouldn’t be an a-hole when you can avoid it. But the only qualification for being cancelled seems to be that enough people on Twitter notice you and demand that you be disciplined. By saying intent doesn’t matter, the New York Times is at least being honest that its internal justice system in these matters is driven by whatever the general consensus happens to be, whether it’s 150 co-workers or whatever hashtag is trending on Twitter for whatever happened now, or in the past.

I used the same word as Mr. McNeil in a “joke” in front of a person of color in the spring of 1983 outside the student center at Adirondack Community College. I won’t defend what I did; it was wrong. I’m not that person any more. I recognize how hurtful using that word in that context is. If 150 of my colleagues see this blog post and demand my job, should I be fired?

A lot of the bitching about cancel culture is white people telling people who feel oppressed by a culture to shut up and mind their place. I’m not defending that. But not all of the complaints about political correctness are just cover for people wanting to be a-holes. Some are people who interpret content in ways the creator of that content never intended. And the standards are based on whatever happens to go viral, either online or in real iife.

People on the left and right have become increasingly inflexible about what they will tolerate both now, and years ago.

There’s a benefit to listening to and respecting other people’s viewpoints. Arbitrary justice dished out by hashtag juries takes away from that benefit.


Fibro Saturday: Give us this day, our daily bread

Fibromyalgia will be part of my life going forward. Part of my life. I won’t let it dominate my life or this blog. But it’s worth talking about, so I’ll do so each Saturday.

I’m new at this, so I won’t pretend to know much, but I’m learning. I’ve been tracking my diet, exercise, and the level of pain, fatigue, malaise, and brain fog each day, and I’ve noticed that since if I eat right, the pain level tends to go down, though my fatigue level and brain fog seem to be driven by my stress level.

I’ve also noticed that each day is its own entity. Just because I had a good day yesterday, doesn’t mean I’ll have a good day today. It’s a scary proposition, not being able to take anything for granted beyond today. I have to take tomorrow on faith.

I hate faith. I crave certainty and autonomy, which both make faith easy.

So I need something to get me through it all, something that doesn’t make the rest of my work life a litany of days whose uncertainty kicks me in the head with every pain, end-of-the-day wall of fatigue, or London-like wall of brain fog.

Actual footage from inside my mind.

For me, that’s faith in God, something I’m horrible at. And yet, the Bible’s clear on that.

“Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

“Consider the ravens. They don’t sew or reap; they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!”

It’s no accident that the prayer Jesus tells his disciples (and us) to pray talks about giving us each day our daily bread.

Right now, it’s often a struggle getting to the end of the day. I typically find the couch when I’m done. I feel like each day I cross a rickety bridge that shakes and shudders and threatens to disintegrate beneath me. When I consider the number of times I have to cross that bridge without it giving out, it’s scary.

I won’t lie and say I have that faith; I don’t. But I’m working on it. Believing that I’ll get through to the other end of whatever happens is vital to making it. If you know you’re going to make it, it makes the bumps that come along each day less stressful. I’m finding stress amps up my fatigue and brain fog. (Pain seems to be a product of diet, at least so far.)

So I can do is get up each day and do what I need to–and value the days when I don’t have to do it. And guard that fragile faith as the most valuable asset I have, because that’s what it is.

And I can work toward building that faith and changing my thought patterns so either the bridge seems less rickety or I become more certain that somehow I’ll get to the other end for as long as I need to.


Rush Limbaugh may have been humble and generous, as radio insiders say, but his fingerprints are all over today’s divisive political climate

In 1994, after the Republicans swept into Congress and had gains all over the country, ABC’s Peter Jennings said that American voters acted like toddlers and toddlers can’t be allowed to run the house. Newsweek magazine ran a magazine cover with caricature of new House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the title How the Gingrich Stole Christmas.

Newsweek a supposedly objective magazine, ran this cover before Gingrich took office.

Both of these statements were from media sources that held themselves up as objective. Conservatives–I was (and am) one of them–saw them as a dismissal of anything that countered the prevailing center-left mindset of the reigning media.

Living in northern Virginia, I could supplement The Washington Post with the conservative-friendly Washington Times. After being dismissed by classmates (I was a political science major) and media alike, I felt like I’d found a place of acceptance.

Though I preferred G. Gordon Liddy over him, Rush Limbaugh was a major part of that movement. And as everyone else came and went, he stayed and become a major power broker.

It was a different time. The evening news anchors held an outsized influence in American politics. When Limbaugh said he was equal time, he wasn’t exactly wrong.

I also grew up wanting to be on radio. On the list of regrets, walking away from that is among the higher items. And talk radio was interesting and vital. Since before the Fairness Doctrine was removed, I’ve eaten it up, listening to whatever I found that entertained and challenged me, liberal and conservative. Thirty years ago, talk radio was new, vital, and exciting.

It also probably saved the AM format (or postponed its demise for a few decades).

Rush Limbaugh was a part of that, too.

Rush Limbaugh has influenced both AM radio and our current political environment more than anyone in 30 years.

People who’ve worked with Rush Limbaugh called him generous and humble, a different guy than the man on the air. They talked of his kindness and how he contributed amazing amounts of money to charity and helped out friends who came on hard times. They aren’t wrong.

Those who felt the back of his hand during his show tell a different story, and rightfully so. From Michael J. Fox to Sandra Fluke to Donovan McNabb, he didn’t hold back in skewering those he didn’t like.


Rush Limbaugh didn’t invite divisive, dismissive rhetoric. But he perfected it. He didn’t threaten people who dared stray from his conservative, and later Trump-centered, rhetoric, but he inspired those who did.

Over time, he went from being the guy who said, “Hey these people won’t allow alternative thought, but here it is,” to the guy whose followers tended to be the ones not allowing alternative thought.

Divisive politics didn’t start with Donald Trump, or even Rush Limbaugh. But they’ve leveraged the division for their own personal aggrandizement.

So when you look back at Rush Limbaugh, you can’t do so without also considering his impact on politics. As a conservative king-maker for more than 30 years, he’s had more influence on the Republican Party than even Reagan. He helped turn the shining city on a hill ot a collection of grievances against them, and derided them from whomever happened to be a useful target. He–and conservatism–are hardly alone in that, but he perfected it.