COVID-19: What Would Rosie The Riveter Do?

Half the readers I hear from accuse me of Trump Derangement Syndrome. The other half accuse me of rabid Trump fandom. In truth, I think of US President Donald J. Trump in exactly the same way I think of most other politicians: He’s usually wrong and often dangerous. But when he’s right he’s right.

He’s right when he says that America needs to “open up” soon.

If anything, his target date of Easter is too distant.

The longer we wait to get moving again, the longer it will take to recover.

The longer we wait, the more Americans will descend into, or fall deeper into, poverty.

The longer we wait, the more Americans will die of causes other than coronavirus.

If we wait TOO long, starvation and malnutrition will be among those causes.

We don’t have to like it. That’s how it is whether we like it or not.

One of the oddest assertions I’ve heard from American politicians is that the COVID-19 outbreak is “our generation’s World War 2.”

I’m far too young to remember World War 2, but I’ve listened to veterans talk about it, read its history, and love the era’s propaganda posters. Rosie the Riveter in “We Can Do it!” “Lay-Offs Cost Lives!” “Work To Win.”

I’m trying to imagine a propaganda poster for “our World War 2,” and all that comes to mind is a hand reaching out from under a bed to grab a government check.

That image isn’t nearly as inspiring, is it? Nor is the sentiment nearly as practical.

America won World War 2 by working and fighting. It isn’t going to beat COVID-19 by shutting down and cowering.

Our politicians are thoroughly enjoying their extended Mussolini cosplay holiday, but their “lockdown” orders and such are merely feeding their egos, not starving the virus. The longer we continue to put up with that authoritarian nonsense, the harder it’s going to get to reclaim our rights and put them back in their places. Once they get used to filthy serfs like you and me taking a knee when they pass by, they’re not going to want to give it up.

The more quickly we seize back control of our lives — from the virus and from the politicians — the more quickly our lives will start getting better again.

Call me a Trump fanboy if it makes you feel better, but I’m with the president on this one.

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The Overton Window is Broken

The Overton Window is a simple framework for understanding what is politically possible at any given moment and how the range of options can shift through time.

I used to work at the think tank where the concept originated, from the late Joseph Overton who was the VP there just before I started. I found it useful and valuable, and built much of my understanding of social change and the direction of my life and career around it. (Here’s a talk I gave explaining this process.) It had amazing explanatory power.

Now, it’s broken.

I don’t mean the window has shifted. I mean the entire framework of a continuum of political possibility from total freedom to total tyranny that shifts, shrinks, or expands is broken. It doesn’t explain the current world or where it might go.

I had no idea this was even possible, but it seems to me to be the case. Anything and nothing are politically possible at the same time. There is no boundary, no framework, no popular principles to shift. There is case by case chaos, openness to everything and nothing.

It happened fast. Within a few weeks, legible political paradigms disappeared.

It is possible the window has just shifted in the extreme, allowing for total tyranny. Or expanded to include a broad range that ends in total tyranny. But it feels less legible than that. It feels like there is no window at all. I suspect that in this chaos, anything is within the realm of possibility.

A good way to judge what’s in the window is to ask, “Could a political figure talk about this idea without losing election”. It doesn’t have to be a passable policy, just one that you’re allowed to talk about. For example, for most of my life, any politician who even talked about the idea of slavery as something worth considering would lose election. Or someone who talked about ending all public schools would lose election. The window didn’t extend that far towards tyranny in the first instance, or freedom in the second.

But right now, it feels like almost anyone could mention almost any idea and I’m not sure it would be too far from whatever is now normal to eliminate them from political discourse. I wouldn’t be surprised to see calls to make the income tax 100%. Or calls to eliminate it altogether. There are already states that have moved to totalitarianism, with 24/7 house arrest and tanks in the streets. Maybe some will cease government operations altogether.

I have no idea. No framework. No clear picture of a window or its shifting or direction.

The Overton Window of a few weeks ago seems to have exploded. There’s no legible direction. I have no idea what comes next.

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Who’s in Charge Here?

Nobody asked but …

… I’d like to know.  The first stage of panic (and second and third) is to scramble around looking for someone to follow.  Many of us followed others into bars, but clearly most followed hoarders of toilet paper and hand sanitizer into all the dollar stores, the drugstores, and the supermarkets.  But the thing that is now most scarce is information.  Human beings continue to query “whadya know?”, but the answer is still “not much, you?”

Some say that in times of war, the first casualty is the truth.  But the “truth” is that the human race is at war with itself.  Will we win, and what will a win look like?

At any rate, here are some questions I’d like to be answered (and I’ll bet you would too):

  • Who’s in charge?  Every scheme cooked up throughout history has been a kicking of the can down the road.  If the buck really stops somewhere, why hasn’t the buck stopped?
  • What is “the buck?”
  • WTF?  Did POTUS really offer help to North Korea?  Who’s the dunderhead who decided that we are fine, so NK needs our help?  Is NK the model of collective that we seek to preserve?
  • Is there anyone with a microphone and teevee camera who will stand up and say “I am just a narcissistic glutton who will make up bullshit just to keep the red light glowing?”
  • Does one have a duty to others?  Yes, if you know them personally and have accepted responsibility for their care.  I have Kilgorette with whom I have exchanged vows.  We have 2 daughters, 8 grandchildren, 3 great grandchildren.  We have neighbors.  We have friends.  We have 2 horses, 3 dogs, and 7 cats.  We do not triage among the members of this list.  After that, triage.  North Korea is vanishingly small on that list.
  • How do I get tested?  Where?  When?
  • If I am looking for a manager for my life, whom should I turn to?  The only possible answer is ME.

Stay tuned.  More questions are forming.

— Kilgore Forelle

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Ransacked American Grocery Stores Are Still Pretty Amazing

The other night I made my first post-lockdown grocery store run. And I’ll admit it was a bit unsettling.

It was strange seeing a security guard. It was strange wearing a mask. It was strange feeling a sort of fear of my fellow shoppers. And it was really strange and disturbing to see shelves stripped of goods. The whole experience of going grocery shopping became a bit nerve-wracking.

But still: in the midst of a panic, I could look around and see dozens of varieties of ice cream. There were produce bins full of fresh fruit from all over the world. There were turkeys and smoothies and fresh bread and milk and eggs.

The abundance is staggering. Yet the fact that my mind focused on the (relatively few) empty shelves is a testament to how much wealth of variety we have to enjoy even in troubled times.

What’s my point?

I guess it’s worth being grateful for the wealth generally available to all Americans in the form of shopping choice and resilient availability of life’s necessaries (and not-so-necessaries). Even in an economic slump, which seems likely, much of that choice will still continue to be available. In the grand scheme of history, that’s pretty crazy.

I will look forward to a day when a grocery run is the same calm, peaceful, unrushed, and unafraid affair it was only a few weeks ago. But until then I won’t believe that I am living in great hardship, at least where food is concerned.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Here Are 6 Ideas For Parents While Schools Are Closed

As schools shut down indefinitely across the country due to coronavirus concerns, many parents are wondering how to get through the coming weeks at home with their children. This is new territory for all of us, especially as “social distancing” becomes the new normal and virtual working and learning spaces replace the real thing.

As a homeschooling mother of four, and author of Unschooled, I realize that this time at home can feel overwhelming and is far from a typical homeschooling experience. There are some steps parents can take to make this time at home with their children more tolerable and rewarding for everyone.

1. Avoid replicating school at home.

While many schools and districts are sending home packets of curriculum materials or shifting to virtual classrooms and assignments, parents should try to avoid the tendency to re-create school at home.

It’s understandable that parents may worry about keeping their children on track academically, but they are likely to find that their children are able to complete their course work in much less time than in a typical school day, and will learn a great deal from the other experiences and insights that will surely emerge during this challenging time.

If parents can take the pressure off themselves to be the teacher and curriculum enforcer over the next weeks, they may be pleasantly surprised to discover just how much their children learn. One thing that the coronavirus pandemic is likely to reveal is that it is possible, and sometimes preferable, to learn without school.

2. Prioritize play and unstructured time.

We all know that play is vital for children’s healthy development and it may be particularly important as we confront this pandemic. My 6-year-old son was playing recently with the figurines from the board game Risk when I overheard him say to them: “I can’t shake your hand. You might have the coronavirus.”

Our children are listening to all that is going on and processing it through play. Prioritizing ample play and unstructured time is one important way we as parents can help our children to cope. For young children, this means creating space for free play without feeling the need to direct or organize their play activities. This could take some adjusting, as kids learn how to overcome their boredom and rekindle their imagination.

For older children accustomed to mostly adult-led activities and supervised extracurriculars, allowing them abundant, unstructured time over the next several weeks could awaken new interests and goals.

3. Use online learning resources.

We are lucky to live at a time of hyper-connectivity and vast digital resources at our fingertips. Technology enables us to work and learn in ways unimaginable only a couple of decades ago.

Some young people may be learning virtually through their school, completing coursework and tests online. But there are other great online resources that can expand a child’s learning and open pathways to new information and knowledge. Khan Academy and TedEd, for instance, offer free YouTube videos in a multitude of content areas. EdX and Coursera offer free university-level classes from leading institutions.

Libraries and museums often have high-quality and free online tools, including the Boston Public Library’s online resources and the Boston Children’s Museum’s 100 Ways to Play list and BCM Home Edition. Many more museums and organizations are also starting to offer free programming during the pandemic, including the Metropolitan Opera that is streaming its performances for free this week.

4. Encourage virtual playdates.

With social isolation upon us, virtual play dates will become the new norm, at least for a while. Fortunately, your kids can connect with their friends over Google Hangouts, create stories and scripts together over Google Docs, play Minecraft multiplayer online while watching or listening to each other over FaceTime or play the Prodigy Math game in a multiplayer gaming world.

It’s not as ideal as being together in the same spot, but these virtual friend meetups can make the separation more fun and bearable.

5. Embrace family time.

This is a once in a lifetime moment to gather together as a family and connect in deeper, more authentic ways. Reading books, listening to music, enjoying unhurried meals, playing board games and card games, and going for walks outside can all be ways to enjoy quality time together. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to draw or to speak another language or to knit.

This can be an opportunity to explore these interests as an adult, and perhaps prompting your children to explore their distinct interests as well.

6. Make room for reflection.

We know that this difficult period will not last forever and our lives will return to normal, but taking time to reflect on this historic occurrence can be helpful to endure the experience now and to remember it in the future.

This is just as true for ourselves as parents as it is for our children. Encourage your kids to keep a daily journal, draw or take pictures, and collect or print news clips to record this profound event. Then, they can show their grandchildren what it was like to live through the great pandemic of 2020.

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Is This Coronavirus the End of the End of History?

I recently finished Ross Douthat’s The Decadent Society, a compelling argument that we live in a world that has become incapable of fundamental change.

From arts and culture (endless reboots – think Star Wars and Marvel) to political gridlock to technological stagnation (as Peter Thiel says, we wanted flying cars and got 140 characters), the world has remained shockingly same-ish since the 1970s. The international order in place since the end of World War 2 has continued with no significant signs of change, in what Francis Fukuyama once called “the end of history.”

Douthat ponders what might cause “the end of the end of history” toward the end of his new book. Could we finally break through with space travel, gene modification, or some other fundamental technological change? Will we have major religious revivals that stir the stale secular air? Will some new political ideology emerge to shake up how government is done locally and internationally? Douthat suggests it might be some combination of many scenarios, each feeding from the other. But he also argues that decadence – that fundamental lack of change – may be more resilient than we think. The inertia may continue for only God knows how long.

He may have spoken too soon. One of the more interesting things about the COVID-2019 coronavirus pandemic is how it might change the stable, comfortable routines that have existed in the US and the West largely untouched since the end of World War 2.

This does not necessarily entail good things. If large numbers of people are infected or die, or if quarantines continue long enough to kill of large sectors of private enterprise, or if governments or major corporations collapse, or if governments seize and hold major new powers over civil society, or if cities convulse with looting or martial law, or we will emerge into a different world and culture. This may seem hypothetical, but we’ve already seen a whole US state declare (relative) lockdown and major steps by the government to occupy voids left by the quickly evaporating economic sectors impacted by social distancing and home isolation.

Whatever happens, if trends continue, the world of the next few years will be very different from what has come before. And that is at least an interesting thing to watch.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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