The Second Wave of Coronavirus is Already Here

I’m very frustrated looking at the data on what is going on with COVID-19 in the US. I’m frustrated because this virus spreads when people are circulating together, and we’re opening up and having more people circulate together. My home county of Santa Cruz hasn’t even finished opening up, and it is already experiencing it’s second wave.

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The source of that graph is here. I know Santa Cruz has relatively low numbers, it is the smallest county in California – however this info is unmistakable at this point.

The data for California (found here) is even more amazing – in the sense that there does not appear to even be a peak in cases yet. It is absolutely not the time to be easing shelter at home restrictions if we want to beat this virus. The headline I wrote for this blog is accurate for Santa Cruz County, statewide the first wave isn’t even over yet.

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Nationally, the next week or so will tell us a lot. Will the recent rise in total new cases continue, or will the slightly falling overall trend keep up? With the amount of people protesting and generally circulating again, I’m guessing it will go up. But the next week, and possibly the week after that, will tell us if that guess is correct. Here is the data from the CDC:

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Looking at national numbers isn’t terribly useful for fighting this disease, at least not in a country as large and diverse in population density as ours. But national numbers do tell us an overall trend. What’s alarming is that we’re nowhere near staunching the tide of new people getting this disease, yet we’re opening up as if we are. I’m planning accordingly, I hope you all are as well.

Maybe It Takes Getting to Know One Another

“People aren’t being seen”

For a long time now I have been pointing out to anyone who will listen that community is broken in this country. At least where I live, in California. I think we are seeing the consequences of that brokenness all around us; in our crazy political environment, our high homeless population, the ridiculous numbers of people in prisons and jails, even in the wide wealth disparity. Our rising suicide rate, our daily mass shootings, the mind-boggling amounts of money we spend on health care – the list of symptoms of our broken community just seem to go on and on. Oh, our lowering life expectancy too.

Since I work with people who are homeless, I do a lot of reading specific to the field. Street Roots published an article about the cognitive reasons why housed people struggle to feel empathy for people who are homeless. Not only is the article relevant to homelessness, I think it’s relevant to every aspect of our civic culture today. The italicized portions below are from that article.

“People aren’t being seen,” (Harris) said. “If I’m a busy person, going through a city where there are tons of homeless people, and I have to stop and consider the minds of all of these people, that might make me feel very uncomfortable. Moreover, if I don’t feel like I have the resources to help, there’s nothing I can do to alleviate that suffering. That feeling stays with you. Our brain says, instead, if I take a second to stop and think about your suffering, it’s going to make me feel bad. So, dehumanization becomes a kind of emotion regulation strategy.”

Online, with social media, we have all faced a time where we were forced to consider the mind of someone who clearly has wildly different views than we do. How much easier is it to tune those people out than is it to actually think about what they are saying? How much easier is it to, then, just write off people who share those views and de-friend them or block them out entirely? How hard is it to have your ideas challenged online and to refrain from yelling or letting the conversation devolve into insults?

“We readily help kids and cute animals, in part because we know that whatever trouble they’re in, they can’t really be held accountable,” (Zak) said. “We’re less likely to be so understanding and forgiving when it comes to homeless adults or drug addicts. This tendency to judge rather than help is partly the result of a spot in the prefrontal cortex called the subgenual cortex. It’s full of oxytocin receptors, and it appears to modulate the degree of empathy by regulating the release of dopamine. No dopamine means no reward from engaging with the other person, which makes it less likely that we’ll reach out empathically.”

In America, there seems to be a very strong desire to withhold services from people who don’t “deserve” them. This makes sense if, when we feel powerless, we dehumanize the people in our communities who need help. Since they are still suffering, they are living proof of our failures….

I’ve been wrestling with the idea that humans have an innate desire to help other humans. That commerce is based on contribution. What do people pay for? They pay to be contributed to. Whether it’s food, housing, entertainment, interaction. We pay for other people to contribute to us, and we want to contribute to other people. When we see people who are homeless, most of us see people we can’t contribute to. Most of us see that we have failed to help them.

Is it easier to blame the homeless than to take responsibility, as a community? I would guess that most of us don’t even think in terms of our community. We don’t think about what services we want to be sure that our community members have access to. We don’t think about what we as a community are doing to alleviate suffering in our midst. Is it easy to say “they made their choices,” “they are addicts,” “they are getting what they deserve?” Maybe the people who say those things felt the powerlessness of dealing with someone who’s choices were chaotic and out of control. Maybe they had to detach from a loved one to maintain their sanity and control over their own lives. A real community has each other’s backs. What’s it going to take to start thinking like that?

“If we design interventions to help people meet members of such stigmatized groups and get beyond the stereotype and see the person behind the social category, they tone down their judgments and feelings,” (Hewstone) said.

Hewstone is literally saying that if we get people from different social groups to meet and interact, then we will ratchet down the judgement, the yelling, and the divisiveness.

WHAT A THOUGHT

So then, if we had strong communities, maybe we wouldn’t be having this problem in the first place?

Now I’m going to talk about politics. I think that the level of division in our country is a security threat. It is a threat to our democracy. It appears that multiple foreign countries have figured out how to manipulate our elections and political process for their own gain. Almost exclusively, they are preying on our own divisions to do so.

Is it an incorrect conclusion then, that the best way to fight for and save our democracy is to get to know our neighbors? To meet and get to know people in our community who don’t think or live like us? To talk with the homeless, the middle class, and the rich? To talk with brown, black, white? To talk with young, middle-aged, and old? With men, women, and everyone in between?

That seems like a logical conclusion to me. It seems to me that it is time to do our patriotic duty. It seems like, all it’s going to take to stand up for the principles that our country are founded upon, is for you and I to go out and bridge the gaps in our own lives.

Bridge the gaps, instead of fighting for our point of view. No one is going to do it for us.

‘MERICA!

Let’s Take On Ending Homelessness in Santa Cruz

It can’t happen if we don’t talk about it

Join me, join us, to get this process started. For more info, you can email me here: evan (at) thefreeguide.org

Reuniting the US sounds like a Herculean task

How can I accept my country slowly, painfully tearing itself apart? A country who’s founding motto is “Out of Many, One.” A country that calls itself the United States.

A comedian friend of mine posted on facebook, that he wore a shirt that had some American flag themed decoration on it for his comedy set. That after his set, a lady came up to him and told him that he should not wear that shirt because he was obviously a liberal and liberals aren’t patriotic.

This is where we are at today.

We’ve been leading up to this for a long time. Way back in 2003, if my memory serves, I was working on a bond campaign for a local library. I was talking with a potential volunteer for the campaign, and he asked me if I was a Republican. I said no (I’m not registered with any party), and he said good – that he would never work with a Republican. But it was different then, than it is today. It wasn’t quite so… visceral.

I remember reading about a time when the political parties in this country could get along. Or at least, not view each other as the enemy. It seems to me that all that came crashing down when Newt Gingrich was the speaker of the house in the 1990’s. But the days of seeing allies across the aisle, if they ever existed, seem to be gone.

This is very upsetting for me. Because at some point, this state is a conscious choice for everyone involved. We choose to badmouth our political adversaries. We choose to lie about them. We choose to heap endless tons of criticism upon them. We choose to distort what we see to serve our political ends. We choose to tear down our fellow countrymen and countrywomen. We choose to shut out wide swaths of our own people from the political and policy making process. We chose this, and we choose it again every day. We are 327 million people (last I checked) choosing to do this to ourselves.

How does anyone turn that around?

I don’t know.

Maybe I have an idea, though. What I can do, is bring people together locally. Maybe that will make a difference. Maybe there are other people, in other parts of the country, who are doing the same.

Maybe getting people off of the internet, out from in front of their screens, and talking to each other – maybe that will make a difference. I feels, to me, that social media and media in general today is just designed to inflame. That we are all inflamed, and that’s why we don’t hear each other. That’s why people who think differently than us look like the enemy.

Normally, when I write about something that is bothering me, I write until I feel better. In this instance, I don’t know that I will be able to feel better about this. How can I accept my country slowly, painfully tearing itself apart? A country who’s founding motto is “Out of Many, One.” A country that calls itself the United States. A country where every man (and woman) is equal. The land of the free and the home of the brave. Maybe all that great stuff I was told about our country as a kid was hokum.

But that hokum is worth fighting for.

I don’t have easy answers here. Maybe all there is to do is to continue to move forward. To continue to try things, and to see what works. To continue to stand for what I believe our country should stand for.

Right now, that’s all I’ve got.

Liam Neeson is doing what we want

Chances are, you do something today that is not going to be socially acceptable in 40 years.

You are going to want to be able to apologize, show remorse, and move on. Lets give him space to do the same. He is not unrepentant, he isn’t saying “you know what? I’m still mad about this. I’m going to get my baton and go out into the streets of Ireland right now…” No. If he was, then go ahead, have at him.

He’s not a fragile man who thinks that you should never apologize. Liam is showing us how to grow. There are some people, who carry the same feelings he carried back when he went looking through Ireland for a black man to kill, who are only going to be open to changing their views when they see that someone else has already changed their views. Who, in the face of social pressure to change, are only going to harden their hearts and buckle down – but who will listen to someone who felt the way they do.

This is how we grow. If we don’t allow space for people to sincerely apologize and atone for their misdeeds, we don’t allow people to move on from the thinking that lead to those misdeeds in the first place. Something about our human brains; owing up to our mistakes allows us to let them go, hiding them doesn’t.

This is made somewhat simpler by the fact that he didn’t actually do anything. He didn’t assault or attempt to kill anyone, even though he meant to for a few moments of his life. This conversation gets more complicated when someone took an action that harmed someone else, but it’s still a conversation to have.

Also, what he wanted to do wasn’t okay then either. But it was significantly more socially acceptable then than it is today.

I, as well as most of you who read this, live in America. I admire a few of the people who founded our country in the late 1700’s, and consider most of them to be good people. Yet many of those men I admire were slave owners and probably misogynists.

Cultures and attitudes change, and in our time they are changing within our lifetimes. If we don’t allow people to raise their hand and say that they were wrong in how they thought, they are sorry and they have grown from thinking that way – then not only do we condemn them for the mistakes and foolishness of the past, but we condemn ourselves. For inevitably, one day we will find ourselves in their shoes.

Mourning 9/11, And Everything After

Now that I work with veterans, today was not an easy day

As I drove up to the 9/11 memorial this morning, I saw veterans outside greeting each other. I had to flee. I had to keep going. I couldn’t be in that space. I couldn’t be with men and women who had signed up to sacrifice it all – when I hadn’t. It felt… disrespectful. I felt as if I would be violating a sacred space.

All of my conflicted thoughts about 9/11 came to the surface at once. I found myself parked down the road, with tears in my eyes.

A vet asked me recently, why I didn’t serve. I told him that, being 18 on 9/11, I didn’t want to fight an insurgency…

He didn’t know what an insurgency was.

I’ve mentioned before in this blog how I had studied foreign affairs for years, and that I knew jihad was coming to the US – I also knew that our military and our society hadn’t learned the lessons from Vietnam. That we hadn’t come up with effective strategies for dealing with an enemy who could blend into the populace.

The mess that followed justified my decision. The expanded war in Afghanistan. The war in Iraq. ISIS… Dying via an IED on some street in Iraq would have been far from an acceptable death for me.

I also see 9/11 as a catalyst, a catalyst that exposed the fissures in American society. Besides the death and misery of millions in the Middle East; 9/11 brought us Obama, and 9/11 brought us Trump. The deep divide in our culture, the big oscillations between extremes – I see as responses to 9/11.

What there is for me is to mourn all of it. Not just the events of 9/11, but the seventeen years that have followed. The swift death of the America of my childhood (the 90’s)…

Yet, even though I feel as though I made the right choices for me, I have guilt. Guilt for not taking direct action in the face of a trying time. Guilt for seeing the options in front of me, saying “not the military,” and then not finding another way to take action. Guilt that I only feel on days like today.

So instead? I’ll do what I’m paid to do. I’ll go out into Santa Cruz county to look for homeless veterans. Just for the game of it, I’ll look for someone specific. I’ll see if I can find a young guy who was on the streets of Fallujah. Maybe in the back country of Afghanistan. I’ll go put the light at the end of somebody’s tunnel.

That’s how I can serve my country today. That’s what’s in front of me.

And the tears in my eyes as I finish this post are tears for 9/11, and everything after.

 

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When Does Someone Deserve Homelessness?

Is there a crime where homelessness is the appropriate punishment? I haven’t found one yet.

For those of you who may have missed it, I got a new job in November. I now am part of a team that gets homeless veterans into stable housing. It’s a great job, and I truly love to go to work every day. What has also happened, since I took this job, is I’ve been forced to reevaluate how I think about aspects of life. This is one of those aspects.

Before I fully address the headline of this blog, however, I’m going to ask you to consider something. What if we, as a people, have exactly the economy we have designed? If our normal way of thinking, that we are essentially powerless over how our economy goes, is simply a learned way of thinking and not actually true? What if, in the process of handing over the management of our economy to our government, we have forgotten that our government does actually manage the economy? And that, by working together, we have the knowledge and ability to change the economy in any way we see fit?

I’m going to assert that we do have the economy we have designed. I’m also going to assert that the powerlessness we feel over the economy is due to the powerlessness we feel over our political system. And that our political system has effectively declined to take effective action regarding our economy, or declined to obtain the knowledge to manage our economy as we see fit. Or declined to participate fully in the mechanisms that we use to make the economy work for us. That it is not a deficit of ability.

That homelessness is not an unhappy accident within our economy and society, but a feature. That homelessness could be a byproduct of the way we think about money, work, family and housing. It could be the byproduct of the broken way that we have all learned to work together.

So, if we consider that homelessness in one way or another is happening on purpose (even if the “purpose” is simply us declining to take action where we can), then my question is;

What does someone have to do to deserve homelessness? People who commit serious crimes (murder, rape, etc) get to be housed in prison. Not ideal housing, obviously, but they have a roof over their head. Do you deserve to lose housing if you default on a mortgage? I would argue no, you deserve to lose that house but not housing. Don’t pay your rent? Lose your apartment, sure. Housing? No. Medical issues that wipe out your finances? Absolutely should not lose housing. Break up with a significant other? Should not lose access to housing. Lose work and have trouble finding new employment? Should not lose access to housing. Struggle with addiction and/or mental disorders? Still shouldn’t lose access to housing.

At what point should someone lose access to housing? I haven’t found one.

On a practical level, this makes me wonder if there should be some sort of safety net. We have a safety net if you lose your job: unemployment. What about a safety net if you lose a place to live? What would that look like? How would that work?

But putting aside the practical for one more moment, there are deeper issues to address. Lots of homeless people at some point were made to be homeless. Maybe we should stop doing that to people. How we stop doing that, I’m not sure…

This Might Be the Best Sunday of Football Ever

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine asked “What keeps your faith in the world?”

It’s days like today. Seeing, of all things, NFL players taking a knee together during the national anthem today is what keeps my faith. After Trump said anyone who kneels should be fired… as if kneeling is any disrespect to the national anthem.

I don’t remember being so moved by football.

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I honestly don’t remember being so proud to be American. Not about anything that happened in my lifetime. Seeing so many Americans kneeling against divisiveness. Kneeling to remind the country that too many black people are dying at the hands of police.

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Seeing so many people back the kneelers, or at least stand up for their right to kneel.

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I’m proud to see America finally show it’s true colors. It always takes a crisis…

Abortion Doesn’t Have to Divide Us

I think there is a foreseeable future in which the issue of abortion does not divide people and determine elections. That doesn’t mean I think that people are going to stop arguing about whether or not abortion should be legal. At least not in the US, not in my lifetime. But it does not need to continue to be the political football that it is.

What got me thinking about this was this piece on what it was like before abortion was legal in all 50 states. It was pretty harrowing to read what women who felt that they needed abortions had to go through before abortion was legal. Then, a friend of mine commented on it:

Friend: “I take responsibility for all I do. I break it I buy it. I don’t see a difference in having sex without condoms or other controls. Don’t play the game unless you can live with the outcome. Its still killing a child no matter how they want to paint it. When my wife said she was pregnant and asked what we should do I said..have a baby..I was out of work..she had a low paying job and we struggled..I sold things to make ends meet. We used WIC for a short time..but we didn’t kill our baby because it cramped our life style or it was the wrong time..bullshit excuses..grow up. Take responsibility for your actions and their outcomes.”

I responded: “I get wanting people to take responsibility for their actions, but I also think illegalizing abortion will take us back to the world described above…” (above being in the article)

A lot of people, like my friend, like to couch their view of abortion in the language of personal responsibility. But a child is more responsibility than one person can bear. As a father, I can tell you that having a child really is more responsibility than two people can bear without a lot of support. Every woman who is pregnant has to make a judgement call about whether or not the community around her will support her in raising her child. This isn’t something that the pregnant woman will necessarily have thought of before. I would hazard a guess that most people don’t think about it. At least in our culture, that seems to prize independence, I wonder how many people think about their wider community when they are considering having a baby. How should people even begin to think about that? But I’m getting off on a tangent…

My friend, and many other people, argue that if you can’t live with the consequences you shouldn’t do the deed. That’s fine as an argument, but we aren’t going to be illegalizing unprotected sex. Nor are we going to be making a law that says someone can only have unprotected sex if they want to have a kid. People are well within their rights to have unprotected sex if they choose to. So sure, you can tell people that they shouldn’t have unprotected sex if they aren’t ready to have a kid – but saying that isn’t going to stop anyone from having sex, nor is it a substitute for policy. Ultimately I’m not sure what good it does to even make that argument.

I suspected that the reason most women have an abortion is because the logistics aren’t lining up for them. So I googled, and literally the first relevant response backed up my suspicion. 86% of respondents in the most recent study I found cited reasons for getting their abortion that I would categorize as logistical: unready, can’t afford baby now, has all the children she wanted or all children are grown, has problems with relationship or wants to avoid single parenthood, is too immature or young to have a child, would interfere with education plans/would interfere with career plans.

This makes me think that we’ve been focusing on what divides us instead of what can unite us. Sure, whether or not abortion should be legal is a thing that divides our population. But making sure that pregnant women have the support they need to confidently give birth is a completely different conversation that does not have to divide us. That is simply a question of logistics. What logistics would make a difference for people who would, in today’s world, consider abortion? Enough maternity and paternity leave, robust adoption and foster programs, affordable day care and affordable medical coverage – I’m just brainstorming here, but these are what come to mind. I imagine that those of you reading this can come up with more good ideas as well.

If it is indeed roughly accurate that 86% of abortions in the US in a given year are due to pregnant women not feeling like they can get the support they will need (don’t take my word for it, I just did a cursory review of one study)… then we’ve been having the wrong conversation this whole time. The primary question is not “should abortion be legal?” but “how do we support women who are pregnant?”

Whether or not abortion is legal isn’t going to change the demand for abortion. But I do think we have to consider the role of government policy and/or private institutions in a woman’s calculus when she is choosing to have a baby or not. I think that if we address this as a society, we can look towards a future when the issue of abortion is actually in the rearview mirror. When we can read about it in history class, instead of in blaring headlines in the news feed of our choice.