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I’ve already survived one plague where people said the victims weren’t worth saving… and now?

“I never encountered anyone who is willing to die for someone else’s 401k. This is a whole new level of craziness.” — former FBI special agent Ali H. Soufan

“I never encountered anyone who is willing to die for someone else’s 401k. This is a whole new level of craziness.” — former FBI special agent Ali H. Soufan

HIV is not a casually infectious illness, requiring intimate contact and an exchange of bodily fluids to transmit, however, there are a few similarities between the height of the AIDS crisis and our current situation in the COVID-19 pandemic. One of those similarities is the fact that people can be infectious without any obvious symptoms. You can’t tell looking at a person that they are sick. Another similarity—one I’m frankly a bit surprised at—is how quickly a number of people have started talking about the people who seem to be most at-risk to die from the illness as being expendable.

I linked to this story a couple of days ago: Wall Street Journal Types Wonder Aloud If Nation’s Health Is ‘Worth’ The Economic Hit. And then of course there was this guy: Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick: I and Many Other Grandparents Would Rather Die from COVID-19 Than See the Economy Ruined . And online I’ve seen a number of people grumbling because they think only older people are vulnerable to serious illness. One comment that was extremely chilling: “Why do we have to suffer to keep some people alive who don’t have that many years left, anyway?”

It may not be quite as bad as that time (when I was a very closeted guy in my early-twenties) while my head was bowed in church when the pastor leading the prayer thanked god for the scourge of AIDS which was “killing all the gays” but it came close. Nor is it quite as bad as the time a college classmate said to me, “I know Jesus said to take care of the sick, but they didn’t know what caused all illnesses back then. We know what causes AIDS…”

So, in both cases we are talking about a virus. As I have pointed out, outside of the U.S., the vast majority of people who have been sickened and died of AIDS are straight women and children, not gay men. HIV is a virus, a natural phenomenon which is passed from person-to-person through behaviors that are a natural part of being a human being.

And while you can cherry pick the data to show that older people are more likely to die of complications of COVID-19, they aren’t the only people who do. In fact, that data is looking more and more suspect as time goes on: The Coronavirus Is Sending Lots Of Younger People To The Hospital – It’s increasingly clear that early data out of China was an anomaly: the coronavirus is severely harming substantial numbers of people under 50, too.

We know that factors which increase the likelihood of developing severe symptoms include a lot of chronic health problems that are widespread in the population. About 60% of adults have at least one of those known chronic health disorders. We also know that people how smoke or who are ex-smokers are at higher risk for getting severely ill. We have less data about whether vaping is also a risk factor, but it isn’t unreasonable to think so.

But there’s another risk factor that people aren’t taking into consideration: lack of health care options. Sure, it appears that the death rate is about 3.4% in general… yet we have places such as Italy and Spain that are seeing something closer to 8%, and at least one reason why is that so many people got sick at the same time that there weren’t enough hospital beds for the severely sick, and there weren’t enough respirators for those severely sick people who needed them.

Which is why the shelter-in-place/stay-at-home orders are important. Slowing the spread makes it possible that we might not have too many people severely sick at the same time than we have facilities for.

Though it’s quite likely that several spots in the U.S. are going to overwhelm their medical facilities, soon.

I am worried about my own health, it’s true. I am far more worried about the health of people that I know and love. I am worried about the economic hardships many are already facing, and that a lot more of us may be facing, soon. But most of those economic hardships (and many worse) will happen if infection rates surge to the point that millions die. The notion that ordinary people aren’t going to face disruptions and financial problems if all the orders are lifted and everyone goes back to work is simply wrong.

Humans are social animals. One of our survival traits as a species is that we take care of each other. My community didn’t survive the plague of AIDS by taking an “everyone for themself” attitude. The world won’t survive if you fail to learn the lessons of our ordeal:

Love One Another or Die: Lessons for Coronavirus From the HIV/AIDS Crisis.

Survivors Of The AIDS Crisis Share How We Can Get Through The Coronavirus Pandemic.


Edited to Add: I’d already started the draft of this post before this tweet went across my timeline and I chose to re-tweet it. Decided I should add it here:

Weekend Update: talk about insider trading and disaster profiteering!

Picture of a guillotine with the words “Your money and privilege have their limits.”

(click to embiggen)

Once again it is time for one of my Saturday posts where I talk about news stories that either broke after I finished this week’s Friday Five, or has had new developments since it was linked, or otherwise bears sharing now rather than later. Along with more commentary from me than usually accompanies the Friday Five posts. And oh, we have have some juicy news today! Let’s go!

Let’s begin with this: These Senators Sold Millions Worth of Stock After Private Briefings on the Impending Coronavirus Crisis . First, I want to point out that the original headline talks about Republican Senators, but even in the initial breaking story, there was one Democrat, as well. So I fixed the headline. So, Senators receive a number of classified briefings about the looming pandemic, and several of them, just coincidentally, sold off millions of dollars in stock in industries likely to take a hit. At least one of them doing so while simultaneously writing editorials and going on the various news shows to insist that the country was ready to handle any such emergency and that everything was going to be fine.

One of those Senators has been trying to defend herself by claiming that all the sales were done without her knowledge, but the problem is that her husband, who just so happens to be the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, also unloaded a bunch of stock after the briefings. Most of the others are trying to defend themselves by claiming the sales conform to the law… And it is true that the law gives Congresspeople a lot of leeway to do this sort of thing: An Invitation to Corruption – As long as lawmakers are allowed to trade individual stocks, disaster profiteering is always a risk.

The short version is that members of congress are allowed to buy and sell stock based on public information that they learn during the course of their work so long as the transactions are reported within 30 days. Which is very lenient, because the definition of public information is broad. As congress people receiving briefings, the information they received is often contextualized in a way that the information isn’t available to the general public. In other words, they have taxpayer-funded help sorting out the signal from the noise, while the taxpayers are left with the noise…

However, the information received in classified briefings shouldn’t count as public information. So I think a few of these guys might actually suffer consequences. I mean, even Tucker Carlson, who normally defends any crime and outrage every single Republican commits has called this one out: Tucker Carlson demands a Republican senator either explain his stock sell-off or resign – “There is no greater moral crime than betraying your country in a time of crisis.”.

I nearly spit my coffee all over my keyboard when I saw the word “moral” coming out of Carson’s mouth. But, even a broken clock is correct sometimes!

And as the story developed House members, Senate aides traded stocks in early days of coronavirus. We know that it is a lot more members of Congress involved.

Part of the reason it is so outrageous that the law is so lax on this is because not only do members of congress have access to information that the public doesn’t, but they write and vote on laws that funnel tax dollars into various efforts. In private business, insider trading laws recognize that employees of publicly-traded companies have information before the public does, and therefore are in a position to sell their own stock at times just before information that will greatly devalue that same stock once it is know. Such trades are effectively stealing money from the people who are buying those stocks. So it’s illegal for employees of private companies to buy or sell the stock when they are in possession of information the public doesn’t yet have. Executives, who not only have a lot more information than the average employee but can also change policies within the company that effect the value, are limited to very narrow windows, beginning a number of days after quarterly earning reports are published, and ending a short time later.

Members of Congress have no such limitation.

It isn’t just corrupt politicians we have to worry about profiteering off of a national crisis. A lot of other rich a-holes are similarly morally bankrupt: Wall Street Journal Types Wonder Aloud If Nation’s Health Is ‘Worth’ The Economic Hit – Not making that up. Stephen Moore of The Heritage Foundation and his former colleagues at The Wall Street Journal are “asking the question” if COVID mitigation measures are “worth” the economic hit..

If you must have the sanctity of human life explained to you, maybe you shouldn’t be allowed to be in charge of anything. At all.

Let’s end with this: Rachel Maddow: Media Needs to Stop Airing Trump’s Lie-Filled COVID-19 ‘Fairytale’ Press Briefings —

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Sunday Update: Please stop hoarding!

I’ve been trying not to get all ranty and also not to turn this blog into all-pandemic all-the-time, but… Here’s the thing. I know that all of us are anxious, and it feels as if washing our hands and avoiding crowded places, and wiping down the handle of our shopping cart, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera isn’t really doing anything. But the panicked buying and the profiteering isn’t actually helping, either.

Besides being an old fart, and therefore automatically in a higher risk group for getting severely sick, I am also diabetic (and before certain people chime in, it’s been identified as one of the genetic types, so no, there is absolutely no amount of exercise nor weight loss that could prevent it—I have long joked the diabetes doesn’t run in my dad’s family, it stampedes and now I have medical proof that it isn’t a joke). Besides putting me in yet another high risk category, what that also means is that a couple times a day I have to swab some part of my skin with alcohol, poke it with a lancing device, and place a drop of blood on a test strip to check my blood sugar (while pressing the alcohol swab to the pinprick to help stop the bleeding in a sterile way), and at least once a day I also have to inject myself with the medication that controls my condition and guess what—that also requires swabbing some spot of my skin with alcohol before stabbing myself with the needle (and afterward wiping again, as per medical recommendations).

Now, I come for a long, long, long line of penny-pinchers, so I worked out the routine a long time ago of doing the swab-lance-test-press-swab-stab-inject-swab-again routine in a short enough time frame that it only takes one alcohol wipe to get the test and inject job done. But, that’s the morning injection. I’m also supposed to check my blood sugar twice more during the day, and under certain circumstances, inject myself with a second medication at bedtime.

So when all the panic-buying started, I double-checked my wipe supply and confirmed that I had an unopened box in the cabinet in addition to the box I was using. And I had two. (Because it’s cheaper to order the three-pack). Then I reached the end of the current box, and I told myself, “That’s fine, I have a couple more boxes.” But then I saw enough comments about people having things back-ordered and I thought, “Okay, though this should last me a couple of months, maybe it’s okay to order a single box, knowing that it isn’t going to ship for many weeks.”

That was merely eight days ago. This morning I got the third update in that time advising me that the arrival date is being pushed back some more.

The problem is that some people will read this and think, “Oh, no! I need to buy more of blank just in case…” which is just going to make things worse.

Since we’re on the subject, let’s dive in:

Please Stop Treating Me Like I’m Disposable When You Talk About The Coronavirus . This one really hits several spots. I keep seeing people insisted that “only a few percent of people are at risk” and variants. First, a lot of people are at risk. High risk groups include older people, and if you are not old you may think that means it doesn’t matter to you—but what about your parents and other older relatives? Do you really not care about them?

But it’s more than just “old people” who are at risk, it is also people with pre-existing chronic health conditions (including high blood pressure [33% of adults in America], diabetes [9.4% of Americans], heart disease [6% of adults in America], and a wide variety of chronic illnesses and disabilities that compromise the immune system). The best guess is about 60% of the population has at least one such underlying health issue, and 40% have more than one.

So think of it this way: imagine yourself and your two best friends get infected. Out of just those three people, statistically, two of you are probably at higher risk to develop a severe case and require hospitalization and a ventilator/respirator to have any hope of surviving.

And no, I’m not making that up: What Will You Do If You Start Coughing? “Stay home” is not a sufficient plan. When health officials say most people will have mild symptoms, that word doesn’t mean what you think it means: “a “mild” case of COVID-19 is not equivalent to a mild cold. Expect it to be much worse: fever and coughing, sometimes pneumonia—anything short of requiring oxygen.”

But wait, there’s more: “Flattening the Curve” is a deadly delusion. “Once a person is on the ventilator, it often takes about 4 weeks for them to get out of intensive care again.”

And: This Coronavirus Is Unlike Anything in Our Lifetime — Here’s Why We Need to Stop Comparing It to the Flu.

And don’t get me started on all the lies and worse in the White House press briefings…

That’s enough of depressing news. Don’t forget to wash your hands (soap and water are fine). Also, moisturize! While the washing literally kills the virus (and other nanoparticals), it also damages the skin, which makes your hands more vulnerable. Your skin is your first defense, so use some lotion regularly, too!

Finally, Randy Rainbow has humorously summarized many related issues, while making a parody for a song from one of my favorite under-appreciated musicals (Guys and Dolls)—

The CORONAVIRUS Lament – A Randy Rainbow Song Parody:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)


Edited to add: Some comments indicated people don’t understand what kind of alcohol wipes I’m talking about in the opening two paragraphs. They are TINY little wipes intended for a single medical purpose. They aren’t big enough to effectively wipes door handles, cart handles, doorknobs, and other large objects in the real world that need to be disinfected.

Weekend Update 03/07/2020: Men with more money, hate, and self-loathing than sense

It is time once again for another of my Saturday posts where I talk about news stories that either broke after I finished this week’s Friday Five, or a story having been linked and/or commented upon in any of my previous posts has had new developments. Let’s go!

So, yesterday I included a link to a story where a guy who is frequently on CNBC as a financial expert said that it would be better for the economy if everyone just got sick the people who are going to die from COVID-19 just did so and got it over with so the rest of the world could get on with business. He didn’t literally quote the line from A Christmas Carol where Scrooge tells the two well-meaning gentleman taking donations for the poor that people who would rather die than go into the debtor’s prison that, if they would rather die, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population,” but he came close. Well, since then he has tried to backpedal a bit: Rick Santelli Sorry He Said You Should Get Sick And Die, For The Economy. Of course, since this is hardly the first time he has said that we shouldn’t care about people who have had bad things happen to them, I rather doubt his sincerity.

Let’s move on.

Earlier in the week I logged into the blog to work on a post, and I saw that my clicks were way, way up. So I looked at the list, and two old blog posts about disgraced former Congressman Aaron Schock (and self-loathing closet case) were getting a whole lot of hits. I had already seen the news stories where he finally came out of the closet (again, I’ll get into that), so I shouldn’t have been surprised—yet I was. Anyway, because one particular old Weekend Update post on the subject always gets lots of hits whenever Schock is in the news, I have taken to adding updates to the bottom of said post rather than keep making new posts just for him. I did so again. I’m gonna just quote it here for starts:

Update 7: Now, here it is March 2020, and Schock has decided to really come out. He means it, this time, because there is a really long post about it on his Instagram. As Joe Jervis notes on Joe.My.God: “The post goes on for several self-pitying pages.” He still doesn’t apologize for all his anti-gay votes and campaigning. The closest he comes is saying if he were in Congress today he would vote differently on LGBT issues. But he also reaffirms several times that he still supports the rest of the Republican agenda. In the self-pitying parts he blames his anti-gay votes on feeling the need to fit in with his Republican colleagues, which I’m going to give myself a silver star for, as I have predicted on this blog that Schock would eventually come out and blame the pressures of being closeted for all his hateful speeches and votes.

Since making that update, I keep seeing news outlets carrying the story of Schock coming out, and a lot of them are reporting it as if it’s just a sort-of-famous person coming out and isn’t he brave? Except, of course, he isn’t.

Those self-pitying pages of his really long Instagram post are filled with, “woe is me, my bigoted parents/friends/former colleagues have all rejected me” since he was caught on camera making out and groping guys in public, and his really bad attempt at coming out last August by actually asking a couple of other gay republicans to pretend to leak some of his pictures and conversations trying to hookup with men for sex online (and then renouncing it).

Millions of queer people have been rejected by family members. Some of us even had close family members threaten to beat us or worse (even if we came out after moving out on our own and becoming productive members of society). But most of us didn’t run for political office on extremely anti-gay platforms, vote against LGBT rights, give hateful speeches in Congress and on the campaign trail calling for rollback of what rights we had clawed out in some jurisdictions at the time. And most of us weren’t so comfortably well off that we could afford more than one multi-million dollar homes. I’m sure he’s not quite as wealthy as he used to be, but he has the funds to go to across the continent to attend the music festival where he was groping those guys, and later to Mexico where he was videoed putting money into the g-string of a male stripper. So I’m having trouble feeling sorry for him right now.

During each of the six years he was in Congress (from 2009-2015), several hundred kids were bullied because people suspected they were queer to the point that they committed suicide. Even more kids each of those years were thrown out on the streets by religious parents. Speeches Schock made in those years and votes he took contributed to the hostile homophobic environment that causes that bullying and rejection. So he has to do some atonement before he’s entitled to any sympathy.

I’ll let someone else say it: A Message to Former Congressman Aaron Schock — Welcome, I guess?

I will admit, at first I wanted to rant, “Girl, bye. Take your Republican, anti-LGBTQ ass outta here and go rub suntan oil on some WeHo dummy who doesn’t know he’s sleeping with the enemy.” But I thought better of that. I thought, “No, I should take the high road. What Aaron needs is help, because attractive, rich, gay, white celebrities never get help.”’

…So Aaron, I want to help you. I want to offer you the help you don’t deserve and that you never gave anyone else you oppressed. Privilege, right? It’s great.

It’s funny, and he has some good suggestions.

And now, for a different kind of self-loathing gay man: Ex-Judge Guilty Of Buying AR-15 For Nazi Boyfriend. I tried to follow the link that is inside that story to read the longer piece at the Pittsburgh Gazette, but the website asked me to whitelist the site to proceed. So I did, and in order to whitelist you have to then refresh and guess what, they then tell me that I have exceeded my free stories for the month. That is a really badly programmed paywall. Anyway, to avoid a paywall you can get some more details here: Retired Judge Admits To Buying AR-15 For Felon With Nazi Obsession.

It’s not crazy enough that a retired federal judge, of all people, illegally bought at least one semiautomatic rifle for the convicted felon who also happens to be a neo-Nazi. It’s that the judge, who is a man, and the neo-Nazi, who is also a man, are in a romantic relationship. Why do so many self-loathing gay white guys embrace Hitler? The original Nazis hated the gays (please go google “night of long knives” and “history of the pink triangle” if you’re not familiar). And neo-Nazis hate the gays, too. WTF?

The feds found a rather large cache of weapons, ammunition, and Nazi memorabilia. Some people just have way more money than sense, I guess.

Anyway, I wanna close this by quoting a hilarious tweet from more more than a year ago which explains why the image I linked above recommends composting rather than eating the rich. Take it away @Foone:

friendly reminder since this is going around again: DO NOT EAT THE RICH!
it’s called bio-magnification, people! the rich are at the top of the food chain, so they accumulate toxins from their food at a greatly increased rate.
Instead, /compost/ the rich.

Drip, drip, drip— or, Showing up matters

A drop of water falls into more water...

Credit: Pixabay

A few months before my 18th birthday, both my maternal and paternal grandfathers, independently, started asking me if I had registered to vote, since I was going to be eligible to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. They were both big believers that voting wasn’t merely a right, it is also a responsibility. My paternal grandfather, for instance, was the one who told me when I was much younger that I shouldn’t argue politics with my father specifically because Dad had never voted in his life and therefore didn’t have a right to express an opinion on such matter.

The main thing I remember about that first election was that the person I voted to represent me in Congress won, while the down ballot races were more mixed. My preferred party lost the majority in the state legislatures lower house, that year.

Two years later was the first time I voted in a presidential election, and I have much more vivid recollections of just what a painful election it was. The guy I least wanted to become president (Reagan) won. My choices for Senator, Governor, and state Attorney General lost. The both house of the state legislator swung heavily into Republican control. I was devastated. It was another 12 years before the person who I chose on the general election ballot would win the Presidency—and that person had not been the candidate I supported during the caucuses. Then another 16 years before the candidate I favored in the caucuses got the nomination (and went on to become President).

My point is, out of 10 presidential election cycles, only four times did the person I vote for win, and even less often did the candidate I favored in the run-up even make it to the ballot. And the way things look right now, the person I wish would get the nomination and become the next president has become quite a longshot. But at no point has it ever made sense to me that I shouldn’t vote.

I was reminded this morning—while I was looking at the demographic information about who actually turned out to vote in yesterday’s primaries (and the heated discussion from some quarters about the results)—of the Zen story about A Drop of Water:

A Zen master asked a young student to bring him a pail of water to cool his bath.

The student brought the water, and after cooling the bath, threw the remaining water over the ground.

“Think,” said the master to the student. “You could have watered the temple plants with those few drops you have thrown away.”

The young student understood Zen in that exact moment. He changed his name to Tekisui, which means drop of water, and lived to become a wise Zen master himself.

The usual lesson people take from the story is that it’s easy while struggling with big problems (the buckets of water), to become careless about more routine chores.

One of the most fundamental of chores is to show up. It doesn’t matter how pure or noble your intentions are. It doesn’t matter how many people you have harassed tried to educate on line. It doesn’t even matter if you have volunteered or donated to your great and noble candidate. If you don’t show up and vote, you leave the decision to other people. And yelling about conspiracies after the vote didn’t go your way, rather than admitting that the people who showed up (and thanks to voter suppression tricks going on in some states, stood in line for up to 7 hours before getting to cast their votes) just picked a different person.

If you did show up and vote, but the polling data indicates that a lot of people who claim to agree with you didn’t, those people are the ones you should be yelling at. They are the ones who have let you down. The other voters who maybe have your candidate as their second or third choice are not the problem.

Tuesday Tidbits: Not the good kind of viral

Yeah, that’ll work…

It didn’t occur to me at the time that I got caught in a traffic jam in a parking lot for more than 40 minutes this weekend that panicked-hoarding shopping might have been part of the problem. But based on the reports of stores being completely out of toilet paper, soap, cleaning supplies (especially hand sanitizer), and any and all kinds of breathing masks in the region, maybe that was a factor.

I know this is all over the news, and if you’re tired of reading about it, I strongly urge you to skip down to the hilarious John Oliver video. It’s got good information, but it is also funny, and I really need the laugh!

Yes, it is worse than the flu: busting the coronavirus myths – The truth about the protective value of face masks, the speed at which a vaccine could be ready and how easy it is to catch Covid-19.

Trump is ignoring the lessons of 1918 flu pandemic that killed millions, historian says.

It’s hard to know what perspective to take on any of this news, if for no other reasons than that a lot of people have trouble visualizing the numbers that may be involved. And even though I have been one of the people pointing out how many hundreds of thousands of people die from influenza each year, comparing it to the flu isn’t really a good analogy. Influenza has been infecting humans for generations, and we have flu vaccines. That means a large portion of the population already have anti-bodies that work against some strains of flu. Covid-19 doesn’t appear to be similar enough to any viruses most of us have ever encountered, so none of us have any resistance.

And speaking of people not understanding (or outright intentionally misusing) statistics: No, 38% Of Americans Probably Didn’t Stop Drinking Corona Because Of Coronavirus – When polling gets filtered through beer goggles and What the Dubious Corona Poll Reveals – Americans are desperate to believe the worst about one another.

And then there are the crazy conspiracy theories, some coming out of the mouths of Senators and White House officials: Trying to sum right-wing reactions to the Covid-19 situation.

Because: When a Pandemic Meets a Personality Cult.

Enough of all that. This video does a great job of summarizing facts, putting things in as much perspective as possible, with a lot of laughs (and part of it has a great beat that is easy to dance to) — John Oliver Warns Against Extreme Reactions to the Coronavirus: “Don’t be complacent, and don’t be a f**king idiot.” :

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Weekend Update 02/29/2020: the Graveyard of Empires

So many stories popped up during the lunchtime read yesterday, that I was contemplating a different format of a Weekend Update this time, with a lot less commentary and just a bunch of links. Then I woke up this morning to a really big news story, which was related to a link that didn’t make it into this week’s Friday Five… so you’re going to get some commentary, oh some commentary!

For some context: 133 years ago, when Arthur Conan Doyle’s very first Sherlock Holmes story (A Study In Scarlet) was published, he introduced the world to both Sherlock and Dr. John Watson. Watson, we learn in the first scene, was a British Army medic serving in Afghanistan where he was wounded so severely he was mustered out and has returned to England to try to get his life back together. The British spent decades trying to tame Afghanistan during the 1800s, and never did.

It should have come as no surprise, I mean, 2350 years ago Alexander the Great was busy conquering the Persian Empire, and pursued one of his enemies into what is now Afghanistan which seemed to him an easy territory to conquer. At first. Later historians described the guerilla style insurgencies that kept coming up there to thwart Alexander’s plan as a many-headed hydra: whenever they struck one group down, two more arose to take its place. 1500 years later, Ghengis Khan’s grandson was killed in the Mongol’s failed attempt to conquer the territory. A century and a half later, the Mughal Empire technically conquered it, but never really had control, either.

There are at least a dozen more of those attempted invasions that mostly failed during the times before 1650 AD, and that is part of the issue with the territory. Because most of those failed invasions left a small population behind that would become yet another ethnic group with its own religion and culture (Most of the inhabitants of the Hazar Valley now are believed to be descended from the Mongol garrison left behind to keep a trade route open, for instance).

The British tried many times between 1845 and 1883 to turn the territory into a stable country that could be either part of the British Empire or at least an allied nation. The Russian Empire first tried to pacify part of what is now Afghanistan in 1885 and the Russians and the Brits basically treated Afghanistan as a football to score points against each other for the next 60-some years. Then starting in 1979 the Soviet Union tried again, eventually admitting defeat after ten years of costly war.

In other words, Afghanistan has been called the Graveyard of Empires for very good reasons.

On an older blog I ranted about all of these things when George W. Bush decided to invade Afghanistan in 2001. Yes, we needed to take action after the 9/11 attacks, but trying to turn Afghanistan into a stable country that would be our ally? That was (and still is) ludicrously unrealistic.

Now we have a little background to tackle today’s news:

U.S. Signs Peace Deal With Taliban After Nearly 2 Decades Of War In Afghanistan.

Wonderful! Peace in Our Time (what could possibly go wrong?) So what is is in this agreement? There’s a pretty thorough break down here: What does the Taliban-US peace agreement say? – The long-awaited comprehensive peace agreement between the two sides is made of four parts.

Important points to consider:

  1. This agreement is between the U.S. and the Taliban (aka the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which is not recognized by the United States as a state). The current Afghan government (such as it is) was not involved in the negotiations directly.
  2. Today we signed a separate agreement with them committing them to enter into a ceasefire and peace talks with the Taliban “and other involved Afghan parties” beginning on March 10.
  3. Also on March 10, we and the Afghans will release about 5000 Taliban prisoners of war (and the Taliban and their allies will release about 1000 prisoners of war they are holding).
  4. Over the course of the next 125 days the U.S. will pull about 3,400 troops from Afghanistan including closing down five bases.
  5. Over the course of the subsequent 9 months, assuming the ceasefire holds up, and assuming that the negotiations between all the “involved Afghan parties” are fruitful, the remaining 8600 U.S. troops (and however many coalition troops remain) will leave.
  6. The Taliban promises to ensure that the territory of Afghanistan will never again be used by groups to threaten the U.S. or its allies, and to help make Afghanistan a country where all people are equal and free.

Sounds good, right?

Well, except, that bit about if the ceasefire holds, all the groups come to an agreement. That’s another of the tricky bits: With Taliban Talks Soon to Start, Afghan Government Splits Apart – The Taliban gloat as Afghanistan’s chief executive refuses to accept the election outcome and vows to form his own “inclusive government”. The last couple of elections in Afghanistan have not gone smoothly. According to many within the country, the election in 2014 didn’t decided who the next President of Afghanistan was, but rather U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry did. And the same people are claiming the same thing but this time it’s Trump’s appointed envoy who decided which side of the disputed race to back.

And a whole lot of people are having a very hard time, based on what the Taliban did when it took over the country in 1996, believing the promised to make Afghanistan a country where all people are equal and free. Back then, they made it illegal for girls and women to go to school. If women were found outside of their homes without a male relative as their escort and without wearing a burqua, they were subject to arrest and public flogging. Young women and girls of certain ethnic groups were abducted with government approval and sold into sex slavery. Then there were the targetting massacres of regions or some ethnic groups deemed as enemies of the Islamic state…

The truth is that if we stay there, we will continue to lose troops, and people within the country will be radicalized and become prime candidates for recruitment by terrorist groups. I completely understand that. And I understand that even if everyone plays nice until we exit, bad things will probably start happening all over again.

Trump needs to be able to claim he finally ended the war. You can bet that’s going to be one of the things he loudly congratulates himself on at his next rally and will continue to do so…

But you should also remember, that last summer he was proclaiming that an agreement to withdraw all troops was just around the corner. Then a car bomb killed a bunch of people, including one American serviceman, and Trump walked away from the agreement, and conveniently stopped talking about it…

So, no, I don’t really find anything to feel hopeful about in this mess at all.

Not All Like That, part 3, or, If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit, I Ain’t Talking About You

“A man is known by the company he keeps.” —English ProverbSometimes insight into important parts of human behavior and social interaction comes from unexpected places. For instance, because of my father’s work, my childhood was spread over 10 elementary schools in four states: Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska. It was mostly very small towns where everyone attended church and it often seemed as if football (whether the local school teams, regional college teams, or pro teams) was at least as important as religion. Because the professional football team that was geographically closest to most of the small towns was the Denver Broncos, a lot of the people were Broncos fans.

But not all.

In almost every one of those towns we lived in, we attended a Southern Baptist Church. Because of the origins of the denomination, at least half of every congregation seemed to be people who either had spent their childhood in the South or Former Confederate States, or their parents had been from there. Consequently, there were always some Dallas Cowboys fans.

Now, clearly, no one is obligated to be from the region a team is headquartered to be a fan, but there is at least a correlation.

I can’t recall a time in my childhood where I didn’t consider the Dallas Cowboys a horrible team. I know part of that is because they were one of the least favorite teams of both my dad and my grandpa. But as time went by, my dislike for the team grew stronger, such that I now feel an intense, visceral revulsion when the team is mentioned.

A few years back, a good friend who isn’t much into football (or sports in general), asked me why it was that I hated the Cowboys so much. Beyond saying that the management of the team (at least back when I was kid) was notorious for not taking care of the players, I didn’t have much. I mean, the guy who was general manager of the team for a long time once famously said to the leadership of the player’s union, “You have to understand: we’re ranchers, and you’re cattle. And we can always find more cattle.”

I’m sure he was hardly the only general manager or team owner across the league to feel that way, but he was willing to say it in a public forum, so take from that what you will.

As I was trying to think of some actual logical reasons, the truth finally hit me: over the years I had met (and often been classmates with or students of) a rather large number of Dallas Cowboys fans. And almost every single one of them that I could remember were the most arrogant unfeeling pricks that I had ever known.

Seriously. In a few posts on other subjects I mentioned a pastor (not of the church I was a member of) who was essentially a camp counsellor at Bible camp. He was fond of, if a boy did or said something he didn’t agree with, grabbing their hand and bending it back into a stress position—you know, a move the cops use to put a person much bigger than themselves down on their knees in agony? But he was a big (and I mean big) man, doing this to 11, 12, and 13-year-old boys in his care. And when one us (like me) actually had tears in our eyes because of the pain, he would snap, “Don’t be such a faggot!” Any time he stepped outside at the camp, he was wearing a Dallas Cowboys baseball cap.

That’s when I realized that my hatred for the Cowboys team was fueled entirely by the many, many, many unpleasant experiences I have had interacting with Cowboys fans. And just as a couple years ago Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum said in answer to a question about his opponent, “I didn’t say he is racist, I said that racists believe he is a racist,” sometimes you can judge a person based on the character of people who are his/her biggest fans.

So when, in two different election cycles four years apart, I see among the fans of one specific candidate people who pile on with misogynist and homophobic attacks directed at anyone who expresses skepticism about their candidate, or has the temerity to favor a different candidate, I have to ask myself, “Why do all these hateful people like him so much?”

Weekend Update 02/22/2020: Scout’s honor and the price of abuse

It’s time for another post about news which either didn’t make it into this week’s Friday Five, or is an update to a story included in a previous Friday Five or Weekend Update, or is otherwise related to some stories I’ve commented upon previously.

You may have heard that the Boy Scouts have filed for bankruptcy. Depending on where you heard it, you might believe that this is related to plummeting membership since the organization changed its code so that kids won’t be kicked out just for admitting they are gay (in a half measure policy the automatically kicks them out as soon as they turn 18, and makes it very easy to get them excluded for quite flimsy reasons). Because the rightwing anti-gay organizations are all screaming that that is what happened.

That is absolutely not what’s going on.

Scouting membership has not dropped since the rule went into effect in 2014. Both the national organization and local chapters are doing well financially.

The problem is that more than 2700 former scouts have come forward about being sexually abused by scoutmasters for many decades—long, long before anyone was contemplating letting openly gay kids into the organization. Sexual abuse lawsuits against other large organizations who failed to protect kids from sexual predators (such as USA Gymnastics) have resulted in large settlements. The national scouts claim they are filing for bankruptcy in order to set up a victim’s compensation fund and protect the assets of local chapters.

There are a few problems with that: For sexual assault victims and local councils, Boy Scouts’ bankrunptcy poses tough questions – On Wednesday, rival lawyers for Boy Scouts of America and 2,700 alleged victims met in federal court in Delaware. One being that when these kinds of cases get settled in bankruptcy court, victims wind up getting far less money, and the organization can continue to function as before. Whereas the goal of the original lawsuits are to get money to help cover the therapy and related costs the victims have already paid, but also to force the organization to learn from its mistakes.

On the other hand, the news of the bankruptcy bid has prompted more victims to come forward: Boy Scouts bankruptcy bid prompts other sex abuse victims to step forward – One Louisiana man, who kept his abuse ordeal secret for 60 years, reached out to a lawyer Tuesday to tell his story.

As a former scout myself I have a some sympathy for letting the local chapters continue to function. There are a lot of kids in these troops who have a lot to gain from its continued existence. But, as a former scout, I also remember that the Scout Law includes the lines: “Try to help others be happy” and “Do what you think is right despite what others might be doing or saying.”

They now know that thousands of people that were in their care are miserable and traumatized by things that happened to them within their organization. Their lawyers are saying to take this legal tactic that limits the consequences they will face for misdeeds. Other organizations have used the bankruptcy courts in the same way. How can someone who has taken the Scout Oath and studied the Scout Law possibly believe that dodging some of the cost this way is the right thing to do? Is a way to help others be happy?

And I’m hardly the only person asking this question: Did the Boy Scouts violate their own honor code by filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy?

The problem is bigger than the Boy Scouts of America. Large institutions, particularly hierarchical organizations tied to the notion of patriarchy, enable abuse. Other parts of the Scout Law urge scouts to obey the rules of their troop, to respect and obey leaders, and to put the needs of others ahead of their own. Those principles can easily be used by manipulative abusers to convince victims that it would be wrong to come forward. If you’re not the victim, your instinct it to protect the organization when you hear any rumors or allegations. If you know and respect the person accused, you’re much more likely to disbelieve the accuser.

And so on.

Religious institutions also attract certain types of people that become abusers. Let’s not forget that the Boy Scouts are a religious organization, the Scout Oath begins, “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law…” One of the reasons that there are so many closeted gay priests and pastors in the most anti-gay churches is that when those priests and pastors were young men struggling with their sexual orientation, they saw doing god’s work as a way to make a bargain: I’ll become a priest, lord, so you can take these feelings away. Similarly, if someone is sexually obsessed with children. Same bargain: I’ll dedicate my life to god, surely he will make these feelings go away?

There is a lot of tragedy in every corner of these messed up situations. But I think it’s most important to focus on the children and young people who were victims of the abusers. The assets of the organization, and the future financial well-being of the organization, should not take a priority.

And to those wingnuts who are trying to make this bankruptcy story somehow the fault of people advocating for the rights of gay kids, how about an organization that is still just as anti-gay as the wingnuts? Harrisburg (PA) Catholic Diocese Declares Bankruptcy After Sex Abuse Lawsuits – In 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a report detailing the abuses that took place in six of the state’s eight dioceses. They published 884 pages of damning information that implicated hundreds of priests.

Exactly.

Oppression Olympics, part 2: What’s so radical about being yourself?

“There's nothing wrong with you. There's a lot wrong with the world you are in.” —Chris Coffer

(Click to embiggen)

For longer than I’ve been alive one of the lines of dispute within what we would now call the LGBT+ Equal Rights movement can be characterized as the Gay Assimilationists vs the Radical Queers. Gay Assimilationists tend to define equality as the integration of non-heterosexual people within existing cultural norms and institutions, while Radical Queers tend to define equality as changing cultural norms and institutions so that all sexual orientations, genders, and presentations of such are welcomed and supported. The Radical Queers reject integration because they see it as embracing and approving of the toxic values that created sexual and gender-based oppression to begin with.

This divide, or course, exists on a spectrum. The beliefs of most people within the community fall somewhere between the extremes, but, enough are on one side or other of the middle that arguments happen. For instance, I’ve been accused of being an assimilationist because Michael and I got legally married once we were able to do so, and I watch football. I’ve also been called out in the other direction because I wear earrings, the color purple, rainbows, and call myself ‘queer.’

The tension between these two ideas plays out in many (and sometimes weird) ways—and not just within the community. There are still plenty of people (straight and not), who insist that LGBT+ rights advocates should be civil, and politely make their case about why we deserve equality. They wrongly insist that the radical approach never works. They completely ignore the actual history of the movements: decades of work by so-called homophile organizations in the U.S. and Europe politely advocating for decriminalization—always careful for the men to dress in suits and ties, and the women to were skirts and blouses—and never making any progress. It was the riots by drag queens, transgender people of color, and the like that finally made any change happen at all.

Yes, the other approach works well for raising money and countering backlash to each step forward. So both approaches have their place in the long running battle for equality.

Which isn’t to say that only the non-conforming people matter, or that there is some sort of meaning to the question of whether one person is gayer than another (despite some people trying to drag that distinction into some political races this year), it’s mostly a recognition of the old proverb that the “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Both kinds of LGBT/queer person are valid and just as “gay” as the other.

In the last few years as a small number of mostly-gender-conforming male professional athletes have decided to come out of the closet, you see various media people calling them trailblazers whose bravery will somehow make it easier for non-heterosexual kids to be themselves. Ignoring that fact that the actual trailblazers were blazing those trails for many years. It’s not the macho professional male athlete coming out in the twenty-teens who is leading the way, they are trailing far, far in the dust behind the femmy boys and glittery street queens and butch dykes and trans people of all types who led the way at Stonewall and in the years immediately following. And as has been demonstrated many times, no matter how unthreatening, conventional, and mainstream non-heterosexual people are, as soon as they dare to come out of the closet someone is ready with the slurs and attacks.

The two philosophies I mentioned at the beginning (Assimilationist/Radical) roughly map to two distinctive kinds of experiences many queer people lived through growing up:

  • Some of us never fit in. We were bullied by classmates (as well as adults) for the way we talked, or the way we walked, or the things we expressed interest in.
  • Others blended in so well that when they eventually did come out, people who knew them when they were younger express genuine and emphatic shock.

Make no mistake: neither kind of kid had it easy. The ones who did blend in realized, at some point, that they were different, and they lived in just as much fear as those of us who couldn’t figure out why we were constantly being called all those homophobic slurs. Both kinds internalized homophobia leading to feelings of self-loathing.

Those of us who couldn’t blend in are somewhat more likely to focus on trying to make society more accepting of all differences, while those who did blend in seem to be more likely to think our goal should be to convince straight people that we are no different from them.

But it isn’t an exact correlation.

I’m saying all of this for context. Now, let’s move on to my point: any time in the last few months that I have criticized the policies and statements of presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg I get accused of saying he isn’t gay enough. As if that phrase even means anything. That’s not what’s happening. My beef with Buttigieg is very few of his statements about policies would sound amiss coming out of the mouth of 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush. Most wouldn’t sound amiss coming out of the mouth of 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

Mayor Pete is not a progressive politician. He doesn’t advocate positions that I believe will move us forward. At best, his detailed policies look to undo most of the harm Trump has done, and otherwise only promise to not to let things get much worse.

We can do better than that.

Now, I have some theories about why he doesn’t see how harmful late stage capitalism is to most working class and middle class people of every gender, orientation, and race. And I have some theories on why many of his responses as mayor to issues related to marginalized communities were tone deaf or outright dismissive. The quickest summation is: he is unaware of how the privileges he has had (being a man in our society, being white, having university-educated parents, being from a family well-to-do enough to send him to private school, and then to Harvard, and yes, being the kind of gay who can pass for straight when he wants) has protected him from the problems those less fortunate have had to deal with.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t think he’s gay enough. That does means I don’t think he is either self-aware enough nor empathetic enough to be a good president.

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