The Covid Effect

It’s been a year (give or take a couple weeks) since the initial cases of Covid-19 were reported in the city of Wuhan. A little more than a month later, the first documented cases would appear in the US and we were given warnings this would turn into a global pandemic. In the following months, the Coronavirus overwhelmed our culture impacting every American – some through getting sick but most through changes in lifestyle. 

When states begin implementing various orders to wear masks or close non-essential businesses, we thought it would only be a few weeks and life would get back to normal. Spring and summer passed with the pandemic dominating headlines, controlling American life, and a menagerie of state or municipality protections remaining in place. Now in autumn with winter upon us, we’re seeing new government measures issued to try and contain this virus and it seems things will never be the same. 

It’s obvious the shelter in place directives interrupted the way Americans live, work, and play. The three Es of education, employment, and entertainment all drastically altered how they exist and operate. When this pandemic is over (and it will be over eventually) it’s likely some of the changes in our lifestyle will never return to the way it was before. 

But is that a bad thing? 

There is cause for concern, elements of American culture in need of repair. We’re facing an enormous mental health crisis as isolation is not good for the human psyche. There is a generation of school kids falling behind as they’re missing essential learning while schools are scrambling to prevent making the pandemic worse. The masses of newly unemployed workers will need to find new jobs. Many who contracted Covid-19 and recovered have been and will be suffering long term effects of the virus. 

There is also reason for hope. Fewer pollutants have been released into our atmosphere and waterways because less people are travelling. Reduced exhaust and fossil fuel usage means we’re breathing cleaner air; rivers and lakes are clearer. People are paying better attention to basic hygiene – doing the things they should have always been doing like washing their hands frequently, sanitizing high use surfaces, exercising, spending time in the wilderness, and eating at home instead of getting fast food. There’s a greater attention on science and increased appreciation for nurses and doctors. Individuals are investing in acts of kindness and generosity in ways to inspire and renew faith in humanity. 

In this pandemic, as with most things, both the good and the bad inhabit the same space. 

But what about the post Corona life? What lasting affect will Covid have on our culture? With a few different possible vaccines on the horizon, I think it might be beneficial to speculate on what our world will be like after life returns to normal. Or if it ever will be normal again. 

Since business as usual went on lockdown last spring, corporate America adjusted. In the process, we learned to use technology to our advantage, canceling non-essential meetings and moving important group conversations into virtual spaces like Zoom or Google Meet. Employers got creative giving more employees the option to work from home. New remote jobs became available. Those still working on site have been encouraged to stay home when they’re sick. These are changes to American life I hope never return to the way things were before. 

I am optimistic supervisors, managers, directors, and CEOs everywhere have learned some things are better for an email and not every idea is worth a half hour meeting in a conference room. I wish for telecommuting becomes more prevalent as it will make our workforce larger and more diverse. More people working is good for the economy and more people working from home is good for the environment. Side note: I don’t miss my 25 minute commute to the office. I hope more people consider the health of their neighbors, friends, and colleagues before leaving the home with flulike symptoms. As much as we all hate wearing masks, people should keep them – not to wear indefinitely, but for times of illness. Maybe if people wore masks any time they were sick, we would live in a healthier society by limiting the spread of the flu, common cold, and other contagious diseases.
(psst, wear a mask) 

Still, there are things I miss in this Covid world. When this is all over, I hope some elements from our former lives resume as soon as possible. I miss concerts and movie theaters. I miss hanging out in coffee shops. I miss seeing smiles on strangers’ faces. I miss parades and festivals and farmers markets. Of everything we’ve lost, there is experience I miss more than anything else and I hope it isn’t gone forever: the samples at Costco. 

Please bring back the samples as soon as it is safe to do so.


The First Thanksgiving

American history is filled with epic stories, memorable tales to promote the American spirit and teach the shared values of our nation. Some of these stories are true, others a complete fabrication. Most are based on actual events yet omit a few key details. The first Thanksgiving is one of those famous accounts, historically accurate to a point, yet incomplete. 

The main beats of the story are known to anyone who grew up in the USA. Settlers of the Plymouth Colony, the Pilgrims, had a rough start in the New World. Of the 100 passengers from the Mayflower who founded the village, only half lived a year in America. Their first winter was bitter, cold, and cruel. 50 of them died before spring. They feared they might not survive another winter until they met Squanto. Squanto was a Native of one local tribe. He taught the white folks to grow corn and catch fish. With his help, they learned to store their goods to endure the colder seasons of the region. The chief from another local tribe brought supplies to the new villagers to help them build their town and extra food when provisions sent from England were insufficient. After the Pilgrims’ first successful harvest, four women prepared a feast so the town could rejoice and be thankful for their bounty. They returned the generosity of the neighboring tribe by inviting them to dine with the townsfolk.
image courtesy of History Channel 

All of which is true. Except there are some key details missing, starting with Squanto whose real name was Tisquantum. They shortened his name as a way to mock him. Tisquantum was the lone survivor of his tribe – the rest had died from an epidemic disease. The land chosen by the Pilgrims to build their village was home to Tisquantum’s tribe, abandoned when they perished. While Tisquantum helped the Pilgrims learn to survive, he fell ill a year later and passed away. Despite receiving help from Tisquantum and the tribal leader Massasoit, the friendly relationship between the Wampanoags soured over time. Indigenous culture was incompatible with the strict puritan religious values professed by the Pilgrims. The European immigrants saw the local tribes as savage people who should assimilate and convert religions, or be banished. Soon the there would be a war between the colonists and the Natives. Finally, the Plymouth Plantation continued to struggle economically after their first feast. Many of the founders left to start their own settlements elsewhere in the colony. Eventually, the smaller Plymouth Colony was absorbed by the larger Massachusetts Colony. 

The tragic bits from the legend of the first Thanksgiving have become footnotes to the historical record. We remember the highlights and retell the sanitized version. Yet the parts we edit out of the story are still important. The fragile truce between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags provides context to King Phillip’s War 50 years after the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth. The way the settlers treated Tisquantum reflects the way white people exploited Native Americans like Pocahontas and Sacagawea to further their own interests. Their tension was a precursor to the India Wars against Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse or the Apache US conflict against Geronimo. 

The whole story might not be a happy story, yet to fully understand history we need to know the sections left out by elementary historians. We need to see the ugly alongside the beautiful. Hopefully we learn from the worst of our stories so we are not doomed to repeat our mistakes. 

When we talk about our firsts, there will be a lot of bumbling errors. Often our folly makes those events memorable. Like my first Thanksgiving outside of my parent’s place. 

At the end of the summer of ’99, Travis, Shane, and I moved to Nampa and rented an off campus apartment so Travis didn’t have to spend his senior year living in a dorm room. Autumn came. None of us had the time or finances to travel back to Seattle for Thanksgiving; it was the first we would experience the holiday without our families. Along with our mutual friend Nick, we devised a plan to celebrate on our own. We brainstormed the menu, listing off the traditional foods our families served every year and created a shopping list. We went to the grocery store as a team and filled a cart with festive ingredients and split the bill four ways. We divided the cooking duties and prepared the meal as close to what our families served as we were able. We invited Travis and Nick’s girlfriends to join us and set our table for six. 

The happy version of this experience is a success story. We came, we saw, we conquered. It’s a tale of friends coming together to replicate a family event in the dearth of actual family. If I ended the story there, all of it would be true, but it wouldn’t be complete. Our dinner wasn’t super smooth. Shane used a full ten pound bag of spuds for his mashed potatoes, the finished product didn’t even fit in the biggest bowl we had. The turkey was a little dry and overcooked. I burnt the rolls. Still, we dined as if it as the finest meal ever prepared. Most of the dishes we cooked were completely consumed, with one exception: the cranberry sauce.
image courtesy of 12 Tomatoes 

 As we cleared the table of dirty dishes and empty platters, we discovered the cranberries still standing in the shape of the can it came in, untouched with a clean spoon sitting next to it. The four of us questioned each other – why didn’t anyone eat the cranberry sauce? Turns out, none of us liked cranberry sauce, neither did our two guests. Why did we buy it and serve it? Turns out it was something each of our families served every year so we included it because we thought it’s something needed. However, we never took the time to ask if any of us would eat it. We just assumed everyone else liked it. 

When I tell people the story of my first Thanksgiving on my own, I always talk about the cranberry sauce. Our mistake is an object lesson of the dangers of making assumptions. It’s a reminder of the value of getting complete input from invested parties before taking action. It’s an example of how the way things have always been done isn’t the way it must be done. And it makes me laugh every time I recall the dumbfounded looks on our faces as we realized the error of our ways. 

America looks to the Pilgrims as their epic first Thanksgiving. I recall the cranberry sauce for my own epic first Thanksgiving. 

I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of first Thanksgivings this year. More people will be staying home, less travelling to visit extended families. Dining room tables will be missing settings for cousins, aunts, and uncles. Meals will feed five instead of twenty-five. Several brave chefs will be baking a turkey for the first time on their own. Many Americans will be eating their first Thanksgiving meal not prepared by their parents or not hosted at their grandparents. 2020 is there year several of us will just hibernate. 

We know because we’re one of those families. Annie has always celebrated Thanksgiving at her grandma’s house with her siblings, large extended family, plus everyone’s spouses and kids. I’ve joined her the last couple years as a buffet of food is spread out in the kitchen, soda is stocked in the cooler on the side porch, football plays on the TV in the living room, and kids run wild and free through the woods behind their house. Grandma canceled Thanksgiving this year because of the pandemic and Annie’s numerous relatives are adopting alternate plans. We are staying at our farm and cooking our own holiday meal for the first time ever. 

Look, I know 2020 has sucked. It’s been a rough time for a lot of people. Lonely holidays absent the family who typically populate our memories are not the ideal end caps to a rotten year. However, your revised holiday doesn’t have to match the dismal spirit of the year though. Sure, it won’t be perfect, but it shouldn’t be terrible either. 

Embrace the mistakes because there will be mistakes. Hopefully, you learn from your errors. The Pilgrim’s mistreatment of Tisquantum should teach us that generosity often comes from places we don’t deserve. Their crumbling relationship with the Wampanoags is a warning against burning bridges. On a less destructive scale, my untouched cranberry sauce is a lesson to do better research before taking action. Sometimes, the bad parts of our stories make us cringe, other times they make us laugh. Either way, they should remain a part of our stories. 

Firsts are memorable for a reason. Make yours epic. America’s first Thanksgiving is the stuff of legends because of the lessons it teaches about survival, charity, and gratitude. My first Thanksgiving in Nampa is a personal legend because we were young, dumb, and trying to figure out how to survive on our own. If this is your first Thanksgiving removed from your usual traditional family gatherings, you have the opportunity to make it legendary too. Perhaps you might begin a new tradition to follow for years to come.


What It’s Like to Be Me: All Falls Apart Pt 5, The End

As a matter of habit, I check my Facebook memories every morning. It’s usually a happy stroll through the history of everything I have posted to social media or been tagged in over the years. Holidays and celebrations, kids’ milestones, various mementos, and random musings of forgotten reasoning. Then this popped up and I couldn’t help but chuckle over the irony.
Less than a year later, she asked for a legal separation and two years later we were in court ordered mediation to finalize the divorce. I should have seen the end coming, but instead it felt sudden. While I can laugh about it now, the first couple times this showed up in my memories, it wasn’t as funny. Rather I was heartbroken, confused, and angry. 

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus: “Grimm 2.0” 
We read the book “The Love Dare” and watched “Fireproof,” the movie based on the book. Supposedly, we had fireproofed our marriage. I thought we were safe from divorce. A few months before asking for separation, she had told me she’d never leave me. Then it happened and I was stunned. The lyric “Throw me away at your leisure” encapsulated how I felt about the situation. Wasn’t I supposed to have a say in the matter? Well, no, I didn’t. My only option was what this song suggested, “I will do my best to try and sort this out, It can't get any worse, than what I've felt.”
Tyler Carter: “Leave Your Love” 
I’m unsure if Carter wrote this chorus as an indictment to his ex or advice to himself, however I interpreted it as the latter. Or at least, I took it as personal instruction. She wanted out, what else was I to do? This was the only thing that made sense. “Leave your love at the door, Leave your heart on the floor, And if you leave your heart on the floor, Leave your tears let em' pour.”
Mutemath: “Used To” 
At the end of a failing marriage, there is an ample collection of bad memories. It’s easy to dwell on the arguments and painful conversations, missed opportunities and unmet expectations, and of the garbage piled up leading to the moment of divorce. Yet somehow, you must reconcile those tragic images in your mind with the more pleasant memories. “I still recall a time you were on my mind, monopolizing each and every second.” There was a reason Bekah and I got married as much as there was a reason we got divorced. After the end, there are both good memories along with and sometimes tangled into the bad.
Cold War Kids: “Bitter Poem” 
In a down-tempo tune, Cold War Kids speak of a lesson we all need to learn, “you often find the best laid plans will fall down broken all around you.” As divorced loomed around me, my best laid plan of ‘til death do we part was falling down and broken. I struggled to understand how and why we ended and found myself asking the same questions as the Cold War Kids, “Is it chemical imbalance or some other struggle? Nobody's to blame, can't use force. Take me to court, ‘cause I couldn't love you? Nobody could use you if you want. Ain't it fun?”
Eels: “That Look You Give That Guy” 
Between my melancholic disposition and self deprecating sense of humor, it’s always been easy to relate to music from Eels. Words like “I'm nothing like what I'd like to be, I'm nothing much, I know it's true, I lack the style and the pedigree and my chances are so few” speak the core of how I often see myself. Then, on the eve of separation, Bekah told me there was a boy in one of her classes at LCSC, some 18 year old fresh out of high school, who frequently complimented her. She added a zinger – that his compliments made her feel better about herself than anything I had ever told her. Suddenly this song about other people’s someone else took on another meaning for me. “I see you with your man, your eyes just shine while he stands tall and walkin’ proud.”
Splender: “Yeah, Whatever” 
Navigating former relationships is complicated. Just ask Waymon Boone of Splender. In song, he told his ex “you’re primitive,” and “you’re cynical to me.” In case his feelings were unclear, he added a bit more, “you’re paranoid as you look me up and down.” I have worked hard to avoid feelings of animosity toward Bekah. It hasn’t been easy and I have not always been successful. Yet I try. Still, I get where Boone is coming from because primitive, cynical, and paranoid could have been adjectives I used to describe the way she treated me. When she told me she was moving forward with divorce, she told me that this was the only way and perhaps someday, we could be friends. Seven years later, it seems like we’ve figured out how to be friends. But back then I believed our fate would be more like this song. “We don't have to stay friends, let's pretend to be enemies.”


Election Math (Minorities and Majorities)

It’s almost Election Day and it’s not going to be pretty. If Biden wins, Trump will make accusations of fraud and cheating. If Trump wins, it will be the same way he won four years ago: by losing the popular vote and winning the Electoral College. 

Discussions of eliminating the Electoral College are pointless. Such changes would require a constitutional amendment and is unlikely (if not impossible) in today’s political climate. Instead, let’s examine the validity of the greatest argument in favor of keeping the Electoral College: it protects the minority from the majority. 

Sure, this was the original intention: it gave southern (less populated) states more of a say in federal matters. Without it, northern states would dominate elections and control southern affairs without any vested interest. As a nation we’ve grown since then. Literally speaking, there are 130 times more people living in America than when the Constitution was ratified. Figuratively, we’ve extended voting rights to women, racial minorities, and people who don’t own homes. We have grown less segregated and more diverse. 

The sociopolitical leanings of our citizenry have also become more integrated. Poverty and absurd wealth infect all fifty states. There are liberal towns and cities in conservative states. There are conservative communities and regions in liberal states. We are a blended nation from the Key West to Point Hope. Battle lines were easily drawn during the Civil War; factions divided along state lines and popular ideologies adhered to geography. If the Civil War began today, battle lines would not be as clear as they were 160 years ago. Neighbors would find themselves on opposing sides of battle. 

Yet we still believe the Electoral College protects the minority from the majority. But does it? 

How well does the Electoral College protect the conservative minorities of California and New York from their liberal majorities? How well does the Electoral College protect the liberal minorities of Kentucky and Wyoming from their conservative majorities? Did the 943 thousand Trump voters in Maryland have any influence on the ten electorates who pledged their votes to Clinton? Did the 420 thousand Clinton voters in Oklahoma have any influence on the three electorates who pledged their votes to Trump? The answer to my first two questions are not at all, and the answer to the other two are no.
Image courtesy of Tree Hugger

Four years ago, I was living in Idaho. A vote for Clinton wouldn’t have mattered because the state is solidly red. All four or their Electoral College votes were going to go to Trump regardless of who I voted for. This year, I live in Washington. If I wanted to vote for Trump, it won’t matter because all twelve of this state’s Electoral College votes will go to Biden. 

People keep saying the Electoral College votes protect the smaller population of states like Idaho from larger populaces in states like Washington. In the end though, states like these don’t matter in this system. Before the polls close, we know states like Alabama and North Dakota will be wins for the Republican candidate while states like Oregon and Massachusetts will vote for the Democratic candidate. Presidential candidates could ignore most states and still win because voting patterns are predictable. The Electoral College has solidified votes in those states to the point the end result is an inevitable conclusion. This is true everywhere except the swing states. Under the Electoral College, the only states where your vote matters are swing states like Nevada, Florida, and Ohio. 

Since eliminating the Electoral College is practically impossible, maybe it’s time to revise how it works. What if we tweaked it in a way we could still use the constitutionally mandated system while ensuring it better represents its constituency? What if there was a way for the Electoral College to better protect minorities and actually reflect the will of the people? Two states already do: Nebraska and Maine. These states use a district method which allows them to split their electoral votes between two candidates so their Electoral College more accurately resembles choices made inside their voting booths. What if all states adopted similar methods? 

Let’s go back to Idaho. Trump earned 409 thousand votes over Clinton’s 189 thousand votes. The end percentages left Trump with nearly 60% of Idaho’s popular vote, but Clinton got 28%. If one in four Idaho voters voted Clinton, giving all four Electoral College votes to the candidate who only won 59.2% does not match how the state voted. Clinton got 25% of the total votes; she should have also received 25% of the Electoral College. Other candidates like Evan McMullin and Gary Johnson didn’t garner enough votes to earn a whole Electoral College vote, so the remaining three should have gone to Trump. Idaho’s Electoral College awarding one vote to Clinton and three to Trump is a better representation of the Gem State than what actually happened in 2016. 

What about a more liberal state? In Vermont, Trump won 30% of the vote to Clinton’s 57% and all three Electoral College votes went to Clinton. If the state divided their electoral votes with a district method, Clinton would have got two votes and Trump would have received one. 

What about swing states? Nearly three million people voted in Wisconsin and the difference between the winner and loser was 22 thousand votes. If only 0.76% of Trump voters had selected Clinton instead, the state would have had a different winner. The same is true in Michigan where the difference between the top two candidates was only ten thousand out of 4.8 million voters; 0.22% of the vote sealed their fate. They were statistical ties with Clinton and Trump getting 47% of the popular vote in both states. With the district method, this even match could have been demonstrated in the Electoral College with a tie vote there. Wisconsin’s 10 votes could have been split 50/50 and the same could happen with Michigan’s 16 votes. 

Finally, what about close votes in states with an odd number in the Electoral College like Colorado? There, Clinton’s 48% beat Trump’s 43%. It’s close to a tie but Clinton clearly won. You can’t split Colorado’s nine votes evenly so the advantage should go to the state’s winner. If Clinton took five Electoral College votes and Trump got four, this result would provide a truer representation of Coloradans. 

Because I’m a nerd with an analytical disposition who likes numbers and statistics, I have crunched the data and retabulated the 2016 results. In my revisionist history, Clinton receives 275 Electoral College votes and Trump loses with 263. In the end, this maintains the uses of the Electoral College system and matches the popular vote. Votes would matter everywhere, not just swing states. It’s a win win for democracy. 

We all know reality took a different turn. My proposal isn’t going to change any results this coming Tuesday. However, if you try to defend our current system by claiming it protects the minority from the majority, I will tell you you’re wrong. The Electoral College alienates the minority from the majority. Don’t believe me? Just as a Trump supporter in Hawaii if their vote is represented in the Electoral College.