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Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

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Beware Surveillance State Response

April 28th, 2020 by dk
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I traveled across the Soviet Union with a group of college students in 1982. We had passenger vans shipped over from Finland. We drove those vans across the USSR, stopping at campgrounds along the way. Our travel plans had to be approved in advance.

These were the last years of status quo for the Soviets. Mikhail Gorbachev had not yet risen to the top of the governing Politburo. Glasnost was still a few years in the future. The Russian countryside was vast and desolate. We shared the road with truckers, but almost no one else.

Every few hours, we had to stop at a roadside outpost. Armed soldiers collected all of our passports, matched faces, counted heads, scribbled some notes, returned the passports and waved us on. We had one breakdown along the way, when a rock smashed  one of our windshields.

At the next checkpoint, the soldier asked us why it had taken us so long. Any delays might indicate an unauthorized detour. Our missing windshield was explanation enough and they waved us on. That low-tech surveillance memory came rushing back this week, as America struggles for a strategy to restart its economy before COVID-19 is defeated.

Massachusetts has a plan to hurry its citizens back to work. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab has developed an app that tracks location data and allows users to check if they have crossed paths with any infected persons. MIT’s Safe Paths app is modeled after Singapore’s TraceTogether app, which has been an effective tool against the spreading coronavirus.

It works like this: Singapore authorities won’t allow anyone on the subway without the TraceTogether app on their smart phone. Users must mark the car number they are riding. The app automatically logs the time when each user rode in that particular subway car. If anyone later tests positive for the virus, others who rode in the same car can be alerted.

I don’t worry that such a high-tech tracing tool won’t work in the United States. I worry that it will. We’ll all be able to return to our jobs and lives sooner, but only by allowing this Soviet-style surveillance. It won’t be easily undone. Unlike Singapore, we cherish our freedom and our privacy. If we give them away to hasten normalcy’s return, we will never get them back.

Until there’s a vaccine or we reach herd immunity, we shouldn’t pretend that “normal” can be achieved. Australian infectious-disease modeler Emma McBryde put it best: “It is very hard to design a ‘little epidemic.’”

Leaders are weighing whether the cure of economic shutdown is worse than the disease of COVID-19. But the balance doesn’t end there. The cure of individual surveillance will be worse than the disease of temporary unemployment. Will we trade our freedoms for economic stimulus?

The reconnaissance ratchet moves in only one direction. It always tightens, never loosens. The Soviet Union controlled its people with unrelenting monitoring, augmented by on-the-ground gossip — surveillance and snitches. If we accept those same controls, history will rightly ask who really won the Cold War.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Government Bureaucrats Need Accountability

April 27th, 2020 by dk
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If you’d like to understand better how this coronavirus catastrophe snuck up on us, ask any teacher or parent about remote education guidelines. Or a Wisconsin voter who was forced to leave home to vote this week. Or take a look at your Oregon driver license. Examples of government inaction abound. Examples of accountability are rare. Surprising government officials isn’t very difficult.

We all watched in horror this week as Wisconsin voters were forced to risk their health to vote. When the governor issued a stay-at-home decree, citizens did what you would have hoped they’d do. They applied for absentee ballots in droves, overwhelming local voting officials.

When it became clear that thousands of Wisconsinites would not be receiving their mail ballots by election day, the governor had no good options. He couldn’t unilaterally change election day (though he tried), and he couldn’t persuade lawmakers to change it.

The United States Supreme Court ruled that the election not only couldn’t be moved, the deadline for returning absentee ballots couldn’t be extended — even though thousands had already waited weeks for their ballots.

Were there any consequences for Dean Knudson, chair of the Wisconsin Elections Commission? Or for Wisconsin’s Secretary of State Doug La Follette? Or for any of the 1,850 municipal clerks across the state? No, none at all. Although the debacle was front-page news, their names never came up. The calamity flowed from their inaction.

Closer to home, Oregon Governor Kate Brown ordered all public schools closed in mid-March. Oregon Department of Education promised local school districts remote education guidelines. Many districts delayed their plans, waiting  for that guidance.

On Thursday, March 26, ODE announced that the guidelines would be posted within three days. Monday arrived without any guidance, and also without any apology. “The department is taking the time to get this done right for our students,” ODE spokesperson Marc Siegel wrote in an email on Monday evening. Deadlines apparently do not apply to governments — even when those deadlines are self-imposed.

School districts, teachers and parents were inconvenienced by ODE’s tardiness. Not every Wisconsin voter will get sick. But the consequences of government inaction sometimes are more dire. 

Government officials were warned that COVID-19 testing kits were flawed in February. They were warned about the rampaging coronavirus in January. The need for a stockpile of respirators was ignored. The danger of a pandemic has been known for decades. Only after a disaster strikes do we wish government had been more active, more responsible, more attentive.

Oregon has not upgraded its drivers licenses to the Real ID security standards established in 2005. Last month, Oregon was granted one more extension, until the fall of 2021. After that, your current ID will not be enough to board an airplane or enter a secure federal building. What risks are we inviting by inaction? We may not know until it’s too late.

The deadline has been coming for more than a decade, but Oregon has alternately resisted and ignored it. And why not? Without consequences, deadlines don’t matter. Then real dangers can sneak up on you.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Add Another Name to Biden’s Short List

April 26th, 2020 by dk
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Are you tired of reading about COVID-19 and its ever-expanding list of casualties? Every time I see something that hasn’t changed, and I’m quietly grateful. Apple trees are blooming. Birds bring their springtime song. Joe Biden needs a running mate.

I have a new candidate for Biden to consider. I’ll tell you who she is, but you have to make an agreement with me first. Promise you’ll read entire next paragraph before spit-taking your coffee and calling me crazy. Do we have a deal? OK, read on.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should be Biden’s Vice President. I know, I know. (Remember your promise.) AOC is not old enough to be president. She’ll turn 35 on October 13, 2024 — three weeks before the 2024 presidential election. Presidents must be at least 35 years old, according to our Constitution, but there is no age requirement for vice president. (I checked.) If a Biden presidency ended early, AOC would be passed over and the Speaker of the House would assume the presidency. Who’s more qualified than Nancy Pelosi?

Without that “heartbeat away from the presidency” burden, AOC would be free to electrify young people and troll the president on Twitter. She would match Trump’s showmanship — something  Democrats perennially lack.

“Dilbert” creator Scott Adams predicted Trump’s electoral success in 2016, saying he was bringing a flame-thrower to a knife fight. It rarely happens, but the Democrats could use AOC to fight fire with fire. She knows how to use social media to rile people up. Can you name a single other Democratic woman with that ability?

Think of all the boxes her candidacy would check. She’s a woman, which Biden has made a prerequisite. She’s Latina. She draws huge crowds. She would represent so much more than an olive branch to the Bernie Bros. She might even succeed where Sanders failed. She might get young people to actually vote.

Young people don’t vote when there’s nobody on the ticket that looks like them, or speaks to them. AOC would meet these potential voters where they are — on Twitter, Instagram, and Tik-Tok. She speaks for the future because she’s not from the past.

AOC as VP would make down-ballot candidates more important than ever. Since she would be passed over in the U.S. Constitution’s presidential succession plan, Democrats would be powerfully motivated to keep their majority in the House and regain the majority in the Senate. Those majorities would determine who’s next in line for the presidency.

AOC would motivate young people in a way we haven’t seen since JFK. But her youth and inexperience wouldn’t frighten older voters because she wouldn’t accidentally become president during a tragedy. If she grows into the position under Biden’s tutelage, Democrats could be set up for a bright future. But that’s not essential right away.

What matters immediately is not governance. It’s winning the election — barnstorming a nation that has suddenly gone digital. Trump knows how to do that better than any Democrat in Washington, except one. AOC’s disqualifying youth is a feature, not a bug.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Explaining the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020

April 25th, 2020 by dk
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I made fun when the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020 was just beginning, before it earned its capital letters and its wikipedia entry. I’ve learned and thought more about the shortage and why it’s continuing, so here’s an update. There are three reasons we can’t stock TP fast enough to satisfy demand, even six weeks after the shortage began.

First is the hoarding. People shouldn’t derive satisfaction from denying others what they need, but some do. Nothing more can be said about it.

The second cause is interesting and related to the third. You may have heard about it, because toilet paper has become a sure-fire conversation starter. It turns out, it’s not an actual shortage, so much as a radical misallocation. There are piles of toilet paper piled up in warehouses, but it’s not designed for home use.

Toilet paper used in business locations is not the same as what we buy for our homes. The rolls are larger, the ply is thinner. The packaging has no UPC codes. The paper itself isn’t even the same. Business toilet paper is built from a rougher pulp, because no one ever quit their job because the office toilet paper is too scratchy.

Now that we’re working from home, the demand for the fluffy home TP has increased 40 percent, but the factories have been unable to match supply to demand. This inability reveals the third — and most troubling — cause of the G.T.P.S. of 2020.

Almost all our toilet paper comes from three manufacturers: Procter & Gamble, Kimberly Clark, and Georgia-Pacific. Toilet paper is a high-volume, low-margin product. TP literally takes up a lot of room. Manufacturers, truckers, distribution centers, and stores treat it like a logistics hot potato. Nobody wants to pay to store it. The distribution pipeline is exceptionally efficient.

Also, this. The three big producers were already running most of their automated plants 24 hours a day before the shortage hit. There was no extra production capacity to meet the spike in demand. Hiring more people wouldn’t help because people have almost nothing to do with making toilet paper. Machines do all the work, and machines are expensive. Adding more machines is a long-term expense to meet a short-term need. It cannot be undone when the surge passes. Automated production is efficient, but not nimble. 

Gone are the days when factories hired more people to work the graveyard shift during peak demand, and then laid them off when demand began fading. Machines work nights as easily as days, so running them around the clock makes efficient sense. Efficiency rules the day — and the night. There’s no wiggle room.

We’re building an economy that is fast and cheap, but not adaptable to change. Efficiency reveals itself as brittle when conditions shift. Unexpected shortages or surpluses are the hidden cost of automation. Robots can do almost anything faster than humans, except change.

There’s still no toilet paper on shelves, but since the NCAA basketball tournaments were canceled, the country now reportedly has a huge surplus of chicken wings.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Oregon has Elected to be a Leader

April 24th, 2020 by dk
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Oregon was the first state to dismantle its polling places and conduct every election exclusively by mail. It was not a partisan issue. The Republican-controlled state legislature passed a bill to expand Vote By Mail in 1995, but Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber vetoed it.

So, in June 1998, citizens of Oregon did what they do best. They took matters into their own hands. Volunteers collected enough signatures to get Vote By Mail on the ballot. Voters approved Ballot Measure 60 by a 2-to-1 margin on Nov. 3, 1998.

No Oregonian has had to stand in line to vote for 20 years now. Four other states have followed Oregon’s lead, and others are sure to come. Democrats remain determined to help states transition to VBM but Republicans are opposed. It’s become a partisan issue.

There’s very little Oregon can do to help other states, except to lead by example. Please note: the true Oregon spirit emerged in this story from 1998 not in November, but in June. It was the voter initiative and volunteer effort that brought the issue forward for the voters to decide.

Irony Alert! Oregonians will have no trouble voting in November, but there may not be much on their ballots. COVID-19 shut down public signature gathering in March. If the rules aren’t modified to respond to the crisis, there may be no voter initiatives on the ballot this fall.

Two voter initiatives are teasingly close to qualifying. Initiative Petitions 34 (creating a licensed psilocybin therapy program) and 44 (shifting some marijuana tax money to addiction and recovery services) lack only a few thousand signatures. 

They’re asking supporters to download a petition from their websites, sign it, and mail it in to be counted. It’s a heavy lift, but there’s a chance of success. Other campaigns have less hope.

Sara Wolk leads the latest campaign to bring STAR Voting reform to Lane County elections. She shared this update with me: “With tens of thousands of volunteer hours and years of organizing under our belts, it’s heart-breaking to see everything we’ve worked for caught in limbo.”

Calling it “limbo” might be overly optimistic. The STAR campaign has relied heavily on volunteers, but “that’s looking more and more impossible,” according to Wolk. A July signature submission deadline is looming.

Direct democracy — another Oregon voting innovation from a century earlier — is heading for disaster. The campaigns themselves have proposed some solutions for Oregon’s Secretary of State to consider in response:

1. Extend the deadline, or allow initiatives to submit signatures in batches, so collecting signatures can continue while verifying signatures begins.

2. Allow remote signature options, similar to those used in banking and other official documents.

3. Give qualifying initiatives the option to defer their inclusion to a later election of their choice.

Wolk and her STAR Voting team of volunteers is trying to remain positive: “We hope that the Secretary of State’s office will come up with fair solutions to prevent Oregon’s ballot initiative process from becoming one more casualty of COVID-19.”

That’s the spirit — the Oregon spirit.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Keep Sabrina and Ruthy Together

April 17th, 2020 by dk
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A couple minutes after 4:00 this afternoon, fans of Sabrina Ionescu will have one final opportunity to cheer her on as the local heroine she has become. We’ll cheer from our living rooms or at our smart phones as the WNBA announces its draft picks on ESPN.

We’ll cheer, and then we’ll say good-bye, with much less (literal) fanfare than she deserves. Collegiate sport superstars collect our cheers for no more than a few years. No matter how deeply we bond, we have to let them grow up and move on. (I should add that many find their way back to us, like Bev Smith and Luke Jackson, to name just two. Lucky us.)

After today, Sabrina Ionescu is almost certainly headed to New York City to play for the WNBA’s New York Liberty. There’s very little suspense about how Liberty coach Walt Hopkins will use his No. 1 pick in the draft. Ionescu, queen of the triple-double, will be taking her talents to the nation’s largest sporting stage.

Here’s hoping she won’t be lonely in New York.

On Wednesday, Hopkins traded away his team’s best rebounder, Tina Charles, to get the ninth pick as well. Draft prognosticators say Ionescu’s teammate and roommate Ruthy Hebard should still be available. If that’s the plan and it works, Ionescu and Hebard could be playing together professionally.

It’s a shrewd move for Liberty and its owner, Taiwanese-Canadian billionaire Joe Tsai, but there’s one more move he could still make to ensure his teams’ success. (Tsai also owns the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and the arena, Barclays Center, where both teams play.) He should give Ionescu a key to the arena, so she can practice whenever she wants.

If Tsai can keep Ionescu and Hebard together, each becomes more valuable. Ionescu wouldn’t have averaged over nine assists per game if Hebard didn’t score more reliably than any other player in college basketball. These two are a pick-and-roll package — the perfect pass and the easy shot belong together.

They’ve proven they can execute their moves against the best of the best. They accounted for half the Ducks’ points in a memorable exhibition victory over the U.S. national team. A team of WNBA all-stars couldn’t contain them. They’ve competed as the core of Team USA at international 3×3 tournaments, a half-court, street-ball style game. Their teamwork can beat anyone.

Tsai should structure Ionescu’s contract to include an unconventional buy-out clause. He should retain his right as the owner of the Brooklyn Nets to sign Ionescu to play for his NBA team instead of (or in addition to) his WNBA team. Even as a scout team player, Ionescu would push her male teammates to match her drive and commitment.

Does Ionescu deserve some credit for pushing Ducks starting guard Payton Pritchard to match her practice intensity inside an otherwise dark Matthew Knight Arena? Did she help him earn the Bob Cousy Award for best point guard in the country? I don’t know, but I do know she had a key to the arena.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Retire Numbers for Ducks’ Dynamic Duo

April 3rd, 2020 by dk
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Sabrina Ionescu and her teammates weren’t expecting to be in Eugene this weekend. They made plans a year ago to be in New Orleans together, playing for the NCAA Women Basketball Championship. They anticipated cutting down the nets as victors this Sunday evening. Many of their fans made arrangements to be there to witness such an historic moment for the Ducks — finishing some hard business in the Big Easy.

Head Coach Kelly Graves started his planning much earlier. While Ionescu was still in high school, Graves shared his “2020 vision” with her. Ionescu came to Eugene with that vision in mind. “Four in four” became Graves’ mantra to his recruits and the team.

Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard were freshmen in 2016. When Graves preached that he wanted this team to reach the Final Four within four years, he was talking directly to these two future superstars. Once these two freshmen became seniors, he expected them to be playing  together in New Orleans — to reach the Final Four in four years.

It took them three. After losing to Baylor in 2019, Ionescu and Hebard put their heads down and together to accomplish the original vision for 2020. Is that why Ionescu has worn No. 20 for these four years? Given her preternatural ability to stay focused on a goal, it wouldn’t surprise me.

The NCAA tournament was canceled before it began, one of the less consequential casualties of this coronavirus calamity. Our nation cannot afford distraction, as we prepare for domestic devastation not seen since the Spanish Flu outbreak.

2020 yielded to 1919. That is as it should be. Nevertheless, two other numbers should be remembered for future generations in Eugene: No. 20 and No. 24.

I wrote last week that it’s probably just as well that we’re being forced to take a break from spectator sports, because the greater good must always prevail over counting winners and losers. Ionescu and Hebard never failed to remind us of that very truth. They always shared credit with their teammates, their coaches, their fans, and the game.

The University of Oregon should retire their jersey numbers, so that future fans can learn of the excellence we were lucky enough to witness. There’s just one little problem with this simple request.

No. 20 can be retired for Ionescu and it should be. But Hebard’s No. 24 has already been retired once, to commemorate all-star, Olympian, coach and civic leader Bev Smith. Smith graciously agreed to “loan” her retired jersey to Hebard in 2016. We can’t retire the same number twice. Hebard’s number pre-retired.

I have a way to resolve this dilemma. Retire No. 20, keep No. 24 retired, but also retire No. 44. When Graves added those two jerseys together on the floor, genuine greatness emerged. It was what these two players did for each other  —on the court and off — that was truly remarkable. Executing the pick-and-roll perfectly together, they became unstoppable.

Hebard, Ionescu and Graves built an incredible chemistry. Their vision never wavered. These two special players and their jersey numbers — combined — deserve to be remembered long past 2020.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com. An earlier version of this column appeared in print with Sabrina’s last name misspelled nine times. The writer regrets such a grievous error.

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We Have Much to Fear, Including Lack of Fear Itself

April 2nd, 2020 by dk
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I first wrote about coronavirus COVID-19 six weeks ago. Most of us have been thinking about little else since. The threat became apparent to many of us almost exactly 87 years after FDR’s inauguration speech that included this unforgettable line: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

The contours of this challenge are coming more clearly into view now. And FDR’s aphorism is dangerously irrelevant. In its place, insert Oregon’s official public service maxim, crafted by Nike’s sloganeering powerhouse Wieden+Kennedy : “Don’t accidentally kill someone.” Updating Roosevelt, we have much to fear, including the lack of fear itself.

This is new ground for all of us. Our muscle memory is built around maintaining the status quo. The Brits used “Keep calm and carry on” to carry them through two world wars. George W. Bush couldn’t turn a phrase in memorable ways, but he encouraged Americans to go shopping after the 9/11 attacks.

After stock market crashes, shootings, bombings, and anthrax mailings, the call has been consistent. Fear has always been an enemy, and often the first enemy. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Hijackers steered marauding airplanes into buildings in pairs. This way, the horrifying images could be captured and spread to millions. (Same with bombings in Madrid and at the Boston Marathon — always in pairs.) This page of the terror playbook may have been Osama bin Laden’s keenest insight. He didn’t have to kill very many, so long as everyone became afraid that they might be next. Terrorism took fear as its name.

Most of us didn’t feel those calamities directly, unless you count the trauma of seeing the heartbreaking images in our living rooms. Nevertheless, we felt decimated — haunted that it could have been us. Look up the etymology of “decimate” and you’ll learn that terrorism’s playbook has been around for millennia.

The healthy response to each catastrophe was the same. Stay strong. Be generous. Reach out. Stick together. Fear not.

But now we’re encountering a bug that doesn’t care about our mood. It cares what’s in our lungs, not what’s in our minds. Fear is no longer a tool of the enemy. In fact, it’s mostly an ally. Cavalier attitudes and behaviors are what’s getting people killed. Mardi Gras five weeks ago presaged devastation in New Orleans today.

Initially, President Trump and several Republican governors stayed with muscle memory, projecting calm in the face of oncoming fury. That’s what our leaders have done for 100 years. Now we’re battling a force that stays invisible until it’s too late. Once we see its effects around us, engulfment is only a matter of time — usually 14-21 days.

Can Americans build an alliance with fear, without succumbing to outright panic? Can we learn to behave appropriately to keep others — strangers and loved ones — safe? Can we fathom that the danger may be lurking inside us? We’ll know the answers sooner than we’d like.

It’s not your fault if all this takes a while to sink in. We’ve never been asked to be afraid. Meanwhile, “Don’t accidentally kill someone.”

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com. A short clip from GWB’s “go shopping” speech can be found here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4552776/user-clip-bush-shopping-quote

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Three Ideas to Improve the Next Stimulus Package

March 27th, 2020 by dk
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Send people home from their jobs and promise them an Andrew Yang-style “freedom dividend,” and they are going to have suggestions for improving it. Here are three of the best suggestions for the (inevitable) next stimulus package I’ve run across this week.

Subsidize Local News

When Congress began contemplating what bailouts would be necessary to keep society running, the list of threatened industries was long. Just because local journalism was faltering before the current crisis began should be no reason to omit it from subsidies. The Columbia Journalism Review calculates that 25,000 local journalism jobs could be secured with a grant of $625 million.

Could anyone make an honest case that cruise ships are more important to the future of our society than local journalists? Exposing corruption and incompetence will be especially important now that the government plans to dole out millions and billions to industries all at once.

Congress would be wise to double the grant, establishing an endowment to subsidize future salaries. Call it the Ben Franklin Fund, since the newspaperman never held elected office, but has always been a full-fledged Founding Father.

Make People Spend It

Stanford Professor Herbert Lin suggests the government not send checks to its citizens because the funds may be saved and not spent. Spending is what’s necessary to stimulate the economy. That could be nearly assured if Americans received debit cards instead, set to expire in three months.

Those who would prefer to sock the money away and save it for a rainy day would be encouraged to spend it immediately rather than lose it entirely. For the economy as a whole, the day won’t get any rainier than this, so we need everyone to spend their dividend quickly to give the economy the necessary boost.

We’ve heard too many stories lately about how airlines and hotel companies didn’t use the windfall that came from 2017’s tax reform to help their workers or their customers. They used the extra money to buy back their stock instead. Depositing your government check into an investment account would be roughly equivalent. Lin’s plan would make sure you spend it.

True Debt Relief

Congress gave up trying to determine how any direct subsidy to Americans could be targeted to reach the greatest need. The solution might be deceptively simple. If the federal government paid off every American’s credit card debt, it would come to roughly the same amount as they are planning to send out next week — about $1 trillion.

University of Missouri professor Michael Hudson claims a debt jubilee would free up American society in more powerful ways than anything else. Widespread debt relief is not untested. It revived Germany after WWII. Assyrian rulers employed it regularly millennia ago.

And most of us have a book somewhere that lays out how and why debt forgiveness can and should be used. Mosaic Law in the Bible’s Old Testament mandates jubilee debt relief every 50 years, to keep Jews out of bondage to one another, that they may “live securely in the land.” Doesn’t that seem like an appropriate goal for society today?

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Social Distancing Gives Us a Sporting Chance

March 27th, 2020 by dk
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Maybe it’s good that we’re all taking a forced break from watching competitive sports. This coronavirus has given us an entirely different sort of March madness.

Sport divides outcomes equally into winners and losers. We like that. The players themselves are constantly mindful of the game itself — its skills, strategies, rules, integrity, history. Winning sits in a larger context for athletes, but not for most fans. Winning is all that matters, so the other side must lose.

Spectator sports distract us from what matters more. Namely, the greater good and collective action. Or, in this case, collective inaction. Oregonians are being told to shelter in place, leaving home only for essential activities.

Some would rather continue their life uninterrupted by the current threat. The governor’s plea was clear. Even if you don’t think you’re at risk, or you’re willing to accept that risk, stay put anyway. Take one for the team. You may be carrying the virus. Don’t infect others who cannot afford the risk.

This lockdown won’t last forever, but it also won’t be lifted on some arbitrary date. Current restrictions must continue until they are no longer necessary, and no one knows how long that will take.

The economy will falter from this inactivity. At least for a little while, we should stop caring about money and start caring for one another. Idling our economic engines buys us what we need most — time. Time to study the virus’s patterns, time to manufacture testing kits and protective equipment, time to design vaccine testing trials.

We shouldn’t fully gear up again until the road ahead is at least visible, if not clear. Each of us has to do this for the sake of the common good. Being a good team player is what will keep us all in the game. If you find yourself getting stir crazy, especially if you’re young and healthy, some essential social services could greatly use your help.

Here’s just one example. Ebbert United Methodist Church prepares meals for Springfield’s homeless population several days a week. “No one on my team is under 60,” Administrative Assistant Danette Lamson, 60, told me. The dangers haven’t lessened the need.

Nina Weant, 86, only recently stopped handing out sack lunches to guests. “I had to put a brick in her lap to keep her inside,” Lamson lamented.

Judy Brown, 72, has taken up much of the slack. Lamson tries to keep her elderly volunteers away from guests and the risk of infection, but Brown does the Costco shopping each week. 

That’s more than a 70-something should be doing right now, but no one half her age has stepped up. If that might be you, call Lamson at the church: 541-746-3513.

Volunteer efforts have been fueled by retirees since households began needing two incomes. Working adults didn’t have as much time to devote to the greater good, but that has suddenly — and maybe not temporarily — changed.

A new generation of volunteers could emerge from this catastrophe. Can we have a stronger society when this danger has passed? The coronavirus has given us a sporting chance.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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