Trump’s Portland Playbook

The Daily Escape:

Storm near Mesa Verde, CO – photo by mayaxs

It’s once again getting difficult to write about this stuff. Trump is willing to deploy a secret army to protect buildings, but he won’t take responsibility to protect human beings from a pandemic that is killing Americans at the equivalent of three jumbo jet crashes a day.

Let’s focus on the conflict between the First Amendment and the Second Amendment that’s been playing out on our streets since the murder of George Floyd in May. Early in the COVID pandemic, armed protestors carried their long guns into the Lansing, MI state capitol demanding an end to the shutdown. They also stood around in Richmond, VA and in both cases, law enforcement kept their distance, bending over backwards to avoid creating a confrontation.

When unarmed protestors showed up in most American cities after Floyd’s murder, law enforcement more or less did whatever they wanted to them. The sustained brutality of the police against unarmed protestors (there are more than 800 video-recorded incidents of police violence) is prima-facie evidence supporting the protestors’ message.

There are political ramifications and lessons to be learned from the reactions of both groups of protestors and local and federal authorities.

Carrying guns into a legislature completely undermined whatever goals the protestors in Lansing and Richmond were trying to accomplish. The response from most Americans was to ridicule them. The police believed that the armed protestors weren’t going to use their weapons. They knew that letting them yell and march around would placate them. Law enforcement was pretty sure they wouldn’t be back in larger numbers the next day.

On the other hand, the unarmed protestors inspired by George Floyd’s death started a national conversation about the role and conduct of the police. The BLM protestors turned out in the hundreds of thousands, every day, and theirs was largely an anti-police message.

Carrying arms would have certainly undermined their message. Armed anti-police protestors would have credibly shown (to the eyes of most Americans) that a violent police response was probably appropriate. Unarmed protestors have a moral weight that is completely lacking in the messaging of the armed anti-shutdown protesters.

More importantly, the BLM protestors are targeting their message at people who will vote in November.

The sustained, mostly non-violent nature of the protests in the face of an often-brutal police response (and now in Portland, a similar response by federal secret police) gives the protestors political power. Right now, a majority of the rest of the country is on the side of the Portland protestors. This is the exact opposite of the public’s response to the armed protestors.

Another factor is that Rep. John Lewis’s death reminded us of the 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Think about how different things would be today if those marchers had been armed. There would have been even greater state-sanctioned violence; and most of America at the time would have seen it as justified. It was those unforgettable and unforgivable images of brutal police violence against unarmed and peaceful marchers that shocked the nation and government enough to change the law.

Lasting change only comes through voting, and putting pressure on elected officials to sanction bad actors and change laws that enable bad behavior. That only happens if the protestors gain and keep credibility with voters.

Isn’t it sad that Trump sees two monsters, civil unrest, and the pandemic, and chooses to say that fighting the pandemic is up to the states, but graffiti on federal courthouses is the hill he’s willing to die on? This is the fallout:

A bunch of people in Portland have sprayed graffiti on buildings, broken windows, and started fires, which, to be clear, is wrong and should be punished. Trump’s response was to send in the feds, in force.

Trump’s play is to use federal law enforcement to prod the protestors into more unrest and property damage. He will continue calling peaceful protesters rioters and anarchists. He will try to paint Biden and the Democrats as enablers of the downfall of American society.

This old storyline has worked in the past. Portland is the test of Trump’s playbook. Protestors have to remain mostly peaceful in the face of threats and physical violence by the Federales.

That must be the BLM playbook.

It’s not going to be pretty. People will get hurt.

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Where COVID Goes, the Economy Will Follow

The Daily Escape:

Hetch Hetchy, Yosemite, CA – 2020 photo by sfo2phx. This reservoir was created by damming the Tuolumne River in the Hetch Hetchy valley in 1923. The project remains controversial, since the valley was thought to be as beautiful as Yosemite.

Where is America going? It’s clear that wherever our economy is going mostly depends on where our Covid-19 pandemic goes.

Congress passed the CARES act to provide us with a financial bridge until August, when the Coronavirus was expected to be under control, and life would be able to return to something like normal. But the pandemic is now worse than we imagined in March. From the WaPo:

“Sunday marked the 41st straight day that the seven-day average for new daily coronavirus infections in the United States trended upward. Six months after the novel coronavirus reached America, more than 3.7 million cases have been detected, and at least 137,000 people have died.

Kentucky, Louisiana, Oregon and South Carolina all set new single-day records on Sunday….Idaho, Nebraska, Iowa and five other states have seen their seven-day average for daily new fatalities rise by more than 40% in the past week. More than 100 Florida hospitals have run out of ICU beds for adults.”

We’ve spent $ trillions, but we’re no better off than when the pandemic started. And we’re got a lot to think about as these programs start to end. Bloomberg prepared this timeline of what financial benefits are ending, and the likely impact on America:

These looming cutoff dates come amid signs the labor-market recovery has stalled. While the Senate is willing to send new financial bridging legislation to Trump, Republicans and Democrats disagree on number of issues, and Trump has his own demands. The WaPo reports: (emphasis and brackets by Wrongo)

“Senate Republicans were seeking to allocate $25 billion for states to conduct testing and contact tracing, but certain administration officials want to zero out the testing and tracing money entirely…. [the administration] is also trying to block billions of dollars that GOP senators want to allocate for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and billions more for the Pentagon and State Department to address the pandemic at home and abroad…”

Trump wants the states to own the responsibility for testing. The Coronavirus spending bill Congress approved in April included $25 billion to increase testing and also required HHS to release a strategic testing plan. The agency did so in May, but the plan simply asserted the administration’s insistence that states, not the federal government, should take the lead on testing.

Another sticking point is that Trump wants the legislation to include another payroll tax cut. The payroll tax is used to fund Social Security and Medicare, so cutting it is a stealth way to cut Social Security in a time of crisis. Trump is also trying to fund a new FBI building.

In May, the House approved a $3.5 trillion relief bill. Pelosi’s bill funnels $100 billion to help schools to safely reopen and calls for $1 trillion to be sent to cash-strapped states to pay essential workers and prevent layoffs. The impact of shortfalls in sales, income, hotel, and gas taxes are already biting.

The White House has said the final package shouldn’t exceed $1 trillion, showing how far apart the Parties are.

Axios has it right: (brackets by Wrongo)

  • We blew it on testing…America hasn’t built the infrastructure necessary to process [tests] and trace the results….
  • We blew it on schools. Congress allocated $150 billion for state and local governments as part of the CARES Act. [But] there was no money earmarked for schools to buy new safety equipment, or to hire additional teachers for [adding many] smaller classes.
  • We blew public health….Had we all been directed to wear them [face masks] in March — and done so…you might not be reading this post.
  • We blew goodwill. Millions of Americans sheltered in place, pausing their social lives for the common good. But many millions of other Americans didn’t. Some were essential workers….Some just didn’t care, or didn’t believe the threat.
  • All of this was complicated by mixed messages from federal and state leaders. Top of that list was President Trump, who claimed to adopt a wartime footing without clearly asking Americans to make sacrifices necessary to defeat the enemy.

That was the same mistake that GW Bush made with America after 9/11.

Michelle Goldberg in the NYT said this:

“Lawrence O. Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown, told me he doesn’t expect American life to feel truly normal before summer 2022. Two years of our lives, stolen by Donald Trump.”

We’ve lost more than two years. We may have lost the enonomy.

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Monday Wake Up Call – July 20, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Alpine lake, High Uintas Wilderness, UT- 2020 photo by anteaterpinkytoe.

Which is better: Gorbachev’s Chernobyl response, or Trump’s COVID response? It’s a high bar for Trump’s response to be worse than Gorbachev’s.

The Chernobyl disaster exposed the Soviet government’s ineptitude to both the Soviet people and the international community. The reactor’s core meltdown and its aftermath drained the Soviet Union of $billions in clean-up costs. It led to the loss of a primary energy source and dealt a serious blow to national pride. Thirty-four years later, the site remains a waste land.

Gorbachev would later say that he thought the Chernobyl meltdown, “even more than my launch of perestroika, was perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union five years later.”

But Trump is up for the challenge! From Umair Haque at Medium:

“America’s in free fall. It’s having a public health crisis, an economic crisis, a social implosion, and a political implosion all at once. And all those things have been brought to you by Donald Trump, whose negligence, irresponsibility, recklessness have allowed them to flourish.”

Nobody in the world is in free fall like America. America has the highest number of new cases in the world, higher than Brazil’s 50K, or India’s 30K. Even individual Red States have worse outbreaks than many of the world’s poorest countries with far higher populations.

The EU has about 5,000 new cases. America has more than fifteen times the number of cases Europe has. Texas alone had more than twice the number of cases, (more than 10K) and the population of Texas is 7% of the EU’s.

Trump nails the win over Gorbachev with his most egregious action, putting armed secret police on the streets of Portland, OR. Dozens of federal agents in full camouflage seized protesters, threw them into unmarked cars, and took them for interrogation without specifying a reason for arrest.

It appears that at least some of the agents involved belonged to the US Customs and Border Protection (the Border Patrol), a US government organization that has no business conducting actions against Americans in Portland.

Both the mayor of Portland and the governor of Oregon have asked them to leave. A US Attorney for the State of Oregon is calling for an investigation into the arrests.

Now, the acting head of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, is vowing to ramp up these actions both in Portland and elsewhere. This is Wolf on the DHS website:

“Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it. A federal courthouse is a symbol of justice – to attack it is to attack America.”

We’ve seemingly reached a point where Trump’s brown shirt police force is reality.

Could it be that Trump is trying to foment unrest? His campaign can’t be happy that protests and urban unrest have quieted down across America in the last few weeks. Is Trump hoping this action will spark a revival of what we were seeing in June?

The calculation would be that an upsurge in protest will divert the country’s attention from the ongoing COVID-19 disaster while scaring moderate voters. It allows Trump to keep playing the law and order president, someone who will protect white suburbanites from scary black/brown anarchists.

This is the same week when Trump claimed Biden wants to abolish suburbs.

We’ve heard this Republican tune before during earlier presidential elections. It’s a mash up of Nixon’s law and order strategy, and Bush I’s Willie Horton strategy. It’s important to point out that both won their elections.

Trump is using Executive Branch agencies that he controls. AG Barr knows there is nothing “Constitutionally” Congress can do about this. They’re trying out various actions to see what they can get away with: for now, it’s the dreaded ANTIFA. Before that it was immigrants and asylum seekers. Later, it could be any opposition.

Time to wake up America! This is who and what we have become. The only question remaining is whether enough non-authoritarian Americans will vote in November to stop the madness.

To help you wake up, here is Big Country’s “We’re not in Kansas” performed live in 1991 in Bonn Germany:

Sample lyrics:

What did you learn in school today
Did you learn to run when the teachers pray
Did they teach you enough to know the state you’re in
Not enough to get out, not enough to win

What did you learn at home today
Did you learn to hate in the proper way
Did your liberated parents patronize your friends
Cos they had enough money cos they had the right skin

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – July 19, 2020

RIP Rep. John Lewis. He was Wrongo’s contemporary. On our bookshelves, we have Lewis’s memoir, “Walking with the Wind”, autographed to Ms. Right, with Lewis saying to her, “Keep the faith”. And we’ve tried to do just that.

There was no fight for Black civil rights in which John Lewis was not on the front lines. How it must have pained him to witness the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act by the John Roberts-led Supreme Court.

He was among the first Freedom Riders. A leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He was one of the organizers of the 1963 March on Washington.

Lewis was drawn to Dr. King’s theme of “redemptive suffering” to describe his willingness to sacrifice life and well-being for the sake of justice, described by MLK as a suffering that “opens us and those around us to a force beyond ourselves, a force that is right and moral, the force of righteous truth that is at the basis of human conscience.”

At the March on Washington, the-then 23 year old Lewis read a speech that had been heavily revised by Dr. King, Jr. and others who thought it too pugnacious. After editing, Lewis said:

“By the force of our demands, our determination and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces and put them together in the image of God and democracy. We must say: ‘Wake up, America. Wake up!’ For we cannot stop, and we will not and cannot be patient.”

Lewis had his skull fractured at the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma in 1965. That bridge became a touchstone in Lewis’s life. He returned there often during his decades in Congress, bringing lawmakers from both parties to see where “Bloody Sunday” happened. He spent 34 years representing Atlanta and the state of Georgia in the US Congress, and as of now, remains on the ballot in Georgia’s 5th district.

John Lewis is the last of the March on Washington organizers to die, and as Charlie Pierce says:

“…he died at a time when the Voting Rights Act lies in ruins, and when Florida has found a clever way to bring back a poll tax. He died at a time of bad trouble, when the country is desperately in need of the “good trouble” he always recommended to his fellow citizens. He boycotted the inauguration of this president….”

Speaking of good trouble, a phrase that is irrevocably tied to Lewis, he tweeted this recently:

On to cartoons. Let’s hope he causes as much trouble as heaven allows:

Lewis crosses the bridge:

Finally, the school reopening debate continues. 71% of Americans say reopening the schools is risky:

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Saturday Soother – July 18, 2020

The Daily Escape:

The comet NEOWISE over Stonehenge, England – July 2020 photo via NASA

Happy Saturday fellow disease vectors! Global interest in the comet has been large, but sadly, not enough to make it page one news. From the NYT:

“Eager sky watchers are turning to the heavens as Comet NEOWISE, one of the brightest comets in a generation, starts climbing ever higher among the evening stars.

A majority of comets fly through the solar system invisible to humans, usually too small and dim to be seen with the naked eye. The last frozen ice ball that gave us a big show was Hale-Bopp, a comet that was visible for nearly 18 months around its closest approach to Earth in 1997.

Officially designated C/2020 F3, Comet NEOWISE was discovered on March 27 and had until this week been visible only to committed comet viewers willing to wake up in the early pre-dawn hours. But on Monday, NEOWISE tipped into the post-sunset sky and has even been spotted by people living near city centers with all the light pollution.”

To see NEOWISE, look up at the northwest skies about an hour and a half after sunset. Experts suggest going to the darkest area you can for best viewing. Find the Big Dipper and follow its ladle as it arcs in the direction of the horizon. We have far too many trees to make it visible at the Mansion of Wrong.

The last comet to put on such an impressive show was Hale-Bopp, way back in 1997. Wrongo and Ms. Right have a photo of Hale-Bopp taken about a mile from our (then) home in New Hampshire. Hale-Bopp passed above our local meeting house on the night of a poetry reading by the late, great Donald Hall, a local resident who became the US poet-laureate in 2006.

Comets, like volcanoes, and pandemics were, in the time of prehistory, believed to be signs of punishment from the gods. It seems incredible that we as a species have figured out so much of the natural world that left our ancestors cowering in caves.

It’s too bad our social and moral abilities haven’t advanced as far in the same time.

We know about these comets due to NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE), a satellite that assists NASA’s efforts to identify and characterize near-earth objects, particularly those that might harm the earth.

It’s worth thinking about why we make the investment to detect invisible threats from the universe, but are seemingly unable to deal with threats that we can see right here on earth.

The next time NEOWISE comes by will be 6,800 years from now. Let’s hope our descendants will be around to see it.

Our Saturday coffee experience remains on break, but it looks like a hot weekend here in Litchfield County, CT. We currently have two turkey mommas parading their clutches of chicks around the fields of Wrong. One group is nearly full-grown, while the other appears to have hatched about a month later. Both were seemingly born with an aversion to humans, despite being with us every day.

Wrongo is going to attempt to repair his weedwacker and put it to some use in the early hours of the day. In the meantime, relax at an appropriate physical distance and listen to Arthur Rubinstein play the Brahms “Intermezzo Op.117, No. 2”. Rubinstein died in 1982, so it is nice that we have the ability to hear and see him all these years later. He was five years old when this piece was composed by Brahms.

This is a mellow work, though just beneath the surface, there are moments of darkness and tension. Doesn’t that sound like America?

This intermezzo is one of Brahms’ more popular solo piano works:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Our COVID Data Is Inaccurate, And It’s Going to be Spun

The Daily Escape:

Sand Harbor State Park, Lake Tahoe, CA – 2020 photo by debarnec

Happy belated tax day! Two disturbing articles about both the accuracy and reliability of COVID-19 data were in the NYT yesterday.

First, the collection and reporting of data is increasingly reliant on outdated technology to deliver test results:

“Health departments track the virus’s spread with a distinctly American patchwork: a reporting system in which some test results arrive via smooth data feeds but others come by phone, email, physical mail or fax, a technology retained because it complies with digital privacy standards for health information.”

The problems are compounded by human error:

“These reports often come in duplicate, go to the wrong health department, or are missing crucial information such as a patient’s phone number or address.”

Before the pandemic, nearly 90% of laboratory test results for diseases tracked by public health departments were transmitted digitally. But the need for substantially greater Coronavirus testing has brought many more players into the public health arena, including companies that usually run employment screening tests, and small clinics that usually test for diseases like the flu and strep throat.

This has increased the share of lab tests coming to public health departments via fax and phone.

The result is unreliable information. The Times quotes Janet Hamilton, executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Nationally, about 80% percent of coronavirus test results are missing demographic information, and half do not have addresses…”

Hard to trace an infected person without an address. America’s health system is a jumble of old and new technology that make it difficult to track what’s really going on with the COVID pandemic.

Also, the Trump administration’s guidelines on demographic data haven’t taken effect yet. In June, they required laboratories to report a patients’ age, race and ethnicity, so public health officials could better understand the demographics of the Coronavirus pandemic. But, those rules won’t take effect until August, and they only state that laboratories “should” provide patients’ addresses and phone numbers. They do not mandate it.

Dr. Frieden, former CDC director says:

 “You’ve got hundreds of laboratories and thousands of tests. Nothing is interoperable because they haven’t been mandated to do that.”

Other countries have a unique number identifier for each patient, something that Congress refuses to provide in the US. Instead, data often come to public health authorities using only the information that laboratories need to track the record, not the details that public health officials need to help manage the disease.

Anyone who has healthcare knows that patients routinely fill out the same information on multiple forms in multiple offices. The need for doctors and testing services to use fax machines betrays the fundamental lack of modern technology in some health care settings.

And remember, it’s not for lack of money: There’s plenty of money in the US health care system.

The second item regarding COVID data is more troubling. The NYT reports that: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The Trump administration has ordered hospitals to bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and, beginning on Wednesday, send all coronavirus patient information to a central database in Washington — a move that has alarmed public health experts who fear the data will be distorted for political gain.”

From now on, HHS, and not the CDC, will collect daily reports about the patients that each hospital is treating, how many beds and ventilators are available, and other information vital to tracking the pandemic.

This is seen as an inherently political move by outside public health experts. The NYT quotes Nicole Lurie, who served as assistant secretary for preparedness and response under former President Obama:

“Centralizing control of all data under the umbrella of an inherently political apparatus is dangerous and breeds distrust….It appears to cut off the ability of agencies like C.D.C. to do its basic job.”

This is more disturbing than finding out that the data are terrible. Alex Azar, who runs HHS, is a Trump crony and has clearly used his position to be helpful to Trump’s re-election campaign.

If there ever was any hope for a dispassionate, reasoned, and scientific FEDERAL response from Trump, it is certain that these two problems, one with the quality of the data, and the second with how it will be spun as it is reported, show we’re doomed.

How many health care workers will have to die? How many people living in states run by Trump’s personal bootlickers will get the treatment that they need?

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Monday Wake Up Call – Voter Registration Edition, July 13, 2020

The Daily Escape:

The comet Neowise, as seen from Heart Lake over Mt. Shasta, CA – 4:10am July 10 photo by smi77y_OG.

Democrats need to slow their victory lap according to Politico, who reports that Democrats are lagging Republicans in new voter registrations in swing states since the start of the pandemic.

A report from the Democratic-leaning data firm TargetSmart found people who are registering are older, whiter, and less Democratic:

“The study from TargetSmart was especially alarming for Democrats because it spotlighted not only falling registrations, but which party was damaged most in battleground states. In a majority of 10 states TargetSmart studied, registrations skewed older and whiter than before the pandemic.

TargetSmart finds Republican registrations edging Democrats’ in Florida, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. All of which adds another uncertainty to an election cycle that already is loaded with them.

The pandemic closures and stay-at-home orders have been a perfect storm for reducing voter registrations. Voter registration is normally a face-to-face, person-to-person activity. In this summer of COVID-19, there are no voter registration volunteers with clipboards registering voters at outdoor events because they have been cancelled. No one is camped out at downtown street corners on the weekends. DMV closures, stay-at-home orders and restrictions on large gatherings limit opportunities for new registrations.

In a report on the decline last month, the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research (ERIC) concluded that:

“…the steep decline in new registrations may prove to be a sizable obstacle to what was set, pre-pandemic, to be a record election for turnout.”

People of color and other marginalized communities have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and that’s undercutting registration efforts, and undercutting people’s ability to get registered, despite the energy that was created in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing.

Tom Bonier, TargetSmart’s CEO, says overall new registration numbers have been so low during the pandemic that Republican gains during the period have been too small to offset the pre-pandemic Democratic advances. He thinks that Republicans although still behind, “got a couple of extra steps” closer to the Democrats.

But Politico says Republicans are pointing to their improved standing in registrations compared to 2016 in Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, all states Trump won that year, despite Democrats holding a wider registration advantage than they do now. So, that’s a worry for Democrats.

OTOH, this is the first year that Republicans have fallen behind both Democrats and independent voters in registration in the 32 states and the District of Columbia that register voters by party, according to Ballot Access News, which tracks voter registrations.

If Trump has any chance of catching Biden by November 3, it will likely take registering and turning out more white, noncollege-educated voters, than in 2016. It’s a real question if they exist in large enough numbers to make a difference.

An interesting and positive (for Democrats) report from the Bulwark concludes that Trump has stopped trying to win the presidency. By analyzing his current direct marketing campaign, they conclude that he is instead focusing on building his list of followers for his post-presidency:

“My working theory is that Trump’s ads are telling us what that next scheme is. He’s tying himself more completely to the base of his base so that he can integrate them into Trump TV or Trumpstagram or whatever venture he’s planning for January 21, 2021.

After all, he’s got an installed user base of probably 30 million people he can start milking the minute he’s out of office. That puts him halfway to Disney Plus. At say, $9.95 a month, you’re talking about very real money.”

So there seems to be real questions about whether Democrats should be worried about Trump being re-elected. Democratic registrations should be the true measure of concern, not some media pundit’s speculation about Trump TV.

So, wake up America! There are less than four months to register more Democratic voters. Help out if you can. To help you wake up, here’s a throwback tune from 1983, “Vamos a la Playa(Let’s go to the beach) by the Italian disco group, Righeira. This was a huge hit in Europe in 1983. Despite its innocuous beach theme, the song actually talks about the explosion of an atomic bomb. And they’re singing in Spanish, but they’re Italians. And they appear to be wearing the Apple watch before it was invented:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Turkey Reclaims Museum as a Mosque

Happy Saturday, fellow disease vectors! The Saturday Soother is on break this week. So today, we’re moving far afield from the horrors of the Trump administration and COVID to talk Turkey.

From the WaPo:

“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Friday that Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia would become a mosque once again, brushing aside a legacy of Turkey’s secularizing modern founder, who converted the site to a museum more than eight decades ago.”

The Sophia represents the intersection of two of the world’s religions. The Sophia was built by the Romans in 360. The dome visible in the photo below was added in 537. Constantine made it the home of the Roman church (and named the city, Constantinople). It was an Eastern Orthodox Church for a short period. And from 1453 to 1931, it was a mosque. Here is a photo of the Hagia Sophia taken by Wrongo in 2013:

 

Since 1935, the Sophia has been a museum, neither a church nor a mosque. This was the solution devised by Kemal Ataturk, one of the 20th century’s great statesmen, to resolve competing claims by the Muslim and Christian communities in Turkey and neighboring countries.

The Sophia shows both additions and subtractions as its religion changed from Christian to Islam. Following the building’s conversion into a mosque in 1453, the minarets were added. Many of its Christian mosaics were whitewashed, due to Islam’s ban on representational imagery. The images were partially rescued by a team of archeologists from Edinburgh University between 1958 and 1962. Since then, there has been a continuing effort to restore and maintain some of the Christian provenance of the building:

2013 photo by Wrongo

Since Islam does not permit Christian-style depictions, it remains unclear whether this uncovered iconography will now be hidden once again. Here is a photo taken inside the Sophia that demonstrates the multi-cultural history of the building:

2013 photo by Wrongo

The medallion on the right above represents Allah, while the medallion on the left is for Mohammad. Behind the medallions is the nave of the original church, with the middle window pointing towards Jerusalem. The lighted arch in the nave was added when the building became a mosque. It points toward Mecca.

The Sophia was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985, and receivers 3+million annual visitors. It has been an example of tolerance and pluralism in a world that is rapidly moving away from these concepts.

There is no shortage of mosques in Istanbul. From Reuters: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“For those who don’t know, really near to Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the Turks built the Blue Mosque, which is newer and big enough for all the Muslims in the area (and then some). Erdogan is just trying to provoke Christians and show to Muslims worldwide he is their leader.”

Until a few years ago, Turkey was held up as an example that Islam is perfectly compatible with multi-party democracy, a pro-Western foreign policy, and healthy economic growth.

Most of that has been weakened under Erdogan, and re-converting the Sophia to a mosque should make many Western countries rethink their alliances with Turkey.

The timing of the conversion is clearly political. Erdogan’s popularity has been sagging under the weight of a damaged economy. His AKP party lost control of Istanbul and Ankara to the opposition in the last elections. Their prospects for the upcoming elections are not very good either, so this current gambit is an attempt to strengthen Erdogan’s chances.

Some Turkish clerics are saying they are ready to whitewash the faces of the Seraphim that surround the dome. Here’s what they look like now:

2013 photo by Wrongo

It was a massive amount of work to uncover them, and it would be a tragedy if they are again covered up.

First prayers at the Hagia Sophia mosque are planned for July 24. This date is highly symbolic, as that is also the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, when Turkey gave up all claims to the remainder of the Ottoman Empire.

The artwork, now over 1500 years old, will most likely be lost again. Once more religious triumphalism will rear its ugly head. Once again, one group can rub another group’s face in the dirt.

The Sophia should keep all of its artwork, and remain open to all.

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We’re Not a Failed State, We’re a Failed Society

The Daily Escape:

Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, CO – photo by exposurebydjk. These are the highest dunes in North America.

Wrongo has written quite a bit lately about America’s fracturing social cohesion, and increasing white grievance as the greatest threats to our democracy. Here’s Wrongo on social cohesion:

“In the past, we had a set of unwritten expectations that members of our society were expected to comply with, like voting, paying taxes, and displaying tolerance for others. Even those deminimus expectations are fraying today.”

The COVID pandemic has many here and abroad saying the US is a failed state. George Packer argued this recently in the Atlantic. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says calling America a failed state is:

“…not only wrong, it’s irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst…. So stop saying that.

Ok DHS, the US isn’t a failed state, but we may be a failed society. We seem to have decided that while we have the means to succeed, we no longer want to try. From Duck of Minerva:

“Failed states lack the resources, equipment, and government capacity to provide public safety and public services. States like Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen fit this description. The governments of these countries can often barely project authority beyond the walls of their government buildings.”

This doesn’t describe America. We are the wealthiest, most powerful country on earth. We’re home to more Nobel laureates than any country. Our universities are the envy of the world. Our technology sector is the world’s most dynamic.

We’ve lost the will to use our vast strengths to make America a better place for its citizens. If America had the will, we would have blunted the COVID-19 threat, as have New Zealand, South Korea and Germany. Those countries all have far more social cohesion than the US.

And while it’s true that Trump has failed the country, our society no longer feels that we have responsibilities to each other, or to the nation. We have lost the willingness to make personal sacrifices for the good of the community.

Individualism is a crucial part of our national ethos, but it has morphed into selfishness precisely when we need to see ourselves as all in this together. The result is that we’ve shown that we’re incapable of mobilizing the capacity to address the worst threat to public safety of the 21st century.

COVID is the just the third major crisis in the 21st century.

The first was 9/11. Back then, rural America didn’t see New York City as filled with immigrants and liberals who deserved their fate, but as a place that had taken a hit for the rest of us. America’s reflex was to mourn, and mobilize to help. The ensuing Iraq War and partisan politics erased much of that sense of national unity, and fed a bitterness toward the political class that hasn’t faded.

The second crisis was the Great Recession. Starting out, Congress passed a bipartisan bailout bill that saved the financial system. Outgoing Bush administration officials largely cooperated with incoming Obama administration officials. The lasting economic pain of the Great Recession was felt only by people who had lost their jobs, homes, and retirement savings. Many have never recovered, and inequality has grown worse.

This second crisis drove a wedge between Americans: Between the upper and lower classes, between Republicans and Democrats, metropolitan and rural people, the native-born and immigrants, ordinary people and their leaders. Social bonds had been under growing strain for several decades, and now they began to tear. The lasting effect was increased polarization and discredited governmental authority.

Self-pity turned to anger. Anger at Muslims or Mexicans or gays or fancy-pants city folks (or all of them mashed together) offset by a group identity of white grievance. America’s tone changed to defiant anger and hostility.

This was the American landscape that the Coronavirus found: In the cities and suburbs, globally connected desk workers were dependent on the essentials, a class of precarious and invisible service workers. In rural America, it found hollowed-out towns in revolt against the cities. In Washington, Corona found a government that had lost its ability to rally, or work together for the common good.

In America’s president, Corona happily found Donald Trump, the perfect fit for this decaying society. When a corrupt minority rules a dissatisfied majority, there are consequences.

We have literally fallen on our asses. So much damage in a relatively short period of time. Our republic is much flimsier than we thought.

We need a second period of reconstruction in America. The first reconstruction failed because our society failed it. The second reconstruction must fix our failed society.

It will be long and difficult.

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What’s Behind Refusing to Wear a Mask?

The Daily Escape:

Hideaway Beach, Kauai, HI – photo by alohabaltimore

The message from health officials and local governments seems simple enough: Wear a mask in public to help control the spread of the Coronavirus; and the majority of Americans do. But a recent Pew survey showed that 15% only wear masks sometimes, while 20% said they don’t wear masks at all.

When the virus hit, we scared everybody into staying home. Then, we worried about the impact on the economy, so we pushed our governments to reopen too early. Finally, we decided that wearing masks would protect us from the virus after saying they weren’t that effective.

Most people want to do the right thing, but far from everyone. We’re no longer a “can do” country. Now we’ve become more like: “won’t do”.

Mask wearing has become a tribal badge. Trump mocked mask wearers for appearing weak. He’s said wearing a mask is a political statement against him, so it’s no surprise that mask refusers are more likely to be politically conservative. That’s an ominous trend when new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are increasing steeply in some red states, the very states where mask-wearing mandates are least likely to be adopted.

The mask refusers have also allied with the anti-vaxx’ers in a “you’re not the boss of me” stance versus the government.  As Kris Kristofferson said, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”, but with Coronavirus, that freedom to not mask up gives you plenty to lose.

And it gives the country plenty to lose as well. Wrongo wears masks in accordance with his state’s laws. Apparently, that makes Wrongo a liberal.

This story from Oregon shows the depth of the problem. A trooper of the Oregon State Police refused to wear a mask while patronizing a coffee shop, despite a mandatory order by the state’s governor, Kate Brown, that masks were to be worn in all public indoor spaces throughout Oregon.

The shop’s assistant manager told the trooper that he needed to wear a mask. The Statesman Journal reports that the trooper said:

 “Governor Brown has no authority to take our civil liberties. We aren’t going to wear masks.”

The manager recalled that the trooper then placed his order, offering this foul-mouthed retort to the governor’s mandate:

“He said, F— Kate Brown”.

This story carries a lot of baggage. First, the trooper is one of America’s anointed class of cops, for whom there is little consequence for bad behavior. Second, the trooper is a man. Men are more likely to opt out of wearing masks, even though men are at higher risk than women of dying from coronavirus infection. Third, Governor Brown is a Democrat, and a bisexual woman, so it’s unlikely that the trooper was a fan.

FWIW, the trooper was fired.

Most people understand that a mask protects you while offering real protection to other people. The message seems to have gotten across that masks are mainly about protecting others, but those troopers in Oregon, and many other people across America, are simply choosing not to participate in their own, or in your protection.

The recent increases in confirmed Coronavirus cases across the US South and West are being driven by young people who are not social distancing. The young are also least likely to wear masks.

We compel all sorts of behaviors. Seat belts while driving. No smoking in restaurants. No t-shirts with inappropriate text in high schools. But compelling mask-wearing for safety? That’s a bridge too far.

Here’s the thing: Encouraging people to wear masks hasn’t worked. Shaming people who won’t wear masks hasn’t worked. Reassuring people that masks are not a political statement hasn’t worked. Informing people about the serious health consequences of COVID-19 hasn’t worked. Reminding people they aren’t invincible, that the Coronavirus has killed young, healthy people hasn’t worked.

Begging people to wear masks, if not to protect themselves, then to protect others, hasn’t worked.

If we can’t convince anti-maskers to care about their own health, then we certainly won’t convince them to care about other people. It didn’t have to be this way: Pandemic, death, and depression. Things getting worse because we argue and won’t work together.

People are saying, we quarantined for three months, that’s enough. If your boat capsized, and you swam for three minutes, would you say that’s enough, you’ll stop swimming and drown, even though you can see the shore?

The solution isn’t elusive, but it requires more social cohesion and less faux grievance about freedom.

You want kids back in schools? You want the economy to restart? Wear a mask!

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