Outside Reading — Essential edition

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Legalize All Essential Workers by Alfredo Corchado

Don’t Blame Econ 101 for the Plight of Essential Workers by Annie Lowery

 Tuition-Free College For Workers by Michelle Miller-Adams

A UW System crisis a decade in the making by Nicholas Fleisher and Donald Moynihan

This week, there’s a through line to all of the articles I’ve decided to share, so I’ll group them together rather than reflect on them individually. It has been, to put it bluntly, very rough this week watching selfish idiots do their level best to undo the public health gains made during the weeks of lockdown. We are on the merge of a major social failure. The sacrifice made was meant to buy the federal government time to develop a plan, and the marauders in the White House didn’t basically nothing except frantically try to shore up their image, treating the preventable deaths of tens of thousands in the U.S. as nothing more than a public relations crisis. By now, there should be plans for testing, tracking, containment, and continuing fiscal support of workers and systems. Executive branch officials instead hold up their bloodied hands and gloat about red is one of the most prominent colors on the nation’s flag, so aren’t they great.

I remain convinced — because I must, or the anger and depression will be overwhelming — that we can emerge from this a better, stronger country, recognizing the economic and social structure flaws exposed by the pandemic and working to fix them. We can insist on better treatment — in wages, in benefits, in personal safety, in job protection, in respect — for the workers who now have the word “essential” tagged onto them. As Michelle Miller-Adams argues in the article noted above, we can create the modern equivalent of the G.I. Bill, of the greatest drivers of individual and national economic prosperity in the nation’s history, which in turn would go a long way towards repairing the unconscionable damage inflicted on higher education by Republicans who want nothing more than to keep poor people poor and therefore dependent on the stingy and strategically withheld benevolence of the rich.

There are people in this country who work hard. And there are people in this country who benefit immensely. It’s time to shift our paradigm to make those groups one and the same. They deserve it.

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Outside Reading — Hers and Only Hers Masks

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Toxic Masculinity Is Going to Get Us All Killed by Jessica Valenti

Today at the grocery store, I saw two different couples comprised of a woman wearing a mask and a man opting against it. “Make no mistake: This is macho bullshit at its most lethal,” Jessica Valenti writes in regard to this sort of behavior, in an article published by GEN. As she’s wont to do, Valenti doesn’t just lay out a complaint. She goes into the deeper research to back up her argument, testing her theories against research and history. Over a century ago, during the flu pandemic that killed as many as fifty million people worldwide, U.S. health officials had to come up with specific campaigns targeted at men and boys to get them to take up the simplest measures to protect the public health.

 

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A Young Doctor, Fighting for His Life by Nicholas Kristof

As a reminder of what precisely is at stake here, this article from last Sunday’s New York Times recounts the experience of a Bronx physician — with a main base of operations in the emergency department — who contracted COVID-19. The story is harrowing, which is precisely why it’s important to share it. Online, there’s a supplemental video that provides additional details about his experience and the way it impacted the people who care about him.

 

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The Facts on Herd Immunity by Carl T. Bergstrom and Natalie Dean

Also from last week’s Times, two professors — one of biology and one of biostatistics — explain the concept of herd immunity, employing a welcome just-the-facts approach common in academia. One of the chief failings of the media in this vital moment is that they’ve persisted in giving airtime and column inches to politicians, pundits, and protestors well after the point those individuals have proven themselves incapable of meeting the moment with knowledge and care. We should be looking to experts, not selfish pontificators.

Outside Reading — Stronger Where It Healed edition

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Restoring the Economy Is the Last Thing We Should Want by Douglas Rushkoff

Writing for GEN, Douglas Rushkoff is the latest to make the persuasive case that getting “back to normal” should not be our national goal, especially in the case of our fiscal operations. There are flatly better ways to approach the work and investment that undergirds the economy, and the pain being felt right now exposes what’s fundamentally ill-conceived about the modern version of U.S. capitalism, warped into thinly disguised feudalism by forty-plus years of pernicious assaults on the institutions that redress ills and preserve fairness in society. It’s time to start ignoring the greedy corporate fiends on their ad hoc battalion of proudly subservient. rifle-brandishing buffoons screaming at state houses. Their voices can and should be replaced by sensible people who believe in tested policies and approaches for improving the lives of working people.

 

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Hotelier’s Push for $126 Million in Small-Business Aid Draws Scrutiny by Jeanna Smialek and Kenneth P. Vogel

And the front page of today’s New York Times, in an article written by Jeanna Smialek and Kenneth P. Vogel, identifies one of the culprits behind our current woes: a grotesquely, unduly rich hotel chain chairman who has made a side career of whining about taxes and used a deliberate loophole — that he himself lobbied for, of course, to suck up relief funds meant for small businesses and has unashamedly implied that he has no particular intention to use the money for its intended purpose, which is to keep his employees solvent. Monty Bennett isn’t a villain for what he’s done in recent weeks. His immorality precedes and, left unchecked, will well outlast the pandemic. Building a better economy for everyone begins with halting the influence of people like Bennett. If he had to actually work for a living in one of his hotels, he wouldn’t last a week.

 

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Beer Baron: Ale Asylum has some choice words for COVID-19 by Chris Drosner

I offered my humble reflections about the colorfully named new beer from Ale Asylum, a favorite local brewery, just a couple weeks ago. The person on the beer beat for the local newspaper goes deeper, offering genuine reportage from the brewers and others behind the delectable libation. The skirting-the-profane name of the product is delightful, of course, but it’s no mere novelty; the beer is also a pleasure to drink. And Chris Drosner’s article informatively touches on the genuine challenges current being faced by craft brewers, many of them highly dependent on tasting room business.

Outside Reading — Is Our Children Learning? edition

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A National Death Wish: How Science, Education, and the Future Were Sacrificed For Profit and Power by Jared Yates Sexton

As Jared Yates Sexton meticulously argues in his new essay, published by The Muckrake, where we are at now is where the devolving Republican philosophy has been leading for at least the last forty years. The party’s political leadership has been in an ever-escalating war against all manner of knowledge and expertise for decades, all because shared conclusions of scientists, physicians, and economists commonly run counter to their greed-first legislative preferences. Republicans are mishandling the duty of governance during the global pandemic because that is what they have been expertly training themselves to do all along.

 

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Milan announces ambitious scheme to reduce car use after lockdown by Laura Laker

Elsewhere, there are heartening signs of people and places coming together to set a better path into the future, one based on lessons learned during the current health crisis. This isn’t unique. Much the same thing happened after the flu pandemic of 1918, including in the Unites States, where leaders took seriously the exposed flaws in the social structure. This news article from The Guardian, written by Lauren Laker,  provides insight into the ways in which the Italian city of Milan is working strategically now to make sure the metropolitan area works better for citizens after the pandemic.

 

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Thirty Years Ago, Hollywood Won the Battle Against the X Rating. But It Lost the War. by Keith Phipps

Writing for The Ringer, Keith Phipps delves into a topic I find absolutely irresistible: the creation of the NC-17 movie rating. My fascination stems in large part from the fact that rating replaced the previous adults-only designator, X, during the time when I was co-producer and co-host of a weekly movie review show at my college radio station, and our program-opening news segment covered NC-17 developments many, many times. I also appreciate it a prime example of unintended consequences. The stigma that developed around the X rating, prompting the need for a change, can be attributed an early choice made by the MPAA, the entertainment industry organization that doles out the rating, to copyright all of the ratings at the time of their original creation, in the late nineteen-sixties, except for the X. By trying to spare the ratings board the chore of sitting through an onslaught of pornographic movies, the MPAA allows the X rating to become a marketing tool for smut peddlers, essentially losing control of it. Phipps doesn’t really get into that history, but the article does a dandy job of recounting the last gasp attempt at restoring legitimacy to an adults-only rating.

Outside Reading — The Answers We Need edition

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What Have Epidemiologists Learned About the Coronavirus? by Isaac Chotiner

As the most committed members of the reckless-idiot brigade start to push back against sincere efforts to preserve the public health, taking to the street with their weaponry and Confederate flags to declare fealty to the wealthy class’s ongoing exploitation efforts, it’s become yet more important to amplify the voices that should actually be prominent at this moment. For The New Yorker, Isaac Chotiner interviews Justin Lessler, PhD, an associate professor within the Infectious Disease Epidemiology division at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. With care and consideration, Lessler lays out the health care community’s current understanding of COVID-19 and where we collectively stand in the spread and treatment of the disease.

 

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Trump and His Allies Are Worried About More Than November by Jamelle Bouie

The marauders currently occupying the executive branch of the executive government have seemingly moved from callous ineptitude in responding to the global pandemic to outright sabotage of sound, necessary public health efforts. This op-ed, written by Jamelle Bouie for The New York Times, gets at a base fear of the right-wingers. It’s not simply immediate political repercussions and it’s certainly not the deaths of U.S. citizens that have the grand old party worried, at least not at an instinctual level. At their core, Republicans are worried that their constituents will realize that, in general, they deserve better, that the undercutting of government institutions that’s been happening for at least the last forty years has made the average citizen’s life worse in order to fortify the already overstuffed coffers of the rich.

 

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The Trump Administration Is Writing a Death Sentence for America’s Most Important Restaurants by Jeff Gordinier

One of the ways we could be doing better is by taking the economic measures meant to protect the economy in this dire time and diverting them to small, independently owned businesses. There are few sectors where the misallocation of funds is more problematic than the restaurant industry, where small, innovative businesses are left empty-handed while, in the most egregious example, the corporation behind Ruth’s Chris Steak House hoovered up $20 million of taxpayer dollars. As with practically everything that’s come out of the current White House administration, it’s grotesque corruption masquerading as public policy. Writing for Esquire, Jeff Gordinier delves deeper into the problem.

And while I’m on the subject, I recommend watching the impassioned plea from Katie Button, the exception chef behind one of our household’s favorite restaurants from our days as residents of Asheville, North Carolina. She explains the issue from a personal perspective and makes suggestions for how everyone can help to make this situation for independently owned restaurants.

Outside Reading — The Big Not-So-Easy edition

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The Bars of New Orleans Are Closed. They’re Still Getting the City Through This. by John Stanton

We are lucky in our household. Transitioning to a work-from-home model was easy for us, and our employers are incredibly supportive of the shift. We know we’re lucky, and out hearts go out to the people that don’t stand on the same sturdy girder, especially in those communities that are heavily reliant on tourism dollars. I made trips to New Orleans with some regularity in the years following Hurricane Katrina. It took a decade before the city felt fully and properly alive again, the way I remembered it from before the storm. The COVID-19 shutdown isn’t leveling the city with property damage in the same way, but closing all bars and restaurants and wiping clean the slate of spring festivals is devastating in a whole other way. Writing in Slate, John Stanton explains the bar culture of the city and spotlights some of the ways displaced workers are coming together in support of one another and the whole town. I’m eager to get back to New Orleans and slap my money on the bar and do my small, tipsy part to help them recover.

 

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What I Learned When My Husband Got Sick with Coronavirus by Jessica Lustig

A deputy editor with The New York Times Magazine, Jessica Lustig had the unwanted opportunity to write about the COVID-19 pandemic from first-hand experience, providing heartrending details about her family’s experience when her spouse contracted the disease. Thankfully, he has improved since this article was written and published, which makes the harrowing details a little easier to take. As the right wing’s brigade of dolt zealots begins their predictable turn towards clanging pots and pans together and screaming about how the shutdown was and is an overreaction, personal reporting like this is vital.

 

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Live, From a Connecticut Backyard, It’s … a Sport! by Christopher Clarey

I have a lot of affection for the early days of ESPN, before the network signed contracts with all the major U.S. sports leagues and the program schedule was filled with oddball athletic pursuits from around the globe. So I’m downright delighted with article, printed in The New York Times, which marvels at the airing of a dinky sports championship staged on someone’s personal court. There are wonderful details and charming quotes throughout. Shut the NFL down forever, and let’s all commit to platform tennis fandom.

 

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RE-EXPERIENCING OLD BASEBALL GAMES IS THE PERFECT QUARANTINE BINGE by Noel Murray

To borrow the recent phrasing of a good friend of mine, I sure do miss the boys of summer. It would be a good time to lets a day’s worth of games play out in the background while puttering around the house. (To be clear, I’m not advocating for the Writing for MEL, Noel Murray expounds on the compensatory pleasure of dialing up ol’ ball games instead. The nostalgia factor is significant for me, especially because my heart is warmed by the visible seams of older sports broadcasts, with clunky graphics and more patient approach to the cutting between different camera angles. And Murray even finds space to throw poison darts at the announcing work of Joe Morgan, itself a beloved bygone pastime.

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Fountain City (2010) by Michael Chabon

After completing his debut novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon got to work on a follow-up. It proved unwieldy and unworkable, partially inspiring the mountain of pages that swamped Grady Tripp in Wonder Boys, Chabon’s actual second published novel. Years later, Chabon took some of the scraps of Fountain City, the unfinished work, added self-withering annotations, and gave it to McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern to publish as part of the unique periodical’s thirty-sixth issue. Releasing this material at all is a gutsy move, because the writing is, as might be expected for a discarded early novel, not particularly good. Combined with Chabon’s reflections, though, it makes for a fascinating read, a skilled author reckoning with his former self.

Outside Reading — Purloined Pedagogy Premises edition

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Land-grab universities by Robert Lee and Tristan Ahtone

In an amazing piece of investigative journalism and historical research, Robert Lee and Tristan Ahtone (and a team credited at the end of the article) detail the theft of Indigenous land that was integral to the Morrill Land Grant College Act in the mid eighteen-eighties that effectively created the modern higher education structure in the U.S. The meticulously written article is heartbreaking, infuriating, and exhausting all at the same time, in the way unique to accountings of the myriad of ways in which the prosperity of this nation is built on ruthless oppression and theft. The article is published by High Country News.

 

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The Lost History of L.A.’s Women-Only Hollywood Studio Club by Cari Beauchamp

This piece was published by Vanity Fair a couple months back, but our household just got around to it this week. The Hollywood Studio Club was a boarding house set up for aspiring starlets in Los Angeles. Cari Beauchamp tracks through the history of the place, including the stories — sometimes endearingly dishy — of many of the women who lugged their suitcases through the front door. The inclusion of a few characteristically snappy quotes from former resident and national treasure Rita Moreno is more than enough to make this piece invaluable.