bookmark_borderOregon governor encourages people to call police for social distancing violations

In an effort to eliminate any possibility of Americans being able to do anything remotely enjoyable or festive, governors have been discouraging people from celebrating Thanksgiving in the traditional way, calling family gatherings dangerous and irresponsible. Oregon Governor Kate Brown went so far as to encourage people to call the cops on neighbors who violate Covid restrictions.

“This is no different than what happens if there’s a party down the street and it’s keeping everyone awake,” she said to local news station KEZI. “What do neighbors do? They call law enforcement because it’s too noisy. This is just like that. It’s like a violation of a noise ordinance.”

Brown signed an executive order implementing new restrictions for the next two weeks, including closing restaurants and gyms and banning get-togethers of over 6 people, or people from more than 2 households. Violations are punishable with up to 30 days in jail and/or a $1,250 fine. 

I disagree with Brown’s claim that having a get-together of over 6 people is equivalent to making excessive noise. Noise directly affects other people by assaulting their ears with unwanted sensory input, making it impossible to sleep or relax. Violating the governor’s Covid restrictions, on the other hand, does not directly affect anyone else. Many people argue that actions that violate Covid restrictions, such as get-togethers, do affect other people by increasing the amount of Covid cases in the community. It is true that in aggregate, group gatherings increase the number of Covid cases, which does increase each individual’s odds of contracting the virus. But any particular action or get-together affects other people only indirectly. The fact that an action carries a risk of a bad health outcome is not sufficient reason to ban it. Anyone who wishes to keep his or her risk to a minimum is free to stay home and avoid contact with other people entirely. Those who have a higher risk tolerance should also have the freedom to act according to their own preferences. 

To their credit, many Oregonians are challenging Brown’s authoritarian restrictions. The Marion County Sheriff’s Office said, “We cannot arrest or enforce our way out of the pandemic, and we believe both are counterproductive to public health goals.” Clackamas County chair-elect Tootie Smith said that the restrictions make people “second-rate slaves.” Paul Aziz, the mayor of Lebanon, called the restrictions “not fair” to businesses and “devastating to our community financially and on our citizens’ mental health” and said that Brown “acted beyond her authority”

Brown called these comments “irresponsible.” She said: “These are politicians seeking headlines, not public servants, trying to save lives. My top priority as governor is to keep Oregonians healthy and safe.” The top priority of any governor or leader should not be to save lives or to keep people healthy and safe; it should be to protect people’s rights. Additionally, there is nothing irresponsible about pointing out the fact that a government policy violates people’s rights. It is disturbing that implementing totalitarian control over people’s lives is now considered a requirement for acting in a responsible manner and respecting rights is now considered reckless. 

bookmark_borderSome good news from the election

The news from the election is not looking good, but there is at least one positive development arising from Tuesday’s vote. Or to be more specific, six positive developments. In Virginia, six counties held votes on whether or not to remove Confederate monuments. In all of these counties, residents voted not to remove the statues. 

The margins of victory are as follows:

  • Charles City County – 55% to 45%
  • Halifax County – 60% to 30%
  • Franklin County – 70% to 30%
  • Lunenburg County – 71% to 29%
  • Warren County – 76% to 24%
  • Tazwell County – 87% to 13%

According to the Virginia Mercury, the votes are not binding, but county leaders have said that they will respect the will of the voters. Full results can be found here

The reason why these votes took place to begin with is that earlier this year, the Virginia state legislature passed a law enabling county and local governments to remove Confederate statues. Prior to that, removing the monuments was not even an option. While I’m relieved that these six monuments – which are all located outside of courthouses – will be staying in place for the foreseeable future, I do not think that voters should have the power to get rid of them. It’s awesome and restores my faith in humanity that sizeable majorities voted to preserve these beautiful pieces of history. But it’s possible that some day in the future, if popular opinion changes, these statues could eventually be removed. That should not be a possibility. Something as important as preserving works of public art and treating rebel soldiers with the respect that they deserve should not be subject to majority rule. The voting results in these six counties are heartening indeed, but all statues across the world deserve a guarantee of protection no matter what the majority opinion happens to be.

bookmark_borderCharlie Baker, authoritarian dictator

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has gone too far. This week he announced new restrictions on individuals, groups, and businesses, including:

  • Requiring people to stay home between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. (except for when working, buying groceries, going to doctor’s appointments, or taking a walk)
  • Requiring restaurants, liquor stores, marijuana stores, casinos, movie theaters, museums, zoos, hair and nail salons, gyms, sports, and all activities and gatherings to close/cease between 9:30 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.
  • Requiring people to wear masks in all public places, including sidewalks, streets, parks, forests, and even cars when with members of other households
  • Limiting gatherings at people’s houses to 10 people if indoors or 25 people if outdoors

These restrictions, in my opinion, are highly objectionable infringements upon personal liberty, especially the mask mandate. Previously, people were required to wear masks only when expecting to be in a situation where they would be unable to maintain a 6-foot distance from other people. This essentially meant wearing a mask when going inside a store or business, taking the train or bus, or doing activities with other people (e.g. fitness classes, group get-togethers, meetings, walking with friends), but not while walking or spending time outdoors by oneself. The new mask requirement significantly affects my day-to-day life for the worse. Since the beginning of the pandemic, walking has been a huge part of my daily routine, whether to the park, through the woods, to the grocery store, to the ATM, or to get my daily coffee or tea. I have never worn a mask during my walks. I am fine with putting one on before going into a store or business, but I never considered it necessary to wear one during the walk itself. Starting this Friday, however, I will be required to wear a mask from the moment I leave my house until the moment I return. This seems excessive and unnecessary, as the risk of catching or spreading the coronavirus is infinitesimal when walking by oneself.

At the risk of sounding petty and silly, the most problematic part of this new rule for me is the fact that if the rule is to be interpreted literally, whenever I buy a coffee or tea, I will not be able to start drinking it until I get home. Because I live about a 15-minute walk from the downtown area of my town, any hot beverage that I purchase will be lukewarm by the time I am allowed to drink it. Any foam, whipped cream, or caramel drizzle on top of the beverage is also likely to have dissolved or disintegrated. For people who either live right near a coffee or tea place, or drive to one, the new rule does not present a big problem, because they will be able to get to their home or car right away and begin drinking their beverage. But for people such as myself who walk a significant distance to their local coffee shop or, worse, for people who take public transportation, the rule creates a significant problem. This rule also creates problems with ice cream for the same reason (although this is not as applicable during the winter months). Any business that sells food or drink that is designed to be consumed while walking around will be significantly hurt by this new rule. 

More philosophically speaking, it is one thing to require masks inside a store or business, but another thing to require them on sidewalks, streets, parks, and forests. The former, although public places, are privately owned. The owners would be within their rights to kick me out or deny me entry if I’m not wearing a mask; it is their store after all. But the latter are public places, not owned by anyone. No one has a right to kick anyone else out of a street, park, or forest or impose any conditions for entry. The requirement that people wear a mask every time they leave their home makes me feel dangerously close to being under house arrest. It is a disturbing level of government overreach. 

Another sad consequence of this mean-spirited new set of rules is that the Encore Boston Harbor casino has been forced to reduce its hours and temporarily close its hotel. The restaurant industry, already struggling to survive, will undoubtedly be hurt as well. 

“Once again, it’s time for the people of Massachusetts to step up for one another — to play by the rules and to fight the fight,” Baker said when unveiling the new restrictions, according to Boston.com. “We’re telling people to go home, and not to go to their friend’s house or their neighbor’s house or somebody else… Do I expect everybody to follow these rules? No. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned since the beginning of this, it’s the vast majority of people in Massachusetts are rule-followers and if you give them rules and guidance, they will do it.”

I generally am a rule-follower. But only up to a point, and only when the rules are fair. These are not. People are not obligated to step up for one another, or to follow rules that are unjust. The only fight that the people of Massachusetts should be fighting is against authoritarian government policies such as these. And what right does Baker have to tell people which houses they are and are not allowed to go to? He is treating the people of Massachusetts in a disrespectful and insulting manner. I am seriously considering simply not following this mask mandate. I am willing to make some changes to my daily routine to reduce my Covid risk and to be in compliance with the rules, but these new rules pass the point of reasonableness.

Baker argued that the new restrictions are needed to prevent the number of Covid cases from overwhelming the medical system. “If we do nothing and stay on the track we’re on now, we’ll create capacity problems for our healthcare system by the end of the calendar year,” he said. “Imagine what that would be like for your friends and neighbors who work in health care, if cases and hospitalizations continue to rise at double digit rates straight into and through the holiday season: double shifts, no time for families, the same urgency and demands on their time that we placed on them last spring.”

At the risk of sounding callous and insensitive, my reaction to this is… too bad. It is the job of those who run the medical system to make decisions about how to handle capacity problems and how to allocate resources. It is the job of those who work in the medical system to work the shifts they are assigned. I have worked in a variety of different jobs and have experienced hectic days, heavy workloads, and long hours on numerous occasions. It’s exhausting and stressful. But government leaders have never encouraged the general public to alter their behavior in order to make my work situation less stressful, nor would I expect them to. So why should I alter my behavior in order to make someone else’s work situation less stressful? Getting my daily coffee or tea, and drinking it as I walk home, has been one of the few pleasures that I have still been allowed to enjoy in this age of authoritarianism. I am not obligated to sacrifice it, or my freedom, so that medical professionals can have a lighter workload.  

I used to be a supporter of Baker and even volunteered for his campaign in 2010 and 2014. But the restrictions that he has implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic violate individual rights and are morally wrong. Baker has demonstrated that he is an authoritarian dictator, and that is not something that I can support.

bookmark_borderIntimidation and authoritarianism, revisited

As I wrote about in an earlier blog post, I have been thinking a lot about the topic of bullying and how it relates to the political and policy disagreements going on today. In my opinion, policies such as restricting individual freedoms in order to fight against Covid-19, as well as destroying statues of historical figures who do not meet today’s standards of political correctness, are examples of bullying. Both these things involve a powerful, majority group taking something away from a less powerful, less popular group. In the first example, those who value safety over freedom take away the rights of the minority who prioritize freedom. In the second example, those who dislike certain statues take them down over the objections of the minority who love and admire the statues.

It is disturbing and upsetting when those who fall into the bully category in these policy debates twist the truth by falsely portraying those on the opposite side as bullies. For example, I came across a column in my local newspaper by Reverend John F. Huston in which he claims that those protesting against stay-at-home orders are the true bullies. “It has been an ugly, ugly campaign season and an ugly, ugly year for human behavior in our land. Who could have imagined the image of armed protesters, bullies, storming the state capitol in Michigan this summer in response to the lockdown? The blatant disregard, even contempt, so many of my fellow citizens have shown for science and public health, that folks would actually see the rejection of mask wearing as a symbol of liberty, patriotism even?”

These sentiments are deeply wrong. The armed protesters who went to Michigan’s capitol building to voice their opposition to the stay-at-home order are not bullies. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who enacted the stay-at-home order, is a bully. State legislators and public health officials who expressed support for the stay-at-home order are bullies as well. The stay-at-home order, by taking away individuals’ freedom to move about and associate freely, was an act of bullying. The armed protesters were standing up to bullying. It is disturbing that someone would think that the people fighting back against bullying are the true bullies. The Reverend has things completely backwards.

This has definitely been an ugly year for human behavior, but it is those who cravenly sacrifice liberty for safety who are the source of the ugliness, not those with the courage to stand up to them. The true problem facing America is the worship of science and public health and the resulting blatant disregard, and even contempt, for individual rights.

bookmark_borderGood news and bad news on General Lee

Statue Robert E. Lee Richmond.JPG
Robert E. Lee Statue (photo by Martin Falbisoner via WikiMedia)

This past week a judge ruled that the state of Virginia can remove the huge, magnificent statue of General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond. A group of homeowners sued to stop Governor Ralph Northam’s plan to take down the beautiful statue, but the judge dismissed their lawsuit. Lee is currently the last Confederate statue standing on Monument Ave; the city tragically removed the rest of the sculptures that gave the street its name earlier this year.

The fact that people actually exist who want this statue to be removed remains incomprehensible. This is another step in the disgraceful quest to strip the world of everything beautiful, magnificent, unique, artistic, and distinctive, to create a society of conformity and nothingness, and to trample on anyone who does not share the majority view. Do these individuals think that all food should be required to undergo a process that removes its taste and texture and turns it into gruel? Do they think that Walt Disney World should be razed so that the land can be turned into a giant parking lot? Do they think that all clothing should be banned and people required to spend their entire lives naked? I believe that these things are analogous to removing Confederate statues, and equally senseless and wrong.

Northam called the ruling “one step closer to a more inclusive, equitable, and honest Virginia,” and Attorney General Mark Herring described it as “one step closer to finally bringing down this relic of our racist past and moving forward as a diverse, inclusive, welcoming community.” Nothing could be further from the truth than these statements. First of all, the statue is not racist. Second, condemning and erasing all historical figures not deemed to be perfect according to the prevailing norms of 2020 is the exact opposite of inclusion and diversity. And third, completely disregarding the preferences of those who admire and cherish this statue is the exact opposite of being equitable. 

1890 Lee statue unveiling.jpg
Unveiling of the Robert E. Lee statue, May 29, 1890

The statue of Robert E. Lee that all these bullies find so horrible and offensive was sculpted in France by acclaimed artist Antonin Mercie, who was known as the “unrivaled master of the chisel.” It was commissioned in 1876 by the Lee Monument Association and was based on a painting by German-American artist Adalbert Vlock. Several bronze pieces were cast separately before being assembled. The completed statue was exhibited in Paris and then shipped to Richmond, where 10,000 people helped to pull it to its final location: a traffic circle at the intersection of Monument Avenue and Allen Avenue. The statue was finally unveiled on May 29, 1890. In 2007, the statue was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The figure of Lee stands 14 feet tall, and the entire statue, including the horse and the base, is 60 feet tall. Interestingly, the horse does not represent Lee’s faithful steed, Traveller, but instead is a generic horse with “ideal” proportions. 

How could someone think that the city of Richmond, the state of Virginia, or the world would be improved by removing this statue? The actions of the governor, attorney general, and presiding judge, as well as all those who support the ruling, demonstrate a complete disregard for General Lee, those who honor his memory, the artist and sculptor of the statue, and all those who worked to create it and bring it to Richmond. 

There is a tiny shred of good news, however: the judge stayed the ruling pending appeal. This means that Lee will remain standing until the plaintiffs’ appeal is heard, which will happen at some point next year. With Virginia’s gubernatorial election happening next November, there is a chance that the statue will remain in place until there is a new governor, who might possibly allow it to stay.