Ode to Cocaine Mitch

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Another snapshot in time from the incomparable Jonah Goldberg:

The Only Adult in the Room
How Mitch McConnell has navigated the Trump era.

Jonah Goldberg

Oct 28

Amy Coney Barrett makes three. Three Supreme Court justices and 220 judicial appointments in all. Regardless of your ideological commitments, it’s a monumental achievement. And if “judges” was your overriding reason to vote for Donald Trump in 2016, it’s hard to argue with the claim that your decision was vindicated.

But ask anyone in Washington who knows anything about how Washington actually works, they will tell you that while Trump’s election was necessary, it was not sufficient. The indispensable man in this regard, and perhaps of the Trump presidency, was Mitch McConnell.

Starting with his decision to refuse consideration of Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia, Merrick Garland, McConnell has been the decisive factor. That one decision arguably—I would say, probably—got Trump elected.
Of course, as I often note, Trump’s victory was so narrow that any factor that attracted even a statistically tiny number of Trump-reluctant voters can be credited with his victory.

Mathematically, if only the people who were excited about voting for Trump had cast ballots for him in 2016, he would have lost. Remember: 7 percent of Trump voters told Pew that they would be disappointed if their candidate won. So you can point to Jim Comey’s press conference, or to Hillary’s refusal to campaign in places—most famously, Wisconsin—as the decisive factor. Heck, weather alone could explain it.

But holding all those other things constant, I think Trump’s decision to outsource his list of nominees to the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation was essential to putting together a coalition that could pick the lock on the Electoral College. Of voters who said the Supreme Court was “the most important factor” in their decision, 56 percent voted for Trump. Meanwhile, 26 percent of Trump voters surveyed by the Washington Post said that the Supreme Court was the basis of their decision. I don’t think the real number is that high, but even if it was a tenth of that, it would mean the Supreme Court won the presidency for Trump.
And if Mitch McConnell hadn’t made the decision he did on Garland—whether you think it was outrageous or courageous—Trump would have lost.

And yet for the first two years of Trump’s presidency, McConnell was Public Enemy No. 1 in MAGA World.

Night after night, Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity, and the rest hammered McConnell as a Deep State stooge, an establishment fossil, an indefensible obstructionist of the glorious MAGA agenda. “So, Sen. McConnell, my message to you, if all you’re going to do is whine like a 10-year-old and complain and make excuses and blame the president for your failure after eight months of him now being in office and you having the House and Senate, guess what, it really is time to drain the sewer and swamp,” proclaimed Hannity in one typical jeremiad.

“The fact of the matter is, McConnell and [Paul] Ryan—they look like troglodytes that somehow have survived eons, and they have, if you will, been Darwined [sic] out, but just they and the conference don’t realize it,” explained Lou Dobbs. Hating McConnell became the organizing principle of Breitbart.

But no one was more committed to destroying McConnell than Steve Bannon. He told the New York Times in 2017, “Mitch McConnell has to go.” When asked whether McConnell would be majority leader in 2018, Bannon replied, “I absolutely do not think he will be majority leader. … It’s not my personal mission, but it’s an objective. … And I believe it’ll be done before this time next year.”
At this point the narrator should have intruded to say, “Actually, it was his personal mission.” Bannon soon organized primary challenges to every single Republican senator (except for Ted Cruz—who, by the way, famously refused to endorse Trump in 2016) in an explicit attempt to strip McConnell of the majority leader job. He cobbled together a ragtag cadre of MAGA gargoyles to take out incumbent Republican senators (as well as some House candidates, including the anti-Semite goon Paul Nehlen, who lost to Paul Ryan by 70 points). The most infamous of these candidates was Alabama crank and mall-cruiser Roy Moore. To McConnell’s credit, he made it clear that even if Moore won, he would be shunned by the party.

Bannon’s failure was as complete as McConnell’s success.

Governance is for grownups.

McConnell has his critics, and some make perfectly defensible points. But here’s what I admire about McConnell: He’s a grownup and an institutionalist. The two things go together. It will win me no points with populists to say this, but populism often manifests itself as childishness. “Childish” has a slightly different connotation than “childlike.” Childlike conveys sweetness and innocence. Childishness is defined by a refusal to accept the rules. Childish people are quick to take offense. They are the Veruca Salts of the world, who want it now. They don’t care about the rules, and they think manners are for other people. They are reluctant to listen and eager to shout. Childish pranks are their own reward, and consequences for their actions are always unfair. Grownups think about consequences. They remember mistakes and adjust for them.
Children think serious arguments are unfair obstacles to wish fulfilment. As the great populist William Jennings Bryan said, “The people of Nebraska are for free silver, so I am for free silver. I will look up the arguments later.”

McConnell is a rare creature in Washington, particularly in the Senate: a man who isn’t president and doesn’t want to be. He is where he wants to be. Sure, he is an ideological conservative, but he’s also an institutional one. He opposed campaign finance reform because he believed it would damage the political system—and he was right. He opposed Harry Reid’s lifting of the judicial filibuster for non-Supreme Court nominees because he believed it would damage the Senate—and he was right. You can argue that his decision to escalate the practice was wrong, but only if you subscribe to the childish notion that Democrats are allowed to change the rules without consequence. McConnell warned Reid that there would be consequences for Reid’s decision and, like a grownup, he was true to his word.

It’s a talking point of the left that McConnell is just another Trump supplicant who does the president’s bidding. This nonsense overlooks the fact that the primary reason the MAGA right hated him—other than his reluctance to spout flattery in Trump’s direction—was his refusal to abolish the legislative filibuster. As both a grownup and an institutionalist, he understood that the “I want it now” caucus has all the foresight we associate with children. He knew that Democrats would be back in power again, and the cost of abolishing the filibuster for some short-term “win” for Trump would guarantee far greater losses in the future. Politics is often called “the art of the possible,” and that’s McConnell’s métier. Yes, he looks like a tortoise, but the tortoise won the race because the childish rabbit lacked foresight.

The inestimable Kevin Williamson writes:
One of the many perversities of Trump’s presidency is that Donald J. Trump’s core deficiencies as a chief administrator—his ignorance and his laziness—are the chief practical virtues of his presidency. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know, and this has created the opportunity for some of the people in his administration to get some useful things done. For this reason, the conservative advances that have accompanied the Trump presidency (and it won’t do to pretend that these do not exist) mostly have been in the fields in which the president has the least engagement and interest, whereas the catastrophes of the Trump presidency (and it won’t do to pretend that these do not exist) are strongly associated with those few areas of policy in which he takes an active interest or is personally and strongly engaged with ex officio.

Kevin goes on to note that perhaps the best illustration of this has been Trump’s utter disregard for the Constitution. “Trump’s principal success has been as a rubber stamp to the very ‘establishment’ at which Trump and his admirers like to sneer.”

This is a point I’ve hammered for years now. Trump believes his best friends are the ones who lavish him with praise and celebrate his biggest mistakes as brilliant victories. But, from the vantage point of history, his best friends are the conservatives who constrained him—or simply ignored him—to get important things done. In the summer of 2016, Trump was talking about his steadfast support for “Article 12” of the Constitution and boasting that he might put his sister on the Supreme Court. Some grownup somehow convinced him that this could cost him the election. So he had to persuade voters that he would substitute a serious group’s judgement for his own. But it was only because he never cared about the conservative legal movement that he was perfectly happy to outsource judicial appointments to people who do.
I shudder to think what kind of judges we’d have if Trump felt as invested in who sits on the bench as he is about who sits in the attorney general’s chair.

If Trump had outsourced the pandemic to the experts in his own administration as if it were a medical Federalist Society, he might well be poised for re-election (every governor, Democrat or Republican, and virtually every foreign leader, liberal or conservative, who took the pandemic seriously benefitted in the polls). But the appeal of “free media” to childishly perform during COVID press conferences was too seductive, and the allure of fighting his own medical “establishment” was too great.

What amazes me is how so many of the people who rail against “the establishment” for all of Trump’s failures always place blame at the feet of the “establishment” but assign credit for all of the “establishment’s” successes in Trump’s column. The Federalist Society, Heritage, and McConnell handled the judges, but Trump gets the laurels. Trump took the ball from Fauci and Birx, but it’s their fault Trump scored in the wrong end zone.

There are conservatives—and people who merely claim to be conservative—who so detest Donald Trump that they think the entire GOP should be “burned to the ground.” I certainly understand the detestation, and I definitely think a price should be paid (and it looks like it will be). But letting your passion run roughshod over reason is itself a form of populist childishness. McConnell didn’t want Trump to become president. But grownups adjust to reality when they don’t get what they want. That’s what McConnell did. He said “No” to Trump when he could, and when he thought he should. You can defensibly complain that he should have and could have done it more. But at a moment when Gaetzian childishness is the reigning definition of ideological purity, I am grateful for what few grownups are left in the room.
Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

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The Only Adult in the Room
How Mitch McConnell has navigated the Trump era.

Jonah Goldberg

Oct 28

Amy Coney Barrett makes three. Three Supreme Court justices and 220 judicial appointments in all. Regardless of your ideological commitments, it’s a monumental achievement. And if “judges” was your overriding reason to vote for Donald Trump in 2016, it’s hard to argue with the claim that your decision was vindicated.
But ask anyone in Washington who knows anything about how Washington actually works, they will tell you that while Trump’s election was necessary, it was not sufficient. The indispensable man in this regard, and perhaps of the Trump presidency, was Mitch McConnell.
Starting with his decision to refuse consideration of Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia, Merrick Garland, McConnell has been the decisive factor. That one decision arguably—I would say, probably—got Trump elected.
Of course, as I often note, Trump’s victory was so narrow that any factor that attracted even a statistically tiny number of Trump-reluctant voters can be credited with his victory.
Mathematically, if only the people who were excited about voting for Trump had cast ballots for him in 2016, he would have lost. Remember: 7 percent of Trump voters told Pew that they would be disappointed if their candidate won. So you can point to Jim Comey’s press conference, or to Hillary’s refusal to campaign in places—most famously, Wisconsin—as the decisive factor. Heck, weather alone could explain it.
But holding all those other things constant, I think Trump’s decision to outsource his list of nominees to the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation was essential to putting together a coalition that could pick the lock on the Electoral College. Of voters who said the Supreme Court was “the most important factor” in their decision, 56 percent voted for Trump. Meanwhile, 26 percent of Trump voters surveyed by the Washington Post said that the Supreme Court was the basis of their decision. I don’t think the real number is that high, but even if it was a tenth of that, it would mean the Supreme Court won the presidency for Trump.
And if Mitch McConnell hadn’t made the decision he did on Garland—whether you think it was outrageous or courageous—Trump would have lost.
And yet for the first two years of Trump’s presidency, McConnell was Public Enemy No. 1 in MAGA World.
Night after night, Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity, and the rest hammered McConnell as a Deep State stooge, an establishment fossil, an indefensible obstructionist of the glorious MAGA agenda. “So, Sen. McConnell, my message to you, if all you’re going to do is whine like a 10-year-old and complain and make excuses and blame the president for your failure after eight months of him now being in office and you having the House and Senate, guess what, it really is time to drain the sewer and swamp,” proclaimed Hannity in one typical jeremiad.
“The fact of the matter is, McConnell and [Paul] Ryan—they look like troglodytes that somehow have survived eons, and they have, if you will, been Darwined [sic] out, but just they and the conference don’t realize it,” explained Lou Dobbs. Hating McConnell became the organizing principle of Breitbart.
But no one was more committed to destroying McConnell than Steve Bannon. He told the New York Times in 2017, “Mitch McConnell has to go.” When asked whether McConnell would be majority leader in 2018, Bannon replied, “I absolutely do not think he will be majority leader. … It’s not my personal mission, but it’s an objective. … And I believe it’ll be done before this time next year.”
At this point the narrator should have intruded to say, “Actually, it was his personal mission.” Bannon soon organized primary challenges to every single Republican senator (except for Ted Cruz—who, by the way, famously refused to endorse Trump in 2016) in an explicit attempt to strip McConnell of the majority leader job. He cobbled together a ragtag cadre of MAGA gargoyles to take out incumbent Republican senators (as well as some House candidates, including the anti-Semite goon Paul Nehlen, who lost to Paul Ryan by 70 points). The most (in)famous of these candidates was Alabama crank and mall-cruiser Roy Moore. To McConnell’s credit, he made it clear that even if Moore won, he would be shunned by the party.
Bannon’s failure was as complete as McConnell’s success.
Governance is for grownups.
McConnell has his critics, and some make perfectly defensible points. But here’s what I admire about McConnell: He’s a grownup and an institutionalist. The two things go together. It will win me no points with populists to say this, but populism often manifests itself as childishness. “Childish” has a slightly different connotation than “childlike.” Childlike conveys sweetness and innocence. Childishness is defined by a refusal to accept the rules. Childish people are quick to take offense. They are the Veruca Salts of the world, who want it now. They don’t care about the rules, and they think manners are for other people. They are reluctant to listen and eager to shout. Childish pranks are their own reward, and consequences for their actions are always unfair. Grownups think about consequences. They remember mistakes and adjust for them.
Children think serious arguments are unfair obstacles to wish fulfilment. As the great populist William Jennings Bryan said, “The people of Nebraska are for free silver, so I am for free silver. I will look up the arguments later.”
McConnell is a rare creature in Washington, particularly in the Senate: a man who isn’t president and doesn’t want to be. He is where he wants to be. Sure, he is an ideological conservative, but he’s also an institutional one. He opposed campaign finance reform because he believed it would damage the political system—and he was right. He opposed Harry Reid’s lifting of the judicial filibuster for non-Supreme Court nominees because he believed it would damage the Senate—and he was right. You can argue that his decision to escalate the practice was wrong, but only if you subscribe to the childish notion that Democrats are allowed to change the rules without consequence. McConnell warned Reid that there would be consequences for Reid’s decision and, like a grownup, he was true to his word.
It’s a talking point of the left that McConnell is just another Trump supplicant who does the president’s bidding. This nonsense overlooks the fact that the primary reason the MAGA right hated him—other than his reluctance to spout flattery in Trump’s direction—was his refusal to abolish the legislative filibuster. As both a grownup and an institutionalist, he understood that the “I want it now” caucus has all the foresight we associate with children. He knew that Democrats would be back in power again, and the cost of abolishing the filibuster for some short-term “win” for Trump would guarantee far greater losses in the future. Politics is often called “the art of the possible,” and that’s McConnell’s métier. Yes, he looks like a tortoise, but the tortoise won the race because the childish rabbit lacked foresight.
The inestimable Kevin Williamson writes:
One of the many perversities of Trump’s presidency is that Donald J. Trump’s core deficiencies as a chief administrator—his ignorance and his laziness—are the chief practical virtues of his presidency. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know, and this has created the opportunity for some of the people in his administration to get some useful things done. For this reason, the conservative advances that have accompanied the Trump presidency (and it won’t do to pretend that these do not exist) mostly have been in the fields in which the president has the least engagement and interest, whereas the catastrophes of the Trump presidency (and it won’t do to pretend that these do not exist) are strongly associated with those few areas of policy in which he takes an active interest or is personally and strongly engaged with ex officio.
Kevin goes on to note that perhaps the best illustration of this has been Trump’s utter disregard for the Constitution. “Trump’s principal success has been as a rubber stamp to the very ‘establishment’ at which Trump and his admirers like to sneer.”
This is a point I’ve hammered for years now. Trump believes his best friends are the ones who lavish him with praise and celebrate his biggest mistakes as brilliant victories. But, from the vantage point of history, his best friends are the conservatives who constrained him—or simply ignored him—to get important things done. In the summer of 2016, Trump was talking about his steadfast support for “Article 12” of the Constitution and boasting that he might put his sister on the Supreme Court. Some grownup somehow convinced him that this could cost him the election. So he had to persuade voters that he would substitute a serious group’s judgement for his own. But it was only because he never cared about the conservative legal movement that he was perfectly happy to outsource judicial appointments to people who do.
I shudder to think what kind of judges we’d have if Trump felt as invested in who sits on the bench as he is about who sits in the attorney general’s chair.
If Trump had outsourced the pandemic to the experts in his own administration as if it were a medical Federalist Society, he might well be poised for re-election (every governor, Democrat or Republican, and virtually every foreign leader, liberal or conservative, who took the pandemic seriously benefitted in the polls). But the appeal of “free media” to childishly perform during COVID press conferences was too seductive, and the allure of fighting his own medical “establishment” was too great.
What amazes me is how so many of the people who rail against “the establishment” for all of Trump’s failures always place blame at the feet of the “establishment” but assign credit for all of the “establishment’s” successes in Trump’s column. The Federalist Society, Heritage, and McConnell handled the judges, but Trump gets the laurels. Trump took the ball from Fauci and Birx, but it’s their fault Trump scored in the wrong end zone.
There are conservatives—and people who merely claim to be conservative—who so detest Donald Trump that they think the entire GOP should be “burned to the ground.” I certainly understand the detestation, and I definitely think a price should be paid (and it looks like it will be). But letting your passion run roughshod over reason is itself a form of populist childishness. McConnell didn’t want Trump to become president. But grownups adjust to reality when they don’t get what they want. That’s what McConnell did. He said “No” to Trump when he could, and when he thought he should. You can defensibly complain that he should have and could have done it more. But at a moment when Gaetzian childishness is the reigning definition of ideological purity, I am grateful for what few grownups are left in the room.

Bad Choice Road

In 2014, I spent three months as a counselor at a summer program for blind and visually impaired youth. My time there was largely an exercise in futility. It was, among other things, a stark reminder of why I have no desire to be a parent. I did, however, try to impart certain universal truths to my teenaged students.

One of those truths was, for every action, there is a consequence. Every time you sneak out after curfew to smoke a joint, there will be consequences. Every time you get freaky with another student because you think your blind counselor is clueless as to his surroundings, there will be consequences. Every time you cheat with your sleepshades, there will be consequences.

Six years later, I have no idea whether my message took or not, but I get an A for effort.

Rush Limbaugh always said, “Elections have consequences.” The election of 2016 was no exception. The country chose to elect a man whose professional credentials included bankruptcy, beauty contests, gambling casinos and a successful reality TV show. His personal credentials included open sexual predation, a string of high-profile divorces and unashamed boorish behavior. Four years ago, the GOP (the party of family values) made a collective choice that personal character in a president no longer matters. Four years later, we have seen the consequences of these choices.

Yes, President Trump has enacted some public policies and made some judicial appointments that are favorable to conservatism, but they are overshadowed by chaos wrought by his erratic behavior. His contraction of COVID-19 and the infection of many prominent Republicans in his orbit is merely the latest (and most ironic) example of consequences befalling a leader and a base of supporters too incompetent and thickheaded to affect a course correction.

I think Ben Sasse is exactly right. We are in for a political blood bath. I think Trump is going to lose next month. I think Republicans are going to lose the Senate. I think local races in red states will feel an impact as well. Trump supporters love to tout the so-called, “shy Trump vote.” This is the phenomenon in which those who are secretly supportive of Trump don’t admit it openly to close associates or anonymous pollsters. I think the opposite will and is occurring. I think we’re in for a Trump fatigue vote. I think many voters who did take a chance on Trump four years ago are now exhausted with his antics, particularly in light of COVID-19, and are ready for a return to normalcy at the top of the electoral chain. Given the nature of many of Trump’s supporters who tread a very thin line between persuasion and bullying, it’s easier for these quietly exhausted voters just to smile, nod and go with the flow when pressed. This includes everyone outside of the base from operatives inside the D.C. Beltway to fellows and gals at the local pub who just want to have a beer in peace without being inundated by the MAGA crowd.

Sidebar: I’m not talking about the opportunistic huxters who are raking in the eager suckers through sham operations such as The Lincoln Project. I’m talking about average voters.

I don’t know, of course. Two weeks is an eternity with Trump at the helm and the chaos factor is always high. If the GOP loses, it will be a loss much deserved by a party that was all too quick to abandon its long-held principles for short-term victories. Yes, they’ll successfully appoint Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, but it will come with a very large price tag.

I take no pleasure in this forecast.

The Democrats have also squandered much of their credibility. They refused to loudly and roundly condemn the mob violence that has erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s death. They insulted the intelligence of the electorate by equating racism as a comparable disease to the Coronavirus. They constantly move the definitional goal posts of long-held terms such as, “court packing,” “sexual preference,” and “white supremacy,” all in the name of a strategy of domination and cultural subjugation in the public arena of ideas. Their ‘blame and shame’ tactics with respect to all things white is reactionary, short-sighted and it will prove to have a very short shelf life before the public at large cries, enough!

Moreover, the Democrats have chosen as their candidate a man whose chief claim to the White House was won upon the coat tails of Barack Obama. Joe Biden was never a politician known for his deftness, and he now seems decrepit in comparison to his glory days in the ‘90’s. His running mate is a woman who is clearly an authority junkie, given to her own fits of political hyperbole. When they win and enact their leftist policies, whether it be packing the Supreme Court or implementing the quixotic Green New Deal, there will be consequences.

The left is lampooning Trump for holding rallies while numbers of new COVID cases are spiking around the world. This is a valid criticism. Yet, as I type this, the Women’s March is holding a national protest in Washington D.C. This protest is populated mostly by the blue state, pro-lockdown crowd. The CDC is advising people to reconsider Thanksgiving holiday dinner with family, but they are happy to go out and flaunt CDC guidelines when it suits their purposes.

Whatever happens in November, neither candidate has won my vote. Both men are singularly unfit for office. I miss the GOP, but I plan to remain an Independent voter for the foreseeable future.

To any of my former students, have you guys figured it out yet? Have you learned the lessons that the GOP forgot on election night, 2016, and the Democrats forgot after Memorial Day Weekend, 2020? Have you realized that the Bad Choice Road really exists and it only gets harder and harder to steer away from the further along you travel upon it?

If you’re reading this, I will try to impart one final lesson as a nod to the ghost of Ryan O, teacher. At some point in your life, you will face a test. Someone (likely someone you know, love and respect), will ask something of you that you know is wrong. They will have seemingly good and sound reasons for asking you to do, think or speak something that you know in your heart and mind not to be true. At that moment, the courage of your convictions will be tested. You will be standing at a fork in the road of life. One path leads to a road shrouded by the mists of uncertainty, unpopularity and disenfranchisement. The other leads to the bad choice road.

Both political parties have stood at this fork in the past four years and both have taken the wrong path. But then, who am I to judge? I have faced this test more than once and I too have failed.

Take heart, former students. When your time comes, rejoice in the knowledge that you were warned beforehand.

Ben Sasse for Senate!!!

Don Bacon for Congress!!!

Jean Stothert for Mayor!!!

Optimus Prime for President!!!

Ballad of a Modern Day Gunfighter

“Ya make me pull, I’ll put ya down.”

That is the rattlesnake whir of U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), protagonist of the underappreciated FX series, Justified. Givens is a laconic lawman with a slow tongue and a lightning-fast draw. He is the stereotypical western cowboy living in the modern world. Yet, his black-and-white moral code is thrown off kilter when he comes up against a world of criminals who dwell in the gray areas of life; criminals including his childhood friend, his ex-lover and even his own father.

Such is the premise for Justified, a show based on two novels written by iconic crime author Elmore Leonard. The series pilot, “Fire in the Hole,” is based upon a subsequent short story written by Leonard. The pilot is very faithful to the source material, but for one important detail. In the story, Raylan kills the bad guy at the climax of the story. In the TV series, said bad guy lives and ultimately becomes Raylan’s most prominent adversary.

In the opening scene of the premier, Raylan’s desire for justice (or is it vengeance) propels him into a rooftop confrontation in Miami with a very bad man. Raylan prevails, of course, but his renegade actions force his superiors to transfer him to his home state of Kentucky. This is a true punishment for Raylan, as he makes it clear that he has no desire to go home. Yet, home he goes, and soon runs up against a white supremacist who, in Raylan’s own words, “Loves to rob banks and blow shit up.” The wrinkle comes when we learn that said bank robber is Raylan’s childhood friend, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins.) They weren’t close when they dug coal together in the mines of Harlan, but as both men note at various times throughout the six-year run of the series, mining coal together forges a bond that can never be entirely broken.

The hook that brings the viewer along for the ride of Justified is that, once he is sent home, things become personal for Raylan. His repeated confrontations with Boyd Crowder are personal. His meeting with Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), Boyd’s sister-in-law, becomes personal. From the time of the pilot, everything in Raylan’s world becomes personal, particularly when he attempts to reconcile with his ex-wife, and is forced into an unhappy reunion with his wayward father.

Every colorful criminal Raylan meets throughout the course of the show gets under Raylan’s skin. He hates the bad guys because he grew up around criminals and knows how poisonous they are, particularly in an impoverished community such as his home town of Harlan. This is why he refuses to change his occupation or his behavior, even after he faces the consequences of his actions in Miami. In Raylan’s world, every criminal has a simple choice. “Ya make me pull, I’ll put ya down.” Raylan can easily put head to pillow each night, knowing that the world is better off with one less bad guy to further blight the already bleak landscape of Harlan.

Raylan’s outer trappings harken back to the age of John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood. Unlike the square-jawed cowboys from the golden age of cinema, Raylan is far from perfect. He is not an anti-hero, though some of his choices throughout the series stray into anti-heroism. He has a temper. He has difficulty maintaining personal relationships. Sometimes, he has a blind spot to the character flaws of those closest to him. Yet, in other circumstances, he is too cynical to allow for the possibility of change for the better in people. He is quick to warn criminals of dire consequences for their actions, yet he is too slow to realize that his own actions also garner consequences. In many ways, he is the typical protagonist of the 21st century. As the series progresses, Raylan is forced to develop a stronger sense of self-awareness when he faces the prospect of fatherhood. Raylan ultimately must choose between the voice of his wicked father, or his gentler mother when he too becomes a parent.

Raylan’s nemesis, Boyd Crowder, serves as the opposite side of the same coin. He too grew up exposed to a criminal element, but his personality forces him down a different, more circuitous path. During the show’s six seasons, Boyd undergoes several transformations, changing from a white supremacist to a religious zealot to a lost soul, before he finally embraces his father’s legacy; that of his rightful place as the criminal kingpin of Harlan. Raylan proves to be an inflexible man who is mostly incapable of change, while Boyd seems to be in a constant state of flux as he struggles to come to terms with his true nature. The scenes that Olyphant and Goggins share together are the show’s best and it quickly becomes evident that each man is the dark alter ego of the other.

Justified is not a flawless series. Very few shows can achieve what Breaking Bad did in its near-perfect execution. One of the problems of the show is how it treats its female characters. In a crime saga like Justified in which the two main characters are male, the primary purpose of the female characters seem only to be to drive the storylines of the men.

Ava Crowder is the best example. When we first meet Ava, Raylan visits her shortly after she kills her abusive husband at the dinner table. Boyd wants revenge on Ava for her husband’s murder, since he was Boyd’s brother. This conflict serves as the climax of the pilot. Once the story is resolved, Ava remains as a presence in Raylan’s life. At first, they become lovers, which proves detrimental to Raylan’s career. Later, after Raylan becomes re-involved with his ex-wife, Ava switches sides and becomes involved with Boyd. Her allegiance to Boyd serves as a centerpiece for the remainder of the series, particularly in the show’s final season, but it never feels entirely authentic. It’s as if the writers loved Joelle Carter’s work and didn’t want to lose her, so they contrived a plot twist in which Ava becomes romantically involved with Boyd as a means of continuing her presence. Ava is a strong woman (all women on Justified are strong), but that doesn’t mean that all of their choices are intelligent, or that the writers do a good job of illustrating Ava’s reasoning in an organic fashion. This defect becomes particularly stark in the show’s fifth season, in which Ava is given a jailhouse storyline that separates her from Boyd for the duration.

Raylan’s afore-mentioned ex-wife Winona is another example. From the moment we first see Winona (Natalie Zea), it is clear that Raylan is still in love with her. Winona is more of an intermittent presence throughout the series than is Ava. She and Raylan seem to be locked in a dance wherein neither can decide if they want to truly commit to the other. Their rapport is interesting early on, but becomes tiresome as the series progresses.

Another female character that is criminally underused is U.S. Marshal Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel.) She is an African-American law enforcement officer in the Deep South. One would think that, over the course of 78 episodes, the writers could give Rachel at least one substantial plot. The most we get is a stand-alone episode in the show’s second season in which we learn a little about Rachel’s family. Aside from that, Rachel usually just serves as back-up for Raylan. The same is true for Raylan’s other Marshal sidekick, Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts), who served as an Army Ranger sniper in Afghanistan.

The character of Art Mullen (Nick Searcy), Raylan’s boss in the Lexington office, is far better served. Raylan’s father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) is a hardened criminal and the two men have no love for one another. As Raylan and Art continue to work together, Art takes on the role of Raylan’s surrogate father. This often serves as a burden to Art, who is usually exasperated by Raylan’s off-book methods, even though they yield results.

In the first two seasons, Justified suffers from a mild identity crisis. It can’t quite decide if it wants to be a series of stand-alone procedural stories ala Law & Order, or more serialized ala Breaking Bad. It finally settles on the latter by the third season and is better for it. The best of the stand-alones is the fourth episode, “Long in the Tooth,” in which Raylan chases a former mafia bookkeeper masquerading as a dentist into the desert.

The plotting of Justified is uneven and overly convoluted at times. In true Elmore Leonard fashion, there are periods in which viewers will find themselves watching three or four separate groups of characters, all working across purposes. I mean… I was able to keep up with the dense plotting of Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones, for God sake, and there are still times when I will finish an episode of Justified and ask, what the hell was that all about? This flaw is particularly evident in the show’s third and fourth seasons. In times like this, it is best for the viewer with a mid-range I.Q. simply to sit back and enjoy the eccentric characters and colorful dialogue for which the late Mr. Leonard was so notable.

This leads me to the biggest strength of Justified; the colorful cast of villains and supporting players that litter the barren landscape of Harlan, Kentucky. Elmore Leonard was always known as a master of dialogue and nuanced characters. The fact that showrunner Graham Yost worked closely with Leonard until Leonard’s death before the show’s fifth season is reflected in every scene of Justified. The accents range from perfect to passable, the dialogue is laced with wit and humor and the characters feel real.

Yeah… The characters. It may be true that Justified adheres to the ‘baddy of the season’ formula, but what baddies they are! Wynn Duffy (Gere Burns), mercurial mid-level hit man for an organization known as the Dixie Mafia. Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman), one of Boyd’s henchmen with a Nazi tattoo on his neck and nothing in his head. Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough), psychotic Detroit mobster in a business suit with more up his sleeve than a scheme to conquer Kentucky. Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson), an African-American crime boss with murky motives. Avery Markham (Sam Elliott), a pothead kingpin who seems to growl more than he talks.

No review of Justified would be adequate without a prolonged and respectful nod to Mags Bennett and her boys. They emerge as the chief villains of the show’s second season and, in hindsight, they are the best. Mags (Margo Martindale) is the ruthless matriarch of a crime family who deals in pot and homemade moonshine. She shows no mercy to those who seek to undercut or betray her. When Raylan is forcibly returned to Kentucky, he finds himself smack in the middle of a decades-old feud between the Givens’ and Bennett clans. Raylan holds particular animus for Mags’ son Dickie (Jeremy Davies.) Dickie is crippled as a result of a childhood fight with Raylan. In typical Justified fashion, Dickie is the dumbest of Mags’ three sons, though he believes himself to be the smartest. Of course, this only serves to make him the most dangerous.

The current conflict, which centers on a teenage orphaned girl named Loretta (Kaitlyn Dever), serves as the show’s best season finale. It also illustrates why Martindale was one of only two actors to win an Emmy; Davies being the other.

Sidebar: I was so impressed with the character of Mags that I named my beloved cat after her.

… And I haven’t even addressed the rich cast of supporting characters who aren’t criminals. If you want to meet Judge Mike ‘The Hammer’ Reardon, Constable Bob, Ellen May, Pastor Billy and Raylan’s Aunt Helen, watch the show!

Justified does have an occasional misfire with respect to casting and characters. In the show’s fifth season, generally agreed upon by fans and critics alike as its worst, the producers made the unfortunate choice to cast New York native Michael Rapaport as Darryl Crowe, Jr. The only thing worse than the meandering, tangled plot of the fifth season is Rapaport’s glaringly hideous southern accent. Some fans lament that Yost and company chose to pull the plug after the show’s sixth season, despite pleas from FX president John Landgraf for more. Yet, when I try to rewatch the fifth season, it becomes sadly evident that Justified probably ran one season too long.

It is also worth noting that Timothy Olyphant came to Justified several years after his starring role on another celebrated postmodern western series, HBO’s Deadwood. Olyphant was tailor made for western roles, and fans of both series always wondered who might be next to transfer from the Old West of Deadwood to the Modern West of Harlan. As it turned out, Deadwood regulars W. Earl Brown, Jim Beaver, Garret Dillahunt, Sean Bridgers, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Brent Sexton, Gerald McRaney, Stephen Tobolowsky, Ray McKinnon and Peter Jason all had either single-shot or multi-shot guest stints on Justified. Fans were hoping that Ian McShane might make an appearance, given his electric on-screen chemistry with Olyphant, but it never materialized.

Sidebar: If you want to learn more about Deadwood, I wrote an extensive review of it elsewhere in these hallowed pages. Also, Walton Goggins costarred on another FX masterpiece, The Shield, which I hope to review in the future. Sadly, none of his costars appeared on Justified, mainly because they were all being used over on the inferior Sons of Anarchy.

Compared to its contemporaries such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Game of Thrones, Justified was underrated. As is usually the case with shows of this kind, it had a loyal but small fan base and was adored by critics. Yet, it never really caught on as cubical conversation. Luckily, it is available for streaming and on home media. If you’re stuck with no place to go in the midst of the pandemic and need something new to binge, and if you like noir crime dramas with a western flavor, try Justified.

As for the source material furnished by the late Elmore Leonard, I always found him to be an acquired taste; a taste that I never really warmed to. Still, his body of work is undeniable and he did have a flair for quirky characters and off beat dialogue. Leonard did claim that Justified was one of his favorite screen adaptations. This is high praise indeed from an author. God bless him and those who made Justified a reality for six years.

“It was already in the glass… Not in the jar.”
Mags Bennett

“Next one’s comin’ faster.”
Raylan Givens

“Raylan, the whole world’s a tree. I’m just a squirrel tryin’ to get a nut.”
Boyd Crowder

“I been married for 28 years. I don’t get the pole out as much as I used to.”
Art Mullen

Statement of Principles

After a long, hot week in which things only seem to be getting worse on the dual fronts of the Coronavirus and public discourse, I felt it was time to post the following article from the editors at Commentary Magazine.

I post this after the owner of a local café here in Omaha was forced to shut down due to harassment after racist Facebook posts from the son of the business owner came to light. This after the business stood in good stead with the community for 44 years and had already taken a financial loss from the ravages of COVID-19. While there can be no justification for racist posts from anyone of any age, the mob tactics used to bludgeon this business owner into submission are unacceptable.

This, along with the national trend of the toppling of public statues at the hands of the mob without any preceding public discussion is deeply troubling to me.

With that statement, here is the editorial. Their principles are my principles.

We Must Stop the Great Unraveling
Editors’ Commentary
by
The Editors

Across the United States, a great unraveling is in progress. A rolling crime wave, under the guise of social activism, has left city after American city
shattered and smoldering. Armed anarchists seized territory inside Seattle with the blessing of local government. In Minneapolis and other cities, a campaign
to enfeeble or eliminate the police has gained full legitimacy. In Kentucky, the governor has vowed to provide free health care only to one racial group.
In the private sector, companies such as Uber Eats have pledged their commitment to a policy of race-conscious discrimination as well. And major media
organs sanction all of the above as proper and good.

The unraveling goes further still. Social-justice mobs have taken aim at freedom of expression, inventing new heresies daily and ruining the lives of those
who unwittingly give voice to them. Forced confessions and language proscriptions are the order of the day. Poetry, fiction, movies, and television shows—including
children’s cartoons—are canceled and excised from history. Indeed, all art and opinion are now subject to the chopping block lest they prove insufficiently
propagandistic.

To rewrite the present, the mob has rewritten the past. They have forced upon us a distorted and grotesque version of American history. With the support
of corporations and education boards, school textbooks and curricula tell of an unredeemable America founded not on the promise of human liberty but human
bondage. What’s more, this history discounts the transformative progress on racial equality for which Americans—black and white—have given their lives.

Listen and Subscribe to the Commentary Podcast
—–

Through the violent politicization of all aspects of American life, the mob aims to destroy the country as we know it and replace it with a new one—an
anti-America that trades speech for violence, police for thought police, a free press for an indoctrination network, and the respect due the citizen for
the obeisance owed the mob.

There is one way to stop the unraveling: Refuse the mob. We have seen again and again that the mob comes only for those who hope to please it. And when
it does, no amount of apology will save you. We stand against the mob and all its aims. We stand against the chaos and violence, the silencing of debate,
the purging of heretics, the rewriting of history, and the destruction of the greatest country in the world. We will defend the most majestic achievement
of humankind, the United States of America, against the most ignoble impulse in human history, to tear down that which is good.

What we stand for:

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• A plurality of opinion in the public square. We affirm that the right to voice a minority opinion is equal in every respect to the right to voice a majority
opinion. We therefore reject the public policing of opinion in all its forms.
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• A full airing of available facts and data on all topics. We welcome any impartial findings that may serve to advance discussion. No objective facts are
beyond the bounds of deliberation and debate.
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• A rejection of cancel culture and all it entails. We renounce enemies lists, online/media mobs, and professional scalp hunts.
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• Clear bright lines between speech and violence. We affirm that speech, spoken or written, and no matter how egregious, is not equivalent in any way to
violence. Similarly, physical violence is not a mode of speech.
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• An absolute rejection of political violence. We affirm that lawless violence, even in the service of a just cause, is wrong—no exceptions or excuses.
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We hope you will join us.
The Editors

Demented Games in the Hall of Mirrors

“There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself.”
Raymond Chandler

We live in a very reactionary time. We now live in an age when the simple click of a mouse or a few keystrokes can render us any sort of truth we want to hear, regardless of its factual basis.

Donald Trump is a very reactionary individual. He is probably the most reactionary president I’ve seen in my lifetime. In the spirit of his unscrupulous, performative nature, I’m tempted to say that he is the most reactionary president ever in the whole history of the United States. But I wasn’t alive during the reign of Andrew Jackson or Woodrow Wilson, so I wouldn’t really know.

Yet, the presidency of Donald Trump was itself a reaction. This truth crystallized for me a few days ago when I read Jonah Goldberg’s weekly column in the L.A. Times, in which he makes a compelling case that Mitt Romney is owed an apology; an apology that he’ll never get. Romney played nice during both of his bids for the White House in 2008 and 2012. He ran an honest campaign, selected Paul Ryan (another decent man) as his running mate and never really hit Obama below the belt as many felt he should.

Sidebar: When I say, “Below the belt,” I’m talking about Obama’s birth certificate.

Still, despite his above board, straight-laced strategy, Romney was savaged by the press and his opponents as if he were the anti-Christ. He lost both contests. Now, he stands in unapologetic opposition to Trump when he feels it is necessary and the left speaks well of him, as if their below-the-belt jabs never happened.

Come to think of it, the left sure did love John McCain, as long as he was sticking it to a Republican. They championed him during his 2000 presidential run. They beat the hell out of him as he was daring to run against the first African-American candidate eighty years later. The pendulum swung back once again when he torpedoed GOP efforts to repeal Obamacare. And they certainly loved him after he died. Those on the right felt that McCain was a traitor who never fought as hard as he should have. And the same is true for George W. Bush, really. He endured eight years of savagery and remained a class act through the entirety of his two terms, much to the consternation of many on his right flank.

Sidebar: I voted for Mitt Romney both times he ran and never regretted that choice. John McCain wasn’t my first or second choice. But I never doubted his character.

One president and two failed presidential candidates, and our answer to, “We need a fighter,” is Donald freakin’ Trump!? Four years ago, I argued that this was like using a nuclear bomb to stop a Sherman tank. No, I don’t believe that Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie or even Carly Fiorina would have been capable of stopping Hillary Clinton. My guy was Marco Rubio. Still… Donald Trump!?

He was and is a reactionary and a reaction. He was a sad, self-fulfilling prophecy that came true for the GOP. Republicans were often spuriously accused of racism, sexism, classism and a host of other isms, but we chose a man who largely made the charges come true. The meek, tepid responses and the passive non-responses of the congressional figures who might have stood up to him served as a sad counterpoint to the enthusiastic leg-humping of his fan base, who contorted themselves into all sorts of ridiculous postures and positions in order to justify the putrid things he would say and tweet at a whim. Those that dared to publicly stand up to Trump, men like James Mattis and Mark Milley, men who have served their country honorably, have been minimized, marginalized and ridiculed. It has been heartbreaking to me to watch people whom I know to be intelligent and of decent character engage in this demented game of Twister that our president would have them play.

In playing this demented game, the right has painted itself into a neat and tidy corner. Now, when we are accused of racism, misogyny, nativism, etc,, we can offer the standard retort, “No we’re not!” All our opponents have to do is answer, “Trump was your standard bearer.”

If all two of you who read this blog are leftists, you have to be nodding your heads with glee. This is understandable. It feels like you’re winning right now. Joe Biden is an unlikely hero, but he’s polling ahead across the board. Maybe the bulk of America has Trump fatigue. Yet, most of you are so blindly partisan that you don’t realize that you are painting yourselves into the same sort of corner in which Republicans are imprisoned.

I’m not talking about the encroachment of the lumbering juggernaut of socialism. The current racial unrest is a much better example.

Three months ago, America was stricken by the same pandemic that had spread across the rest of the world. We were forced to largely shut down, stay home and dawn masks and gloves if we went out. People home schooled their kids, swarmed grocery stores in a panic and watched, mouths agape as the economy tanked. The months passed, the weather warmed up and new battlegrounds began to emerge over masks, governmental health restrictions and miracle cures.

Then, on Memorial Day, George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis cop, and all bets were off.

My favorite contortion of logic came from public epidemiologists who claimed that racism was a worse disease than the Coronavirus. Protests and civil disobedience were the best antidote for this metaphoric illness that has plagued our nation for centuries; a so-called cure that directly contradicts all of the guidelines and recommendations that have poured forth from medical experts since the genesis of the COVID-19 crisis.

It will take a couple more weeks before we begin to understand the consequences of two weeks of perpetual mass public gatherings, but no matter how it turns out, the pro-lockdown crowd, which is largely comprised of those who stand in deference to governmental authority, will lose the argument. If we see a spike in infections, it may very well result in the strain on our medical infrastructure that the forecasters of doom such as Scott Gottlieb have been warning about for months. That will only serve to further damage our economy, which is now officially in a recession. If we don’t see a noticeable uptick in numbers, the anti-lockdown crowd, which is largely comprised of those who stand in skepticism of governmental authority (except for the authority of Trump, of course), will claim victory in the face of a bunch of alarmist pansies who can’t wait to bend over for their tyrannical overlords. And they may very well adopt this view, even if the second wave of mass infections doesn’t come until autumn or winter. And they will most certainly be spearheaded by the president of the U.S.

Sure, the left can argue that many of your Ted Nugent types would flaunt health restrictions regardless of the consequences, but it doesn’t matter. Like the GOP of four years ago, progressives have all collectively peed their credibility into a hot, steaming trough of reflexive political opportunism.

The same thing goes for looting. Once considered to be a universal act of lawlessness that should be condemned by all, it is now romanticized by a bunch of white progressives who want to justify and apologize for acts of theft and destruction, as long as it doesn’t intrude upon their own personal domain. During the first week of turbulence, social media was rife with images of business owners who stood aghast as their buildings were looted and vandalized by thugs against whom they incorrectly assumed their sympathetic political viewpoints inoculated them. When peaceful protests mushroom into riots, the apologists doubled down, refusing to draw a reasonable distinction between lawful protests born of the First Amendment and criminal mob violence. Pseudo intellectuals, advocacy journalists and keyboard warriors made spurious comparisons of criminal rioting to the Boston Tea Party, wrote up sad, guilt-drenched think pieces about suburban white women who have to persuade themselves not to feel bad for a Walgreen’s that got trashed, and downplayed the existence of anarchists and other criminals who use events just like these for personal gain.

Then came the slogans; pop a top on a cold can of sophomoric simplicity and chug it down. President Trump’s favorite was and is, “Make America great again.” The left loves its slogans, too. Nothing as innocuous as, “Yes we can!” Their current favorite is, “Abolish the police.” But wait… It’s not really, “Abolish!” It’s, “Defund.” Or is it, “Disband?” When challenged on the finer points of a future without police, the left engages in a constant campaign of redefinition and redirection. Black Lives Matter, the ACLU and many other radical left organizations quickly adopted the posture of stripping down local police departments for parts without really taking the time to understand the long term consequences of what they are proposing. Corporations, non-profits and community organizations hopped on the band wagon in quixotic fashion, never bothering to dig into what these activists are actually conveying in their messaging.

13 days after George Floyd’s death, the Minneapolis City Council adopted a statement proposing a police-free city. When questioned about the finer points by CNN, the president of the council retreated to the banal progressive talking point of so-called, “White privilege.”

Joe Biden and even Bernie Sanders have publicly opposed the idea of defunding the cops, but the notion rolls on like a bowling ball down an escalator, pushed and kicked by reactionary leftists who rejoice in this sudden shift in momentum. It is the exact same procession that hopped aboard the Trump train; different faces and voices, but the same impulsive lockstep.

Meanwhile, 1203 miles East of Minneapolis, the editorial board of the New York Times dared to publish an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton (Republican) defending the notion of using the military to back up the local police in riot-ravaged areas. He wrote it in the wake of a tweet from Trump, who threatened to sick the military on states if governors couldn’t or wouldn’t get a handle on the violence. Half the staff of the NYT engaged in open revolt, claiming that such a piece makes African-Americans feel, “Unsafe.” Several days later, the junior editor was sent to the professional guillotine and the new editor immediately implemented a, “If you feel something, say something,” edict. Journalists such as Bari Weiss who objected to the suppression of varied viewpoints and express concern over the state of journalism, were roundly minimized, marginalized and ridiculed.

Naturally, the hurtling bowling ball of reactionism doesn’t stop at the political gates. HBO pulled Gone With the Wind from its Max platform in the name of racial sensitivity. Discussions now rage about the scrubbing of cops from television and literary crime fiction as sources of positive characterization. Supposed reality-based cop shows have been quickly pulled from TV line-ups. On social media, classic terms such as, “Racism,” and, “Prejudice,” are now being replaced with harsher terms like, “Anti-black.” More statues symbolizing the Confederacy have come toppling down at the hands of the mob. NASCAR just banned the Confederate flag from all events.

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with Confederate symbols disappearing from the public, but the kneejerk nature of all of this at the hands of rioters, weak-spirited politicians and timid corporate executives has an unpalatable Orwellian feel to me. It reminds me of Trump’s promise, “We’re gonna win so much, you’ll be sick of winning.”

I don’t even wanna talk about Drew Brees. I guess he’s been scolded by his wife, now.

If the Republicans are playing a sad game of demented Twister, the Democrats and progressives are playing a dangerous game of demented Jenga. They have no idea what they are building. They have no idea what it is supposed to look like. But they seem to be completely unaware or apathetic to the fact that, if they pull the wrong piece out of place, the whole cockeyed structure of half-truths and slogans comes crashing down. When it does, don’t call 911 and expect a cop to show up to help you pick up the pieces.

Where does this all end? Hell, I have no idea. My crystal ball broke after the 2016 election. I was sure Joe Biden wouldn’t make it this far. Now, I’m not certain he won’t win the Oval Office, no matter who he chooses in his grand game of Veepstakes. I would like to think that the white middle class will eventually grow fatigued with the ‘blame and shame’ strategy that is currently proving to be so effective.

History indicates that political victors often overreach. If the right overreached with the selection and election of Donald Trump, the left may overreach when and if this socio-political fad lasts beyond the next few news cycles. But what damage will be done in the meantime? Sooner or later, political theories either remain in an ethereal, idyllic void of ideology that result in little more than dinner conversation, or graduate down to the sausage factory of fermented public policy. If the latter occurs, we may yet get to watch a great and terrible experiment of a city with a diminished or non-existent police force.

It already appears to be happening in Seattle. I’d like to sit back, grab a bag of Peanut Butter M N M’s and laugh, but Katy is over there. What if she gets hurt?

Or maybe it will be worse and history will repeat itself. Maybe a few cops will have to be killed in the name of social justice before the brakes are applied. The BLM movement was gaining traction after Ferguson and Baltimore until several cops were hunted down and executed in the name of occupational retribution. Or it might be something altogether less injurious. The Women’s March was all the rage three years ago until a series of articles exposed strains of antisemitism within its leadership and many public and private entities who expressed their support at the beginning quickly distanced themselves. After BLM and the ACLU spend some time in the public limelight, the honeymoon phase with the mainstream left may end and they will be scrutinized. Like Donald Trump, they will feel powerful and will be disinclined to hide who they really are. At that point, the public at large can take a breath in the cool of post-emotional rationality and judge for themselves.

Honestly, I think most leftists know full well that no modern society can exist without a peacekeeping force to protect it. They know that every bit as much as most Trump supporters always knew that we would never be able to force Mexico to pay for our great big border wall. But in the heat of battle and with the glow of victory just over the horizon, who really cares about the long term? This is the here and now!

Or maybe we’ll all be victims of COVID-19. A month from now, social and mainstream media outlets may be off the racial justice trend and back to the battle of masks and social distancing. Whatever happens, I hope all of you are comfortable in your respective corners. You may be contented in your echo chambers, but eventually, you will discover that you’re really living in a funhouse hall of mirrors.

There are days when I truly envy you. I wish to hell I could be a full-throated Trump supporter. I wish I could stand up in a heady crowd and scream, “Black Lives Matter,” without thinking about the deeper implications. It’s just too hard when you live in the immense, foggy expanse of gray between those two bipolar and binary safe zones. So this is me, waving to the very few of you (left, right or center), who have the self-awareness to be in this terribly lonely place with me.

Hi there. I am Ryan O, the blind guy. I am a conservative who believes that we should open up our economy again while practicing medical safety measures out of concern for others. I am a conservative who believes that peaceful protests are the hallmark of a democracy, while mob violence is antithetical to it. I am a conservative who believes that the police and the African-American community need each other. I am a conservative who believes that you can respect the American flag while simultaneously condemning racism and police brutality. I am a conservative who believes that a president leads by example through good character. I am a conservative who believes that words carry meaning and consequence; words like, “Believe all women,” “Defund the police,” and “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” I am a conservative who believes that I have miles to go before I sleep.

“Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made. Out of timber so crooked as that from which man is made, nothing entirely straight can be built.”
Immanuel Kant

Addendum: Apparently, the removal of Gone With the Wind from the HBO Max platform is not permanent. Several African-American actors are going to record an introduction giving it historical context. This is cool.

The Corona Diaries: Week 10

In the Spring of 2014, I sent a mass Email to some close friends and several family members. I can’t locate it now, but the gist was:

“Hi, folks. Money is a little tight right now, so if you try to call or text me over the next few weeks and I don’t respond, don’t be concerned. I am starting a new job after Memorial Day and will be able to catch up on my bills at that time. Please don’t worry about me. I’ll be all right.”

Later that day, several close friends informed me that they were helping me with my phone, electric and internet bills. Furthermore, they informed me that it was a gift, not a loan. One of those friends was my oldest buddy, Wes.

Two years later in August of 2016, Wes was visiting me for a much-needed vacation. Four months earlier, he had been struck by a car while crossing a street in Lincoln. The encounter messed up his knee and didn’t do his emotions much good either. He had received a surgery and physical therapy, but his knee was still giving him trouble. He just wanted to get away from work for a long weekend and Denver was always his favorite vacation spot.

One night, we came home from a baseball game between the Rockies and the Cubs. We walked in and Wes casually said, “Hey man, better take a look at your desk.”

On it was a brand new computer. A brailled card was taped to the top of it which said:

“Merry Christmas from Katy, Marty, Marshal Dillon, Alicia and Wesman. May this serve you well.”

I had been without a working computer for over a year. It was the perfect gift at the perfect time.

Week 10: Who Was That Masked Man?

Saturday, May 23, 2020

At 12:57 PM, Jane texts me with her usual one-word summons, “Here.” I grab the backpack by the door and head down. Jane is talking to her nephew on her phone as I slide deftly into her front seat. It’s a little easier to wiggle and wriggle now that I’ve dropped some quarantine weight.

Jane pulls out of my parking lot and we head off as I press “start” on Google Maps. I fight the urge to grab a pre-wedding beer for the road, deciding to wait for Kelly before I imbibe.

45 minutes later, we’re wandering around in Lincoln in Kelly’s neighborhood trying to locate her home. I guess we may as well have started drinking early. I call her and Jane finally finds it. Kelly slides in and I hand her my back-up folding cane from my bag. Kelly is dogless since Jane is not a fan of animals. Somehow, Kelly’s cane got snapped in half, but I don’t ask her to share the story of how it happened. I secretly wonder if she whacked her neighbor a time or two with it, but I’m too tactful to ask.

We head South on 33rd, then hang a right on A. Street. I pull up the YouTube feed of Wes’s wedding as Jane drives. Unfortunately, I am not able to chorale my inner audio snob. My first thought is, damn, that audio hum is annoying. My second thought is, ‘tsk, tsk.’ The holy man is a little hot on the mic. We listen up just in time to hear the pastor say, “I now present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Wes and Allison …” Then, Clint Black comes on with his folksy instruction that, “Love isn’t something that we have. It’s something that we do.” Weird, I think. Shane and Amy used that same song 20 years ago next month.

We pull into the parking lot. Jane informs me that there are few cars around, so we locate a parking space. Then, I grab a cold can of Coors and pass a Mike’s Hard Lemonade to Jane and Kelly. We roll down the windows, feel the cool breeze and sip alcohol. It finally feels like a Memorial Day weekend. All I need is a cigar.

We sit and soak up the sun. Jane and Kelly sip their froufrou drinks in a very ladylike fashion. I chug my beer like a middle-aged bachelor. Time passes. The sun shines and the breeze wafts through the car. More people arrive. I say hi to Wes’s mother. I can’t believe I recognize her voice. I call Shane and ask, “Where are ya?” He says, “We’re right down the street gathering at an elementary school.” I tell him that we’ll probably be gone by the time he gets there. Later, I learn that a group of them drove by the newlyweds in a pick-up and said hi from the back. A COVID wedding greeting, redneck style.

Then Jane says, “There they are. Wow! Her dress is beautiful.” She starts her engine and pulls up to the happy couple.

I honestly remember very little about the conversation. I only had half a beer in my blood, so I can’t blame the buzz. It was all very brief and perfunctory. Both the bride and groom wore masks. We did not. I remember asking Wes how he felt and he said something like, “Pretty good.” I think it lasted all of two minutes. Then we pull forward, we each get a cupcake as our reward and we’re off. I eat the cupcake hanging out the window so as not to drop crumbs on Jane’s car seat. It is chocolate with white frosting. I play a secret game in my mind in which I name the cupcake Kelly, then lasciviously lick the frosting.

We pull around to another parking lot for a while, wondering if anyone might come over to socialize. No one ever does. Finally, Kelly says, “I’m hungry. Let’s go get Runza.” I love a woman that takes charge.

At this point, I have to blame the beer buzz for interfering with the structured discovery function of my brain. If I were sober, we probably would have located the Runza at 39th and Randolph in a matter of mere minutes. As it is, we spend the better part of 40 minutes searching for it. It boils down to the fact that we don’t know whether we’re going North or South on 40th Street. The heady combination of beer and cupcake buzz causes me not to ask the very obvious question, where is the sun located right now.

Eventually, we locate a convenience store, we all eject some processed beer and Kelly says, “Let’s ask the guy behind the counter where Randolph is.”

The clerk starts to explain where we need to go and I blurt out, “That’s not a guy.” Kelly is mortified. Welcome to the 21st century.

Honestly, it seems funnier to experience it than it does to write about it.

At long last, we locate Runza and sit outside alone at a big concrete table. Kelly shares her fries with me, so I guess she didn’t stay miffed. I get an order to go. I can’t help but feel that this drive-through wedding reception and the search for the drive-up Runza serve as some great metaphor for our current pandemic plight, but I don’t have the wherewithal to process a philosophical corollary.

Later, we drop Kelly back at home and make the long trek back to Omaha. I drink the last Mike’s Hard I brought for Kelly because she doesn’t want it. The comedown makes me realize that I no longer like sugary alcoholic beverages. They give me a headache. Jane talks about her marriage, which gives her a headache, so we’re both in the same condition when she drops me at my apartment.

I come home to a heat wave rolling out of my front door. Alexa informs me that the inside temperature is 85 degrees. I turn on the AC, slump into my recliner and ponder the enormity of the fact that Wes, the oldest friend I have, is now married. This was the inquisitive kid I met in 1987 at blind camp. He was the little guy who had no end of questions about everything from the inner workings of an APH tape cassette player to the name of the actor who played Charlie Moore on Head of the Class. Now, it’s his wedding day and the real questions are only beginning for him.

Some might wonder why I disrupted Jane’s Saturday afternoon to take a trip to Lincoln so that we could talk to a bride and groom for two minutes through a car window. My answer is simple. Wes is my friend. If our positions were reversed, I would feel honored and humbled if my friends made the effort to come support me during such a momentous occasion. Of course, our original plans were quite different. The wedding was supposed to be an in-person affair and I was going to make a three-day weekend out of it. Kelly was going to be my actual date and the gender of a convenience store clerk never would have entered into the equation. But then, a bunch of unfettered germs spoiled everything. What if Trump is right? If not for China, I would’ve thrown Wes one hell of a bachelor party. As a protest, I’ll never eat Crab Rangoon again. I think The Donald would approve.

As I drift off for a nap, the thought occurs that, when my wedding night finally arrives, I hope I won’t be too drunk to discern North from South.

Sunday, May 24

SHOCKER!!! Joe recorded the audio feed of Wes’s wedding. I give it a listen as I wait for my Chipotle order to be delivered. The pastor opens the ceremony by saying, “She looks beautiful, Wes.” I’m sure every sighted person who heard that gushed like a Saudi Arabian oil well. Every blind person who heard it probably silently said, “Ahh, for Christ sake.” I catch myself thinking that, if it were my wedding and my official said something like that, despite the solemnity of the occasion, I’d be thinking, she’s gonna look even more beautiful out of that dress, preacher man!

Later on, the pastor says, “I’m smilin’ beneath my mask.” I try to figure out at what point in history in western civilization one might hear a line like that at a wedding. I can’t help it. I giggle like a Cheeto-snarfing pothead. Maybe it’s a good thing I wasn’t there after all.

Lunch arrives and it is indeed okie dokie.

Monday, May 25

Happy Memorial Day.

1,636,222 confirmed cases in the United States. 97,276 deaths.

PS: In case you’re wondering, Marshal Dillon was really my other best friend, Joe. That used to be one of his nicknames before Miss Kitty made him hang up his guns. God bless married life.

Schadenfreude

This article comes from David French at the newly-formed Dispatch. Everyone who cares about fact-driven conservative journalism should subscribe. It is so important that I am placing it here as a snapshot in time.

As Tara Reade’s Evidence Against Joe Biden Builds, All the Chickens Come Home to Roost
When everyone abandons norms, who is left to trust?

David French
Apr 28

I’m not generally a person given to schadenfreude. I try to be empathetic and sympathetic. I really do. But there are times when the consequences of terrible ideas become so plain, and the partisan boxes we build become so confining, that it’s hard not to take at least a degree of pleasure in the sudden public realization that old standards of fairness, due process, and personal character just might have some merit.
Exactly two weeks ago, I wrote a rather lengthy assessment of the Tara Reade’s case against Joe Biden and the conservative case for media hypocrisy in the coverage of Reade’s claims. My verdict was simple. Reade’s claims were shaky. The claims against key media outlets were strong. They did, in fact, apply different reporting standards to claims against Brett Kavanaugh and Biden.
Regarding the claims against Biden, here was my summary:
At the end of the day, however, we’re left with a 27-year-old claim with a single anonymous corroboration that’s inconsistent with the claimant’s own previous accounts and is (so far) unsupported by any other claim of similar behavior. I’m troubled but unconvinced. Based on the current state of the evidence, I don’t think it’s likely that Biden assaulted Reade.
Since I published the newsletter, however, the evidence against Biden has grown stronger. Last week we learned that Reade’s mother apparently called in to the Larry King show in 1993 and made the following, rather vague claim:
“Yes, hello. I’m wondering what a staffer would do besides go to the press in Washington?” she asks. “My daughter has just left there after working for a prominent senator, and could not get through with her problems at all, and the only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it out of respect for him.
It’s not proof of sexual assault by any means, but it’s at least evidence that Reade told her mother that something untoward had happened. Then, Business Insiderupped the ante, locating two additional sources who substantiated Reade’s claims:
Now two more sources have come forward to corroborate certain details about Reade’s claims. One of them — a former neighbor of Reade’s — has told Insider for the first time, on the record, that Reade disclosed details about the alleged assault to her in the mid-1990s.
“This happened, and I know it did because I remember talking about it,” Lynda LaCasse, who lived next door to Reade in the mid-’90s, told Insider.
The other source, Lorraine Sanchez, who worked with Reade in the office of a California state senator in the mid-’90s, told Insider that she recalls Reade complaining at the time that her former boss in Washington, DC, had sexually harassed her, and that she had been fired after raising concerns.
The New York Times’s Michelle Goldberg summed up the effect of these new disclosures nicely:
Michelle Goldberg @michelleinbklyn
This is the most persuasive corroborating evidence that has come out so far. What a nightmare.
Rich McHugh @RichMcHugh
NEW: A former neighbor of Joe Biden’s accuser Tara Reade has come forward, on the record, to corroborate her sexual assault account, saying Reade discussed the allegations in detail in the mid-1990s. https://t.co/EyhJDd0qNJ
April 27th 2020
1,317 Retweets6,741 Likes

What a nightmare indeed, for everyone. Every single side of this story is now living with the consequences of dreadful mistakes. Joe Biden is now confronting the “believe women” movement he helped build. Key media outlets and multiple media figures are now face-to-face with their own, post-Kavanaugh double standards. And, finally, the GOP is left without an arrow in its quiver against the Democratic nominee because of its own profound moral compromise.
Let’s start with Biden’s dilemma. There’s of course the easy contrast with the statements he made during the Kavanaugh controversy, when he said a woman’s claims should begin with a presumption of truth:
“For a woman to come forward in the glaring lights of focus, nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real, whether or not she forgets facts, whether or not it’s been made worse or better over time. But nobody fails to understand that this is like jumping into a cauldron.”
But lest you think this is a one-quote gotcha, we can’t forget that Biden was an advocate for Obama administration policies that systematically dismantled due process protections for college students accused of sexual misconduct. It’s a brutal story—one that I’ve covered time and time again.
To make a long story short, in 2011 the Obama Department of Education published a “Dear Colleague letter” that dramatically reduced due process protections for accused students at campuses from coast-to-coast. The administration mandated a low burden of proof (preponderance of the evidence), expanded the definition of sexual misconduct, and failed to preserve for the accused even the most basic right to confront their accuser with cross-examination.
The result was a legal disaster. Hundreds of accused students have sued their schools, courts all over the country have overturned sexual misconduct findings and struck down deficient campus procedures. The system was so broken in California that its progressive judiciary halted proceedings in more than 70 sexual misconduct cases to fix the broken process.
Yet as Emily Yoffe wrote last year in Politico, Biden repeatedly spoke about the campus sexual assault controversy in crude caricatures, supported the administration’s Title IX reforms, and then directly attacked proposed Trump administration reforms that restored traditional due process protections in campus adjudications, including the right of cross examination.
To put it another way, the Obama administration broke campus due process to favor sexual assault accusers, Biden championed that effort, and he opposed the restoration of the most basic due process rights. And now he’s in the crosshairs of a serious complaint.
But Biden of course isn’t the only party sleeping in the beds they made. I don’t need to belabor the stunning differences in the way the New York Times, The New Yorker, and many other outlets covered the claims against Biden compared with their coverage of claims against Brett Kavanaugh. I wrote about the double standard two weeks ago:
Writing in The New Yorker, Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow published the completely unsubstantiated claim that Kavanaugh exposed himself to a woman named Deborah Ramirez. Not only did she confess to drinking heavily and to memory gaps, she said that she only came forward “after six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney.”
Even worse, The New Yorker stated that the magazine “has not confirmed with other eyewitnesses that Kavanaugh was present at the party.” (Emphasis added.) That’s extraordinary. The claim never should have made it to print. Not only did it reach The New Yorker’s prestigious pages, but virtually every other prestige media outlet carried the claims immediately.
But the negligence surrounding Ramirez’s claims is nothing compared to the widespread press negligence and outright recklessness in reporting Michael Avenatti client Julie Swetnick’s fantastical and grotesque claims that she saw Kavanaugh “waiting his turn” for gang rapes after facilitating them by spiking or drugging the punch at high school parties. The mainstream media reporting on the claim was immediate and prominent. On Twitter, journalist after journalist immediately credited her claims.
To be perfectly clear, the care that media outlets have taken with the Biden allegations should be the standard. When a claim is made, investigate it carefully and comprehensively before rushing it to print. And in the absence of solid evidence, claims should not generate an avalanche of “I believe women” think pieces based on unrelated experiences, teen movies (Vox actually published a piece that used the John Hughes movie Sixteen Candles to bolster the rape claim against Kavanuagh)or shaky social science (like unverifiable statistics claiming very low rates of false rape allegations).
The rush to convict Kavanaugh represented one of the most disturbing media moments of my career, and I’m hardly conservative America’s harshest media critic.
Finally, let’s talk about the GOP. What is it going to do, pray tell, with the Biden allegation besides harp on about media hypocrisy? Can it claim in any way that Reade’s allegations are material to Biden’s bid for the presidency? After all, more than a dozen women have accused Donald Trump of various forms of misconduct, there’s a tape of Trump bragging about grabbing women by the genitals, and his lawyer is currently sitting in prison for his participation in a criminal scheme to conceal hush money payments to a porn star.
Moreover, while the allegations against Trump vary in credibility, some are supported by considerable corroborating evidence. For example, former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos accused Trump of kissing her without consent in 2007, grabbing her breast, and thrusting his genitals up against her. She filed a defamation case against Trump after he said that he never “met her in a hotel or greeted her inappropriately a decade ago.”
She not only claims that she told “family and friends” about the incident and that she reached out to legal counsel to consider legal action as early as 2011, but discovery in the case has produced phone logs and itineraries that Zervos claims corroborate her timeline and her account of communication with Trump. And that’s but one claim.
It is so painfully obvious that each and every error outlined above would have painful consequences. No one should think that norms of due process and presumptions of innocence that have been built up over centuries of painful human experience can be cast aside by any person or political party without soon facing their own challenge in responding to presumptions of guilt and lowered burdens of proof.
Media organizations that set irresponsible precedents when confronting a conservative judicial nominee should not be surprised when critics rightly highlight the care they take in reporting on a Democratic presidential candidate.
Finally, a political party that thoroughly discards any meaningful character test for president—including by discarding any real concern as to whether its nominee has abused women—cannot then be surprised when the press and the public ultimately treat accusations against a political opponent with a yawn and a shrug. “Character for thee, but not for me” persuades no one.
And so, here we are, reminded once again that presumptions of innocence are important, careful reporting is a professional necessity, and personal integrity is of paramount importance in national leaders. Yet few of our leading national institutions are well-equipped to make that case. Is it any wonder that Americans deeply distrust virtually every significant player in the American political system?

The Corona Diaries: Week 4

One of the most overrated series in the pantheon of old-time radio is the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. It was actually a resurrection of classic radio drama that aired 12 years after network radio purged itself of the last remnants of the theater of the mind. Collectors like myself classify it in the same category as fare from the golden age of radio because it was produced and directed by Hyman Brown, a veteran of that bygone era, and usually starred voice actors who were also actors from the ‘40’s and ‘50’s. It aired from 1974 to 1982. It was a very prolific series that ran nightly, seven nights a week, 365 days a year.

The quality was telling. There were probably about nine mediocre to horrible episodes for every one good one. The music was canned, the sound effects were minimal and the audio quality was standard ‘70’s A.M. network vintage. But America loved it. Our audience at Radio Talking Book loves it. I run an episode every weekend.

One of the few good offerings was a story called, “The Black Room,” written by Elspeth Eric. Larry Haines plays a man who is abducted by unknown government forces and isolated in a room devoid of light and human companionship. The guy spends months in solitary confinement in the dark room and starts to go crazy inside of his own head. Then one day, a mouse sneaks into the dark room and the guy befriends him. He adopts the little mouse and starts to feed him crumbs of cheese, bread and even an apple. They strike up a kind of friendship that’s sort of cute in a twisted Disney sort of way. Then on one occasion as the guy goes to feed Mr. Mouse, he bites his hand. After that, the mouse disappears and the guy collapses into lethargy. He finally says to Mr. Mouse, “I don’t care.”

Week Four: WWHD?

Monday, April 6, 2020

412 confirmed cases in Nebraska. The death toll has climbed to eight statewide. An outbreak has occurred in Grand Island, which is far too close to my hometown of Kearney for my liking. A note of cautious optimism creeps into the stock market as signs indicate that certain hot spots may be leveling off. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been transferred to the ICU after his symptoms have not abated after 10 days. The governor of Wisconsin tries to postpone his state’s primary until June 9, but is quickly overruled by both the state and national Supreme Court. Kroger announces that all Baker’s stores in Omaha will cap the number of customers at half their maximum capacity. Dr. Pour recommends masks for all who venture out in public. I watch part of a presser with Trump and his medical minions. With apologies to his full-throated supporters, this guy doesn’t appear to be a man in control. He’s not in control of the country, he’s not in control of this crisis and frankly, he’s not in control of himself.

I work from home all day. All goes well with my remote operations. I undercook bacon for breakfast on the Foreman Grill. Maybe the oven would be more effective. For dinner, I make garlic-Italian burgers with a pinch of Ghost Pepper Salt. I do a lot of my work in the evening with the windows open and a cool spring breeze wafting through my living room. Maybe I could get used to this.

Maintenance has been stomping and clomping up and down the stairs all day. I recognize Happy’s voice. They seem to be doing something in the empty apartment across the hall. When I take the trash out at 4:30, I catch the distinctive odor of fresh paint. Am I about to get a new neighbor? No one can replace Lisa, who used to look after Mags for me when I would go out of town. I need to check on Lisa and see how she’s doing. My cleaning lady Maria also calls and confirms that she will be here Wednesday morning. I am surprised that she is still working, but she says several restaurants and stores that paid her are closed right now. It seems that she feels the needed income is worth the risk.

Tuesday, April 7

478 positive cases statewide. 12 souls lost. Folk music legend John Prine has died at age 73 due to complications from COVID-19. Somewhere, Mike Floyd is inconsolable. Wisconsin goes ahead and holds its election. Nebraska University campuses restrict access to essential personnel only. I have a niece and nephew of college age and I envy them. At least they have a legit reason to cut class. I was never this lucky 25 years ago.

I am sleeping well, but finding that I am having more vivid dreams, particularly in the early morning when I would usually be arising for the workday. Years ago, my sleep doctor told me that dreams tend to cluster in the hours directly before the end of a natural REM cycle. I’ve also heard that dreams are more intense when someone naps during the afternoon. I can attest in the affirmative to both of these assertions. No, I don’t dream in color.

More stomping and banging doors across the hall. At around 10 in the morning, someone pulls the fire alarm. The bell sounds like one of those old-fashioned school bells with the loud, long peal, rather than the ear-splitting electronic squeal that characterizes the modern variety. It only lasts for two seconds and does not result in a mass evacuation. At 4:30 in the afternoon, Happy drives below my balcony and hollers, “That looks like a gud cigar!” I ask him what’s going on across the hall and he says they’re getting the place ready for someone to move in. He also says he got stuck in an elevator in another building this morning. I hope he remember his raccoon jerky.

Wednesday, April 8

523 confirmed cases in Nebraska. 15 deaths. Dick’s Sporting Goods announces it will furlough most of its 40,000 workers. Gun nuts read this headline and sneer. Katy tells me she will be going back to work at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind next Monday. This is good news, because it turns out she wasn’t getting federal sick leave pay after all. Mayor Stothert closes all public parks and trailheads through April 30. Police threaten to enforce her order with citations, arrests and towed vehicles. The Omaha Farmers Market is delayed until June.

We knew it would happen sooner or later. Today was sooner. Our morning volunteers ran afoul of Dropbox and we were scrambling to get their files in time for the morning papers. We failed, causing the show to be 10 minutes over. I was running around in my ratty robe and blown-out slippers when Maria showed up to clean. Then Jane texted and said, “I need to go to the office. Want to tag along?” I texted back that I did, then tried to run to the shower. This is only fair to Jane as I haven’t taken a proper shower in six days. I accidentally flashed Maria as I come out of the bathroom, but she takes it in stride. I don’t think she has the same flexible attitude about my junk that my coworkers do.

We spend about four hours in the office and I program as far ahead as possible. When we arrive at 10:45, the sun is shining and the air is mild. When we leave at 3:10, the wind has picked up and I’m fighting off goose bumps. On the way home, we listen to Mayor Stothert’s presser on her decision to close all city parks.

Thursday, April 9

587 confirmed cases in Nebraska. 15 deaths. Another record-breaking week of national unemployment claims; 6.6 million. Boris Johnson is released from the ICU and his condition is upgraded. UNL, my old school, announces its first case. It was a worker in the Selleck dining hall, which was my dorm when I was there 25 years ago. Six new cases confirmed at the YRTC in Kearney. Animal shelters announce that they are placing record numbers of cats and dogs in homes. My heart aches when I read that one.

On the latest episode of Better Call Saul, our hero drinks his own pee while trekking through the desert. I’m not making it up. YouTube it. As I watch the scene with Katy on Facetime, I catch myself wondering if this pandemic will reach the point where our water supply will be infected by dead bodies and we’ll all have to drink our own pee to survive.

Truthfully, I’m approaching COVID fatigue. Today marks a full week that I’ve been away from work and my normal routine. I haven’t seen anyone socially since…I don’t know when. My gut used to tighten every time my phone chimed with a news alert. Now, I’m just mildly curious. How many infected now? What is the latest sophomoric utterance of our president. Inane debates on social media rage on. Should Governor Ricketts institute a ‘shelter in place’ order? Do we have enough ventilators? Should we wear masks? Is blaming China for the virus racist? Is the virus itself racist since more African-Americans seem to be disproportionately affected? I’m starting to become apathetic toward the whole bloody business.

I make garlic teriyaki chicken for dinner and write a review of Star Trek: Picard, which is almost as bleak as our current situation.

Friday, April 10

643 confirmed cases statewide. 17 deaths. The worldwide death toll hits 100,000; a number that is unfathomable. It is a good Friday for stocks, which continue to rise despite the mounting body count. The IRS promises that the first round of stimulus paychecks will go out next week. The FDA warns Alex Jones to shut the hell up. Every guaranteed constitutional right comes with fools who will inevitably abuse it. The U.S. Olympic Swim Team promises that it will return to Omaha next year. Experts promise that we are almost at our peak projections of infections, but that we need to keep restricted health measures in place. The National Federation of the Blind finally announces that its annual convention scheduled in July will switch from Houston to virtual.

I’m in Westroads Mall trying to find a Cinnabon so I can meet Jean, the manager, who is really Saul Goodman, who is really Jimmy McGill. I want to get his autograph and ask about Breaking Bad, because it is the superior series. I know we’re supposed to stay home, but I hate authority, so I ignore the governor and the mayor. The mall is a ghost building. My cane taps echo off of the walls and ceiling. I try to call AIRA to guide me to Cinnabon, but Rossana from Boulder keeps answering. I try to talk to her, but she will only respond in Spanish. “Ryanito! Ryanito!” she laughs at me before the connection goes dead. Then I hear laughter coming from off in the distance, so I head for it. I find a large table with a group of people around it. I know them all, but they couldn’t possibly all know each other. Martin, Shane, Steve the Piano Player, Haylee, Bekah, Dave from Gallup, Deb, some volunteers from RTBS, Bridgit, Marco from college, Mitch, Marty, Jamie, Brent from the CCB, Kelly, my sister-in-law Missy on a horse, Kim Ann, a theater kid from high school who’s name I can’t remember, Rachel, Chris F, Mike H, Hunter, more people I can’t remember now. Five different women named Amy that I’ve known are all playing cards. They’re playing Pitch, which I don’t know how to play, so I don’t join in. I keep walking around this huge table looking for a seat, but no one will point one out for me or invite me to sit. Many of them get angry that I interrupt their conversations. Then I strike out for Cinnabon and follow the smell until I find it, but it’s The Cookie Company. Katy is behind the counter and she hands me a cookie shaped like her cat Ty. I bite off the tail and she screams at me, “You weren’t supposed to bite him! Bastard!” Then I run off and eventually find Cinnabon. Robin and Bryan Cranston are working there. Not Robin Bryan’s wife, but my ex-girlfriend. Bryan hands me a box full of cinnamon rolls. He tells me not to lick the frosting because it’s blue. I try to say hi to Robin, but she just says, “Fuck. Off.” She’s still left-brained. I walk back to the huge table and everybody suddenly goes dead silent. They all blame me for carrying a box of cinnamon rolls during a pandemic. I turn and flee toward an exit. Outside, the sun is shining, but there are snowflakes on my nose. I hear an idling car and run toward it, pull the passenger door open and fling myself in. Jane is in the driver’s seat. She says, “I’m disappointed in you, Ryan. Flowers smell better!” I turn to the back seat and Alicia and Wes are sitting there. Wes is crying because his wedding is canceled. I hand the box of cinnamon rolls to Alicia and say, “You’ll like these.” She mutters, “It’s too late. I already have cancer.” Then, my old boss David pulls open the car door. Declan and Hallie are with him and I somehow know that their parents don’t know where they are. He says, “Ryan, Joe doesn’t have any room left in his car. Can I ride with you and your charming boss?” My phone rings. I drop the cinnamon rolls. David laughs. Jane says, “That was stupid.”

I jolt awake. Alexa tells me that It is 7:23 AM. I run out to the computer and write down as much as I can remember of the dream.

That night, I take a Unisom before bed.

Saturday, April 11

One month ago today, I sat at Bridgit’s dining room table and shared Indian food with her. We talked like two normal people. Declan and I discussed the merits of eating toast with toothpaste on it. Within a 20-minute window, President Trump restricted travel to Europe, the NBA suspended its season and Tom Hanks announced that he and his wife had contracted COVID-19. I think this was the last time I socialized with anyone outside of work.

I brave the Hy-Vee jungle. Sadly, Sheila is too busy to assist me, so I shop with a guy named Chris. He tries very hard, but he reiterates that he is new at this location and doesn’t know the store very well. I want to make a cheesy bacon and chicken ranch casserole for Easter dinner, but I don’t have the patience to find all of the ingredients necessary with Chris as my guide, so I just get the basics and go. Chris sounds as if he might have a developmental disability, but who can tell? He might just be from Blue Heaven, Idaho.

I talk to Shane for a while. He’s in his garage looking for parts to their trampoline. Amy doesn’t know how to cook eggs over easy. I also talk to Mitch. He’s been working from home for a month now and he’s sick of it. He forbids his wife to go to Hy-Vee, but she ignores him and goes anyway. Alicia auditions a new Christian music show on an internet radio station.

I get into an argument with Maida on Facebook because I joke about hiring an escort during the pandemic despite social distancing rules. She is disgusted with me for being lighthearted at a time like this. Honest to God! I’ve spent the last month alternating between sadness, anxiety, hopefulness, anger and boredom. If I can’t laugh at our current situation, what the hell is left?

I view it the same way I view my blindness. Blindness can often be frustrating, enraging, depressing, annoying and occasionally, hopeful. At the end of the day, you just have to sit back and laugh at the circumstances. Either that, or descend into the maelstrom of madness. I think of it as The Hawkeye Syndrome, patterned after the main character on M*A*S*H who finds his circumstances so absurd and deadly at the same time that his coping mechanism is to act crazy. I think he spent most of his time in his bathrobe, too.

Sunday, April 12

Happy Easter.

Facebook is littered by posts with sentiments ranging from, “He has risen, indeed,” to “Why can’t our conservative governor order us to shelter in place,” to, “Happy police state!” Other than a few extra bunnies and talk of a guy who rose from the dead, not much different.

I try an Instacart order for my casserole. At first, it looks like it won’t be here in time and I try desperately to cancel the order. Then, my shopper makes it to the store and ultimately delivers my groceries right at the end of the window.

The cheesy chicken bacon broccoli ranch casserole turns out wonderfully. I spend Easter dinner on a Zoom call with Joe, Sharonda, Wes, Kelly and a lot of people I don’t know from Iowa. I last about two hours before I get a call from Dad, then take a post-dinner nap. I write a little bit and engage in some overdue music therapy. The NFB of Omaha chapter tries to hold a catch-up conference call in the absence of an in-person chapter meeting, but our phone conference number doesn’t seem to work, so it’s a bust. Later, Wes, Kelly and I have a quiet call to wind down the day. Kelly drinks a glass of wine before her new job starts tomorrow. I indulge in one cold can of Coors Light and a bowl of sugar-free instant pudding. Wes abstains.

Honestly, gentle readers, this may be the last Corona Diary. Even though some signs point toward resolution, this crisis feels interminable. I’m running out of words. The days really do feel as if they are melting together, high-lighted by bad news from the media and petty drama from social media that now seems more ridiculous in a heightened pressure cooker environment. What is left to say? If I say it, who would hear it? It’s like being in that ghost mall, circling around that huge table full of people, screaming at people who are intent upon acting in the same manner they always do. COVID-19 is temporary. People are permanent.

How did the story of “The Black Room,” end, you wonder? Well, I shouldn’t spoil it. I’ll just say that it wasn’t Mr. Mouse at all, and it turned out that she had more important things to occupy her time than a human with bread crumbs.

555,398 confirmed cases in the United States. 22,073 deaths.

Q is for Quitter

The social isolation due to the spread of COVID-19 has afforded me one advantage. It has given me a chance to catch up on books and television. One of the things I’ve gotten around to is Star Trek: Picard. In the past few days, I have managed to finish the series.

… Sort of.

I started it over a bowl of lamb stew with Ross. The first two episodes held promise. I had some initial reservations, but I thought it did a good job of setting up the chess pieces.

Earlier this week, I caught up on episodes three through five. I then skipped ahead to episode seven because I knew Riker and Troi would return. Then, I skipped to the final episode and skimmed it. So I think it is accurate to say that I have watched and digested about six-and-a-half episodes of Star Trek: Picard.

RED ALERT!!! SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Like many fans, I was left unimpressed. Part of the reason was the poorly paced, overly-convoluted narrative. I don’t think I’m an unintelligent viewer, but I can’t really give you the gist of the plot of Star Trek: Picard. It had to do with ex Borg, Romulans, a rag-tag crew patched together by a frail, embittered old man played by Patrick Stewart, and a quest to rescue the descendants of Star Trek TNG’s most beloved character, Data, in the wake of the banning of all synthetic life forms by Starfleet.

Beyond those basic, overly simplified plot points, I can’t really give you a lot more. I can tell you that, in addition to a couple of cameos from a dream/simulation vision of Data, the return of Seven of Nine from Voyager and the return of Hugh, the renegade Borg from TNG, there are no appearances from any other major characters from past Trek other than Riker and Troi.

None of this would have mattered. If Picard had been a well told, compelling series, I might have stuck with it, despite the overt foibles of the supporting characters and the use of profanity that often seemed more gratuitous than edgie.

I have two major problems with Star Trek: Picard. Both are fatal flaws baked into the structural premise of the series. One is the wanton destruction of Gene Roddenberry’s original vision. The other is the unfortunate assassination of the character of Jean-Luc Picard.

First, about Roddenberry. If we’ve learned anything from history, it is that a person can excel at world-building without necessarily being a good writer. Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas are the two best examples. There is a reason why Roddenberry’s first Star Trek pilot, “The Cage,” was a flop. Roddenberry was the sole author and the story contains all of his trademarks. The concepts are interesting, but the execution is stiff and preachy; much like the first season of TNG. By comparison, the second original Trek pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” was written by Samuel A. Peeples. Nearly all of the original series was written by authors other than Trek’s chief architect; D. C. Fontana, Richard Matheson, Gene L. Coon, etc. They were edited and often revised by Roddenberry, but the core of each story was not conceived in his imagination.

Yet, Roddenberry’s hopeful, optimistic vision of the future of humanity reverberated throughout every scene of Star Trek. His conception of the United Federation of Planets, Starfleet Command, the U.S.S. Enterprise and the dozens of alien races humans encountered within the framework of the original series echoed throughout the next two generations.

One of the criticisms of Star Trek: Picard was that the writers were not fans of Star Trek and had no true appreciation for the canon of the Trek universe. I would agree, but that didn’t mean that Picard couldn’t be a good series. As evidence, I offer you the best movie in the Trek franchise, The Wrath of Khan.

Khan was written by Nicholas Meyer, who made it clear that he was not a fan of Star Trek. Yet, he authored Khan, which turned out to be a massive hit. Meyer also wrote The Undiscovered Country, which was also a resounding commercial and critical success. All of the early movies in the franchise were marinated in Roddenberry’s ideology, regardless of the level of his creative involvement.

IN fact, given the legacy of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, one might argue that the success of the subsequent three sequels was achieved in spite of Roddenberry. If William Shatner’s biographies of Star Trek are to be believed, Roddenberry screamed his objections to the rafters, but to no avail. The producers of the films and executives at Paramount brushed them (and him) aside.

After Roddenberry’s death in 1991, the second franchise spin-off, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was commissioned. As the series progressed, the writers became more comfortable in the occasional thumbing of their noses at Roddenberry’s conceptions. Commander Sisko refers to Earth as a paradise and, in more than one Picard-style speech, he chides the Federation for sticking to its black-and-white moral code within the safe boundaries of its territory while grey areas abound in the far corners of the galaxy. Yet, despite a few shots across the bow of the Good Ship Roddenberry, his vision of an evolved human condition remains intact throughout DS9, as well as Star Trek: Voyager, which takes place far from the home of the Federation.

Showrunners and writers could ignore Roddenberry or take mild umbrage with his ideals without inflicting damage upon his legacy. But Michael Chabon and Akiva Goldsman, the producers and writers for Picard, took their game to an entirely new level. They willfully set a torch to Roddenberry’s mythology, turning it from a bright star of hope to a black hole of despair. In this Trek universe, set 20 years after the final film featuring the TNG crew, Starfleet has become a paranoid, hostile organization that has banned the existence of all synthetic life forms in the wake of a massive android attack on Mars, as well as the destruction of the planet Romulus. In Roddenberry’s utopia-tinged future, humans have finally evolved after thousands of years of adversity. In Chabon’s world, it takes 20 years for them to devolve. Only one man stayed sane during this period.

That leads us to my second major objection, the assassination of the character of Jean-Luc Picard.

In the seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, we learn a good deal about Captain Picard. He likes earl grey tea, hot. He is uncomfortable around children. He was in love with Beverly Crusher, even though she was married to his best friend. Her son, Wesley, thinks of Picard as a surrogate father figure; a reality that Picard is never entirely comfortable with. He lost command of his first vessel, the Stargazer, during a battle with a Ferengi ship. Beverly’s husband Jack Crusher was killed in that engagement. Picard’s only remaining family are a brother, a sister-in-law and a nephew on Earth. They live in France and tend the vineyards that Picard couldn’t wait to get away from when he was a child. Long before he was a captain, he was given an artificial heart after he lost a bar fight with a couple of Nausicaans. He loves to read, listen to classical music, study archeology and he doesn’t get laid as much as his first officer.

Oh, and one other thing we learn about Picard. He’s not a quitter. He has an indomitable spirit that helped him to forge his path as captain of the Enterprise D. This is the man who faced down Q, the Romulans, the Klingons and countless other hostile and misguided species with a combination of strength and reason. He survived assimilation by humanity’s most lethal enemy, The Borg. He survived intense torture by the Cardassians and never broke. He served as the arbiter of succession for the Klingon Empire, met Mark Twain, learned how to talk in metaphor, fought for the rights of androids as sentient beings, learned how to play the flute after being zapped by an alien probe, and so on.

Yet, we are expected to believe that, after the Federation faces its most daunting challenge, Picard would resign from Starfleet in protest, take his marbles and go home? Poppycock! The Picard that we all came to love back in the ‘90’s would have stayed the course, using both public channels and private means until he either turned the tide or died. I don’t buy the notion that his enmity would grow to such a degree that he would retreat to his family vineyard to fade in obscurity. He certainly never would have turned his back on Raffi and left her in the lurch.

In other words, the Admiral Picard that we all came to know would have done exactly what Admiral Kirk did; move heaven and earth to save his friend and preserve the Federation that he spent years defending. Kirk and Picard were very different in temperament and style, but at their core, they were the same. Kudos to Nick Meyer, who had the sense to tweak Roddenberry’s world without altering the fundamental makeup of its core characters.

Star Trek is an escapist fantasy. I knew it when I was 16 and I know it now. I don’t believe that Roddenberry’s vision will ever come to fruition. The crooked timber of humanity will always be too nebulous to evolve to such perfection. Yet, Star Trek was a beautiful realm of fiction to visit, populated with a rich, vast cast of characters who endeared themselves to my heart for decades. Jean-Luc Picard was one of the chief jewels who made that world glimmer with possibilities. Yes, he was a fantastical figure steeped in idealism and pseudo perfection, but that’s how the protagonists of most fantasies stand. To see him degraded from a strong, noble hero to an angry, feckless old man is dispiriting to behold. Commander Riker was the only character who seemed to retain his old spark within the new paradigm. I would be delighted to watch another series centered around his adventures.

There are other nitpicks that range from accurate to spurious. Is the series overly violent? We are living in a time when shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead seem to wallow in bloodshed. Yet, The Wrath of Khan was pretty violent. Think about those ear worms and try not to shudder. And how about the flying blood in The Undiscovered Country? The latter half of DS9 concerned a great galactic war. Yet, in the face of darkness, humanity didn’t lose its light.

The new series did seem to rely more heavily on action. The value of life did seem to be cheapened in this new postmodern Star Trek reincarnation. The extraneous deaths of Hugh and Bruce Maddox exemplify this point. In Trek of old, violence was always contextualized and usually bore emotional consequences.

The best of TNG always had a philosophical core to it. Top-notch stories (usually from seasons three through six), always contained some thought provoking message about the state of humanity. Many of those stories weren’t action centric. Even DS9, a show that contained more action than its predecessor, took a lot of time to breathe in between battles. In Picard, any philosophical messages are lost in the muddled plot. Sure, you have ideas about fear and xenophobia woven into the narrative here and there, but they are never explored in a thoroughly Trek fashion.

Did Picard serve as a doormat or punching bag for other characters, particularly females? Often, yes. The thoughtful, self-assured inner tranquility that informed the former space explorer of TNG was replaced by equal portions of anger, despair, doubt and guilt. This made it difficult for him to act as an authority figure to a crew who were plagued by their own demons. During his reunion with Riker, Picard says, “They seem to be carrying more baggage than all of you ever did.” In this post Roddenberry future, brokenness and failure are not a starting point for positive change, but a comfortable station for edgie character development.

Even Deanna Troi gets her licks in, scolding Picard for not understanding the depths of Soji’s trauma. It’s as if Chabon and Goldsman are attempting to rectify a female character who was, admittedly, poorly served on TNG.

I didn’t care about any of the new characters; not even Data’s daughter. Each time I watched, I wondered how Worf, Geordi, O’Brian and Ensign Ro might react if they were with Picard. The most glaring absence was Dr. Crusher. She was closest to the captain during the run of TNG and, although his visit to the Rikers was the high-light of the series for me, I found the omission of any mention of Beverly to be flawed.

As for Data, his brief story arc was too abstract for my taste. It seems that they brought his character back…just to kill him again? Hmmm. His final conversation with Picard is emotionally poignant and heralds a brief return to the spirit of classic Trek, but the resolution of the scene is strange and random. Picard ultimately dies as well, succumbing to an incurable brain ailment, but is resurrected in the body of an android. Double hmmm. Neither death was a fitting end for such a grand character.

Sidebar: Some fans speculate that Picard was, “Gay for Data,” because they speak of their love for each other in their final conversation. Nonsense! Picard might very well have spoken the same way to Riker, Worf or any of the rest of his comrades from years ago. I interpreted his sentiment as a deep, platonic love that a friend might have for another. Picard was never emotionally expressive with others and this was his way of voicing his regret for that particular character trait while bringing closure to his grief for Data.

Seven of Nine, on the other hand, appears to be in a relationship with Raffi.

How will the legacy of Star Trek: Picard endure? I have no idea. We’re going to get a season two of the further adventures of cyber Picard and his not-so-marry band of followers. I can’t imagine that any of these newer Trek incarnations will endure in the hearts of the young as Trek did back in its peak years. The show’s bleak tone and cynical sensibilities do not distinguish it from most other science fiction and it fits right in with our modern culture of political turbulence.

I have often been tempted to say that Star Trek has finally outlived its time. But why? Look at the tumultuous events of the mid-1960’s that ushered in the age of the original Star Trek series. Look at the wayward culture of the 1970’s when that previously canceled series mushroomed in popularity through syndication. I can’t believe that there is no place for such wide-eyed optimism today, but I do not believe that Star Trek: Picard is the appropriate vehicle for it.

When season two of this show drops, I won’t waste my time. Instead, I’ll be kicking back with all of the reruns from the first three series from the Star Trek universe. As I watch, I’ll be paying quiet homage to Gene Roddenberry. IN many ways, those who came after him cast him aside, viewing his ideals as obsolete. Yet, now more than ever, perhaps we need him more than we realize.

The Corona Diaries: Week 3

From: Jane Nielsen
Sent: Thu 9/7/2017 3:17 PM
Subject: RTBS Offer Letter

hi Ryan,

Welcome aboard, I am so happy to have you as part of the RTBS team!
Attached is an offer letter for you. I don’t know if a screen reader will catch a handwritten statement, but after typing the letter I added the 3% RTBS match for retirement as one of the benefits.

If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to call me at the office or on my cell after hours or on the weekend.

Also, Paul said for an apartment The Martinique was a good place too. That is where he and Ann lived before moving to Council Bluffs. He said he would be happy to talk to you about it too.

Have a great rest of your vacation and see you in 3 weeks.

Jane

Jane Nielsen, Executive Director
Radio Talking Book Service
7101 Newport Ave., Suite 205
Omaha NE 68152
402.572.3003

Week Three: The Anna Karenina Principle

Monday, March 30, 2020

145 confirmed cases in Nebraska. DCHD confirms a third death due to the Coronavirus. Governor Ricketts extends the statewide social distancing restrictions until April 30. I guess we can all play catch with our Easter eggs. The EPA urges everyone to only flush their toilet paper, not their disinfecting wipes. I read that and start to believe that humanity deserves what it’s getting. Methodist Health System has created a hotline for those in need of mental or emotional support during this crisis. I jot down the number and make a mental note to pass it along to every stay-at-home parent I know.

Jackie is the cheerful lady who’s been working the screening table right outside the back door of our studios. When I first discovered the screening table a week ago, I jokingly said, “The least you guys could do is put out donuts or brownies for us.” She laughs and tells me she’ll get right on that. I’ve been giving her our extra copy of the Omaha World Herald so she can work on the crossword puzzle in her ongoing battle against boredom. Today as I greet her, she tells me to stick out my hand. “I made a chocolate cherry dump cake this weekend and I brought you a piece. It’s not as good as brownies, but I hope you’ll like it.”

I am deeply touched. This lady has no way of knowing that I’m deep in the Keto diet and I’ve just squeezed into a pair of jeans that wouldn’t fit after Christmas. I thank her and promise that I’ll eat the cake for breakfast. Later, I give it to Jane as I choke down agonizing waves of regret.

I feel so bad for Jackie. She’s been mandated to wear a mask since last Thursday and she complains that it fogs up her glasses. But I feel even worse for myself. I really, really want that cake! I actually need it. Earlier that morning, the bus with the new driver pulled up and opened the back door, but I didn’t find it right away. A well-intentioned fellow passenger got off, grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the door.

Any blind person will tell you that they hate being touched or grabbed by strangers, well-meaning or otherwise. It’s not necessary to violate one’s personal space when simple verbal directions would suffice. But now, we have an even more compelling reason to detest random contact. You sure as hell can’t maintain social distancing when you’re feeling up on some blind guy.

The morning goes well. I wait until after I bribe Jane with the cake to ask for early dismissal so I can go to AT&T to get a new phone. She agrees. At two PM, I’m in a Lyft with Rick. He’s not very talkative, so I don’t ask him what he thinks of the Coronavirus.

When I walk in the front door of the AT&T store, I am immediately greeted by a guy named Colton. I’m a little gun-shy at this point, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that he’s white. He’s married with a one-year-old and a newborn. He sounds like he goes home every day for lunch and has a grill cheese sandwich and a cup of tomato soup; very much a white guy’s meal. Colton loves AT&T because they gave him two weeks’ pay while he was benched at home, even though he’s been there less than a year. Maybe I could get word to my Asian buddy at Metro Transit Omaha that he’s in the wrong business.

I anticipate that upgrading from my fried iPhone 7 to the iPhone 11 will be a pain in my slowly shrinking ass, but it’s relatively painless. It doesn’t even hurt my hip pocket; that part will come later. The most arduous part comes when Colton restores my phone. AT&T has lousy Wi-Fi and it takes forever for everything to download.

Then, Colton offers to help me with the face ID authentication. I have to admit that this is the part I’ve been nervous about, so I take him up on his generous offer. But then, he touches my face. Worse… He then touches my neck in an effort to show me how to rotate my head so the camera on my phone can capture my impeccable visage from all angles. I wince inwardly every time he touches me, but I say nothing.

I’m also tense because, although I can’t verify it, I’d swear there are more than 10 people in the store. I see a few people come and go as I sit there for the 45 minutes it takes for my software upgrade to complete and my apps to restore from the cloud. I overhear another sales rep chatting up an older-sounding guy who claims he’s, “just running errands today.” IDIOT!

In my previous entry, I explained why I felt that buying a phone was, in fact, essential travel. I genuinely need it for my livelihood, my safety and my mobility. Yes, I also need it so I can continue to play virtual dice and flirt with Kelly long distance, but that’s beside the point. That said, I wonder if I’m not a hypocrite as I sit there and quietly fume at the other people who are milling about the store.

After my phone is partially restored, Colton shows me how to access the home button, which is no longer a home button. In order to do this, he takes hold of my hand several times. Dude, I think! You got a wife and kids!

… That’s not as dirty as it sounds.

After I leave, I spend the rest of the evening struggling with my new phone. I eventually get the gist of the basics, but Face ID frustrates the hell out of me. Still, I take a chance that it will work if I set it to unlock my phone.

… It doesn’t. It claims I don’t have a face and keeps going to sleep. Damnit! I’m locked out of my phone and, for some reason, my pass code won’t come up. I panic! If I can’t get into my phone, I’ll have to call in sick tomorrow until I can get back to AT&T. I’m as mad as a hornet and, if I stay this way, Colton won’t have to worry about the virus, because I’ll put him in the ICU.

20 minutes later, someone whom I suspect to be Terra rolls me in Dice World. I tap on the icon and my pass code prompt comes up. I unlock the phone and immediately turn off face ID. Thank God! I am whole again!

Tuesday, March 31

177 confirmed cases in Nebraska. CNN host Chris Cuomo (aka Fredo), has tested positive for the virus. At his daily presser, President Trump warns the public that the next couple of weeks are going to be really, really hard. Two cruise ships can’t find a port at which to doc due to infected passengers. Shades of the novel, Pandora’s Clock. The stock market closes out its worst quarter since Black Monday in 1987. Mayor Stothert spanks some retail store managers around town for allowing crowd sizes to exceed the recommended maximum. We haven’t all been grounded and sent to our rooms yet, but it feels like we’re getting close. Coach Scott Frost says we need to take the threat of COVID-19 very seriously. If that doesn’t flatten the curve in the Big Red State, nothing will.

On the KFAB morning show, Gary Sadlemyer and Jim Rose interview Dr. Adi Pour, Director of Douglas County Health. They actually argue with her over whether or not it’s a good idea to encourage social distancing in big-box stores. Jim Rose has always been a pompous ass, but I thought Gary had better sense. Dr. Pour still has an aura of tranquility about her, as if she’s the great calm in the center of a storm that is bound to increase in its ferocity.

Bekah tells me that the entire staff at CHI are now required to wear masks. I hope they all use contact lenses. A staff member saw her in the loo and asked why she was walking around with a naked countenance. If we all wind up under masks, I wonder if they’ll let me make mine look like The Green Hornet.

As I walk home from the bus, I encounter a maintenance man named Happy. His real name is Justin, but he goes by Happy. He is redneck through and through. He once told me that he shoots raccoons in the field in back of his house, then cooks and eats them. I have absolutely no reason to doubt the veracity of his claim. He fits the part too well. I used to bribe him with beer to come fix my screen door whenever it went off the track, but I haven’t seen him in a while.

“We’s just puttin’ some sans up on all the dowers for the buildin’s. I ain’t read’em yit, but I’m sure it’s about that vahrus,” he says.

Later, I receive an Email from my apartment complex with the subject line, “Covid-19.” It says:

“Please view the letter regarding Covid-19 that was left at your door earlier today.

Thank you,

Martinique Management”

This is the first communique I’ve ever received from management that has arrived electronically.

I reply:

“I sure would if I could read it.”

Their reply states:

“HI Ryan. It was left at the door of your apartment. Let me know if you can’t find it.

Lyndsay M”

I reply:

“I’m a blind guy. I’m not able to read it. Can you please Email me an electronic copy?”

My last message was sent at 6:27 PM. No response as of 10:52 PM. I’m off to my lavender bath.

Wednesday, April 1

214 confirmed cases statewide. DHS reports a fifth death attributable to COVID-19 in Nebraska. According to a report submitted to the White House, the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that China lied about the extent of the outbreak in Wuhan when it first occurred. The Grand Canyon is the latest national park to close in an effort to curb the spread. The governor of Florida is the latest to issue a mandatory ‘stay at home’ order for the entire state. Denver’s paratransit service is offering free grocery deliveries to their disabled customers. What a concept. Omaha police make it clear that they will enforce the governor’s directed health measures. They likely put out this statement because of the beautiful, sunny weather we had in Omaha today.

I’m standing at the front door of my building at 7:39 AM. The AIRA Agent says, “Hi, Ryan. Thank you for calling AIRA. My name is Rosina. How may I help you today?”

That is the only complete sentence I ever hear from Rosina. I try to get her to read the printed sign taped to the front door of our building, but she keeps breaking up. It turns out my Wi-Fi is still connected, but the signal is too weak to allow for stable reception. I turn off the Wi-Fi and try to call back, but no one answers. I don’t have time to make a third attempt.

AIRA has definitely made a positive difference in the lives of blind people. They’ve been a big help to me in many ways, particularly when I was faced with my inaccessible thermostat. But don’t let anyone kid you that it takes the place of real accessibility offered on the part of companies, property owners and websites. AIRA is a workaround, nothing more.

At about 11 that morning, I go into Jane’s office. After much soul-searching, it is time to force the issue. I tell her that we really should strongly consider closing down the office for two weeks. I feel like the guy on death row telling his lawyers not to appeal my case any longer, but we’re coming to a point where it feels like the right thing to do for the company and for my coworkers.

Jane agrees with me and calls the chairman of the board of directors. By the time I finish breakfast, she’s talked to him and they agree that it’s time to pull the trigger. Bekah was going to work from home today, but after Jane sends an Email to her and MeMe explaining our new plan, she’s there by one. We all have a conference call and discuss remote measures going forward. We decide that we will wrap up loose ends tomorrow, but as of Friday morning, Radio Talking Book will be closed for at least two weeks.

After I walk out of Jane’s office, my will breaks. I head straight for the fridge and grab the small, square plastic container. I don’t bother looking for a plastic fork, but just shovel Jackie’s chocolate cherry dump cake into my greedy maw with one hand. Thank you, Jane, for not getting around to eating this. Standing there with my fingers coated with crumbs and cherry pie filling, I am the consummate emotional eater.

That afternoon, Katy helps me try to figure out why NVDA won’t cooperate on my Dell computer. Our efforts prove fruitless. I call Michael and he says he is willing to work from home on weekend mornings if it means he can stay on the payroll.

When I catch the afternoon bus to go home, I am in for a shock. For the first time during my two-and-a-half years in Omaha, I have to search for a seat. Social distancing is impossible because there are people sitting directly behind me, in front of me and across the aisle. I am ultra-conscious of one guy a couple rows ahead of me who keeps coughing. I guess people love a free ride.

Someone from Martinique management finally replies to my Email and attached an electronic copy of the mysterious sign per my request. Of course, it was an image scan, so my screen reader couldn’t decipher it. Jane was very obliging. In short, they made it clear that, if anyone is going to forego paying rent, they must submit proof of loss of employment and related income. Jane has assured all of us that we will continue to be paid, but for how long, I wonder?

Very funny, God. April Fool’s! You can knock it off now.

Thursday, April 2

255 positive cases in Nebraska. The death tally climbs to six statewide. 6.6 million new unemployment claims, far higher than expected. Starting tomorrow, Costco will limit the number of shoppers to two members per card per visit. Omaha cops busted a bartender for allowing two customers to share a pitcher. UNL has agreed to make their dorms available as quarantine quarters if needed.

Today is all about doing as much as possible before we close. But first, I decide that it’s time to rub some lotion on the dry skin of my knuckles, which feel more like scales than skin. Copious hand-washing has taken its toll. I rub in the lotion and marvel at the cool, soothing feeling it has upon my hands.

Jane comes in a while later and says, “Hey, you got something white on your shirt and the fly of your jeans.”

“Where?” I ask. She directs my finger along the seam of my fly until I touch a moist drop. Then I take my fingertip away and sniff the moisture. I’m glad MeMe isn’t here right now, because if she were to walk in and witness me fingering my fly and then sniffing it… She might have some serious questions.

“Damnit! It’s lotion. I’ll go clean it off.”

“I’m sorry I had to tell you that,” Jane says. “I know you need to know, but I feel so bad telling you.” I long ago had to explain to Jane that blind people need to be aware when their clothes are stained so they don’t look like jackasses walking around with drops of white stuff on the fly of their jeans, even though it might make for good speculative gossip in the break room throughout the work day.

I run to the bathroom, wet a paper towel, wipe down my crotch, wipe it dry with another towel, feel a momentary flash of guilt for using two towels instead of one during this time of peril, then walk quickly over to Jane’s office.

“Hey, Chief,” I say as I walk in. “How’s my junk look?”

“Your junk looks good,” she says.

“Glad to hear it,” I say.

Enter, Bekah.

“Hey, Bekr,” I say. “When you wanna come back and help me with my computer?”

“I can’t,” she retorts. “I’m gonna be too busy getting’ all up in your junk.”

“You know what… As long as your husband is all good with it, I’m all good,” I say.

And that’s how things stand at 9:45 on the last day of office hours at Radio Talking Book before a semi-mandatory two-week hiatus; a killer virus all around, the economy slowly tanking and no chocolate or coffee to be had anywhere in our office. I guess all of us figure that the sexual harassment policy that was implemented several months ago was only good as long as the volunteers were within earshot.

Bekah does indeed try to help me reinstall NVDA on my computer in hopes that we can get it to update properly, thereby granting me remote access. Unfortunately, the computer is about as slow and sluggish as I was after my 45th birthday party. After an hour of more F-bombs than an episode of Deadwood, she finally gets in installed.

The rest of the afternoon is spent programming as far ahead as possible. Even though both Bekah and I can gain access remotely, I want to have as much done as we can. The mood at work is not somber. In fact, all three of us seem as if we’re in a pretty good mood. Even MeMe sounds a bit more chipper than usual during our daily conference call.

At approximately 4 PM, the following message is posted to our Facebook page:

“As you may know, RTBS ceased in-person volunteering out of an abundance of caution in light of the COVID-19 concerns on March 17. Our staff and volunteers
are working hard to provide uninterrupted programming for our listeners. We have over 50 volunteers reading remotely, providing the vital, local programming
our listeners rely on now more than ever.

RTBS has made the decision to close our office for at least two weeks. Team RTBS is set up for successful remote work and the show will continue to go
on! Today will be our last day in the office. Please contact us at info@rtbs.org if you have any questions! Stay Safe and Be Well!!

gif description: Homer Simpson, in a flowered mumu and white shower cap, sits on his couch, extending a broom across the room to a desk, randomly hitting
computer keys with it while staring the opposite direction.”

I bum a ride home from Jane. She’s ready to go at 5:15. I get my stuff together including that pesky lotion, my favorite thermos that Katy gave me for Christmas two years ago, several cans of Diet Dr. Pepper and lots of hot dogs. Jane almost forgets her raincoat. Bekah calls her husband Bart to come pick her up. I head toward the door… And start to fight back tears.

Why am I fighting back tears? Most people would be crying tears of joy at the prospect of working from home, especially if they don’t have kids. Working all day in a ratty robe and blown-out slippers. Conference calls from the bath tub. The return of the three o’clock siesta. What’s not to love?

I guess I’m going all emo because it’s dawning on me that my coworkers at Radio Talking Book really are like my family. I have a real family, of course, but these guys have worked with me and had my back for the last two-and-a-half years. Sure, they cover my shift when I’m gone and laugh at my boorish jokes, but it’s more than that. Bekah helps me fill out my check every month so I don’t end up sleeping with the raccoons. MeMe tells me about her grandkids, her favorite books and her former work as a librarian. Jane runs me to the store every month so I can get a bus pass. We all talk to each other about our families, our worries, our goals, and even our junk. We attend each other’s birthday parties, support each other in theater projects and provide council when one of our staff mulls over a senatorial bid. Sometimes, we butt heads a little, but we handle it. All of our volunteers are like my extended family. I don’t see them every day, but I’m always delighted when they drop in.

I’m going to miss them. What deepens my sadness is the fact that I truly don’t know if this two weeks will mark the end of our temporary situation. When will I see any of these wonderful people again? What will our lives look like in two weeks?

So here I sit in my living room. The weather alert on my phone is burring at me. “Winter weather advisory tomorrow until 1PM for your current location.” Yesterday, it was 73 and sunny. I guess Mother Nature hasn’t figured out that April Fool’s Day ended 24 hours ago.

At any rate, gentle readers, this diary is about to get a whole lot more dull.

Friday, April 3

285 confirmed cases in Nebraska. Employers cut 701,000 jobs, snapping a 10-year job growth streak that was a bragging point of our current and immediate past presidents. Uncle Sam recommends that Americans wear masks in public, but Trump says he won’t join the latest fashion trend. States are beginning to squabble over medical supplies such as ventilators. Governor Ricketts places the entire state under directed health measures. Omaha Public Schools announces that there will be no graduation ceremonies in May. Kids will have to hold Prom via Zoom. Not sure what those after prom parties will look like.

I wake up a little past 5 AM. Damn, I think. Over an hour to go till… Wait.

At 8 AM, I am jarred out of a restless sleep by the voice of Gary Sadlemyer. “Alexa,” I mumble through a dry mouth, “Set the thermostat to 76.” I get up, wipe away the weird dream I was having from my mind, put on my robe and slippers and head out to make coffee. I hear the sound of wind and sleet pelting my balcony door as the Keurig heats up. Even though I hate the circumstances, I’m glad I can stay home today in my comfortably warm apartment. The spring weather of two days ago is a wistful memory.

I text my coworkers good morning and answer one from Bekah that says, “Weather’s in our Dropbox.” After I start the coffee, I sit down at the computer to access work remotely.

Over 20 minutes later, I finally get Bekah’s weather downloaded from the Dropbox website and locked into the morning playlist. It should have only taken a minute or two.

Let me pause to explain to the uninitiated about digital accessibility for the blind. When a screen reader doesn’t play nicely with a website, whether due to flash, graphics or improperly tagged links or labeled buttons, it is a real pain in the bum for those of us who cannot navigate visually. Add to that the fact that I am using a free screen reading software package in conjunction with a dinosaur of an internet browser (Internet Explorer), and a cumbersome website, and you have a really stress-making experience.

Let me try to draw a broad comparison to better enlighten you. Reflect back to a time when you went into a Runza, ordered a nice meal complete with a milkshake, then sat down. After a few bites of a salty burger and/or crinkly fries, you pick up the shake and suck on the straw. Your tongue and palate eagerly anticipate the feeling of that sweet, cool, creamy, cold flood of empty calories as it bathes your throat and fills your gut.

Only, nothing comes through the straw. You can taste the flavor of the shake (chocolate or vanilla for me) and you might even get a tease on your tongue, but the ice cream is too thick to make it through the tiny aperture afforded by that whale-killing plastic. So, you either return to your deliciously salty Runza and fries, or you go grab a glass of water.

Except, instead of empty calories, we’re talking about information. It may be as important as an update on the COVID-19 virus in your area, or as frivolous as SugarDaddy.com, but either way, it is information that we as blind people do not have equal access to. And there’s no cup of water for temporary relief. Our relief only comes if a company decides to play nice, or if a person or organization files a lawsuit, or if the government decides to step in and get tough. Any of those options can take years.

Note: If you live outside of Nebraska, just substitute Burger King or Arby’s for Runza in your mind.

That is why I called a Lyft and got dressed. There were no Lyft rides available, but Chuck, an Uber driver, is there in 10 minutes. Chuck is a friendly guy who knows about Radio Talking Book. Apparently, he used to volunteer there long before my time.

I make it to the building with 10 minutes to spare. I download Ralph’s file, plug it in the playlist and make a mad dash to the bathroom. God, getting old sucks!

I spend six hours at the office. I discover that Firefox plays much nicer with the Dropbox website and NVDA than does Internet Explorer. I call two of our favorite listeners and check in on them. They both have a friend from church who brings them weekly grocery deliveries. They pay us the ultimate compliment when they say, “You guys are still sounding good. We’d never know the difference if you hadn’t told us that people are reading from home.” I also call two volunteers who are not able to read remotely and let them know that they are missed and that they will have a place with us when things go back to normal. I rattle around the office like a lonely specter. There is no life blood there without MeMe, Bekr and The Chief.

At four o’clock, I head out to the bus stop and grab my usual ride home. The driver is a guy who used to drive me in the mornings when I first moved to Omaha.

“Where were you yesterday, man? I waited for ya for a couple of minutes but you never showed.”

I apologize profusely, explaining to him that he probably won’t be seeing me for at least two weeks because we are shut down.

I get off at Walgreen’s and pick up a couple of items so I won’t have to brave the Hy-Vee jungle tomorrow; Diet A&W, Blue Diamond almonds and hot sauce. The clerk is a coquettish girl who calls me “honey,” a lot and brushes my hand when she hands me back my debit card. Somehow, it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as when Colton did it.

When I get home, a care package from Mom and Dad is in front of my door. In it are a bunch of my old cassette tapes with old-time radio shows, a canister of Clorox Wipes, two rolls of toilet paper, a box of Caribou Coffee K-Cups and a box of Munchies Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers. Too bad I can’t take them to work to share with everyone.

For the third week in a row, I offer my Doordash delivery driver a ‘no contact’ option and for the third time, she declines.

Browsing Facebook, I see a post from an acquaintance who is currently compelled to home school her kid. It says, “Not even 2 PM yet and I’m already considering a drink.”

Puts it all in perspective.

Saturday, Apr 4

Once again, I try to unplug from the news. Michael’s first morning working from home goes well. Both volunteers get their files in on time. Jane and MeMe both read segments for our Catholic program, which is three weeks out of date.

One of the items enclosed in the care package from my folks is an old braille thank-you letter I sent to my grandparents after Christmas. Mom always drilled the importance of thank-you letters into us when we were kids. Read this 34-year-old text and see if you can envision the figure of my mother hovering over my shoulder as I write:

“January 5 1986

Dear Grandma and Grandpa,

Thank-you for Preceptor and Ramjet. I always wanted Preceptor and I have a use for my Ramjet I liked the Red, White and Blue shirt. I wear it all the time.
Skiing was fun and thank-you for paying for our Condow. I liked skiing also. Tell Christopher that I hope to see him and his Mom and Dad again soon. My favorite part of skiing was skiing.
I can’t think of any else to say. See you soon.

Love,
Ryan”

Friends, with raw ability like that, is it any wonder that I was a member of the Talented and Gifted program for two years?

Notes: Preceptor (Perceptor) and Ramjet were Transformers, the hottest commodity for pre-pubescents of the mid-1980’s. Cousin Chris and I played with them a lot when we were on said skiing vacation at Copper Mountain, Colorado. I’m sure it would have broken Grandma and Grandpa’s hearts to know that I really didn’t care about any clothing in comparison. I would always braille out the letters, then read them to Mom so she could transcribe them. None of my family members ever learned how to read or write braille, which never seemed unusual to me.

Sunday, April 5

Aside from one hiccup with Dropbox, all goes well with Michael. I hold another afternoon virtual Farkle game, which has triple the number of players over last week’s. Even Mike from Lincoln was there. Who knew he had the time? The weather is warming up again, which allows me to enjoy my weekly cigar on the balcony. Bekah stops by and brings me a bag of apples, along with a surprise dinner from Runza. God bless her and Bart. Katy and I watch another episode of Better Call Saul via Facetime. Saul says he is a god in human clothing. Sure, but can he swipe away a virus? John de Lancie was able to cause two airplanes to collide over Albuquerque and then survive to torment Captain Picard 300 years later, so I think he has the better claim. Sundays do indeed appear to be a day of rest.

The all-day down time makes me think about Mags. I’m missing her acutely today. I remember how I felt during the last week of her life, just three months ago. I remember lying next to her at the back of my large bedroom closet as she lay curled in her kitty bed. Her breathing was shallow. She refused to take food or water. At first, she would purr softly when I would stroke her fur, but eventually, she just lay there with her face to the back wall. She wouldn’t even raise her head when I talked to her.

My friend Dana once said, “Cats know things.”

The Friday before she died, I became angry with her when I woke up to discover that she had yet again peed outside of her litterbox. As I went to work, I thought, Goddamn you, Mags! I’m getting sick of this. I’m busting my ass to take care of you and you’re rewarding me by pissing outside of your box. I’m fed up!

The flair-up lasted until I got to work. It was quickly replaced by guilt for feeling anger in the first place. That afternoon, I bought her a second litterbox, wondering if she just needed a change of scenery. It still sits on the top shelf of the hall closet. I never did get around to taking it back to PetSmart within the two-month return period.

Dana used another expression that now comes to mind. “Caregiver burn-out.” Is that what drove my momentary frustration that Friday morning? I always knew Mags was going to leave me sooner than later. Her kidney disease was progressing and the two years of regular trips to and from the vet for shots and examinations had taken their toll on both of us. But why did she have to pee outside of her litterbox? Was she mad, or in pain, or getting back at me for something? And why was I getting angry? Was I growing weary of a daily struggle that was destined to prove futile?

Friday night, I sat in my hot bath, Mags resting in her customary place beside me on a folded towel. I stroked her gently, so happy that she was there. “I’m sorry for getting mad, baby,” I whispered softly.

Saturday morning, I awoke to find her at the back of the closet. That is where we spent our final four days together.

Is Dana right? Do cats know things? Did Mags sense my irrational anger that morning? I always thought that my decision to put her to sleep was the ultimate act of mercy. Did she know what was coming? Was Mags actually showing mercy to me? Do cats really know things?

If Mags did perform an act of self-sacrifice, it was hollow. I still wake up every morning with her kitty bed next to my arm, wishing it was her. I would give anything to hear her soft purr, her mournful “Meow,” or the jingling of her collar as she jumped on the bed. I am very much looking forward to seeing her again after I leave this world. I hope she knows now how much I deeply love her.

Every cat is a control freak. Like humans, they need to dominate their space and their interactions with humans and other animals as much as they can. For me, watching Mags die that early morning in the back room of the vet’s office wasn’t the hardest part. The hardest part were the four days prior to her passing, as I kept a tearful vigil beside her bed, knowing that the end was near, but not quite knowing when. Droplets of hope kept evaporating in the gale of her growing suffering.

For those of us who are in desperate need of control, the prelude of the ticking clock is the ultimate agony.

My apartment is silent now, filled only by the ghost of a cat who once lived and filled my heart with love. A cherry wood box with her name printed on top is all that remains of my beloved girl. Mags is gone. Now, I only hear distant thunder.

… And it’s getting louder.

Mags Marie Osentowski

Born: ?
Came to live with me: Saturday, May 28, 2016
Passed away: December 18, 2019

She wasn’t my pet. She was my family.

337,620 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States. 9,643 dead.