Time for another round-up of what’s been piling up in my RSS and newsletter readers over the past day or so while I’ve somewhat lost my ability to focus or function properly.
One thing that I always remind myself is that in a world where most people die, the story of the protagonist is not our story. We’re almost definitely among the masses of people who are swept aside in the wave of whatever comes next, and outside the pages of the books. It’s human nature to look at sweeping historical events, whether past or future, fictional or nonfictional, and imagine ourselves to be the heroic exceptions. But it’s math that we’re generally unexceptional, and at the very least any exceptionality is due more to luck than anything we can control. Any character who survives many close calls probably doesn’t if you put them in those situations again.
At first glance, it might seem like efforts to block potentially life-saving public health screenings and complaints about community character have little in common. But in both cases, the formula is the same: Whether out of an understandable fear of the unknown or a selfish desire to shift the burden elsewhere, local impulses are given veto power over broader social needs. Under normal conditions, the inability to constructively manage this means higher rents. In a public health emergency, it could be lethal.
The Brennen Center, a non-profit dedicated to the democratic process, has created a framework for nationwide voting by mail. First, it would not replace in-person voting. The option for in-person voting would be maintained for people who “do not wish to, do not know how to, do not have access to, or cannot use mail voting.” But by offering vote-by-mail to all Americans, it would make polling places less crowded and safer for those that do show up on election day. The Brennen Center also recommends shifting polling places from senior centers and other locations that serve people at high risk from COVID-19.
The social fabric is being torn in unprecedented ways, owing to school closings, a widespread shift to working from home, social distancing, sheltering in place. Whereas we used to share dozens of experiences a day with friends, acquaintances, and strangers—from riding the subway to working in an office, standing in line at lunch, going to a concert, eating at a restaurant, chatting to an Uber driver—many of us have been reduced to sharing only isolation and the fear of chance encounters, if either of those can be said to be shared.