May 2020

Profiles in cowardice

On Saturday, U.S. Senator Ben Sasse delivered the commencement address to Fremont High School’s Class of 2020. (Sasse himself graduated from the school in 1990.) No longer content to be America’s background negging Dad, the senator has launched into a desperate grab for relevance as the world passes him by.

I transcribed the speech just to overcome my disbelief. I won’t waste energy wishing that Sasse could forever be disqualified from public service, but I will marvel at his craven display for a long time. (If you must see it to believe it, the link above contains an embedded video of the entire ceremony; Sasse’s remarks come in the first eight minutes.)

Anyway, the transcript:

“Congratulations, graduates! This is a big moment.

Not on graduating high school, but on making the journey down the stairs from your bedroom to the living room, and putting on something slightly more formal than sweatpants. Your grandparents are proud of you; we’re all proud of you. It took a lot of effort. We want to recognize your sacrifice.

Congratulations, parents, teachers, and coaches! Not that there’s really any meaningful distinction among those categories anymore at this point. If you’re a parent, you’re a teacher. Thanks a lot, China.

We’re all teachers now. And let’s be honest: at the start of this, most parents thought we would be visionary math teachers, changing the world—but after about two weeks, we all just decided to default into gym teachers. I’m kidding; my dad was a gym teacher. I’m serious. He used to teach English and Social Studies but he always aspired to get to gym so he didn’t have to put on formal clothes everyday, and he could wear the same sort of sweats that most of you are wearing from the bottom half down anyway.

But anyway. I know, Dad, gym is important. If you’re watching, Dad—as if he’s watching—uh, my children aren’t at his house, and like all grandparents, there’s no chance he can get Zoom to work without my children there to do it for him.

Graduates, adults don’t tell you this, but once or twice a week in real-world life, someone’s going to ask you to climb a giant rope. No reason, just climb the rope. Sure, every now and then the rope is a metaphor, but most of the time, it’s just a big rope, and you have to climb it.

If you don’t get that joke, talk to your mom and dad. Back in the day when we were a lot fitter than you people are, we used to have to climb ropes all the way to the ceiling of the gym all the time. So, gym teachers: those of you who chose to do it as a calling, and those of you who’ve been forced into it as a calling, I salute you.

So here we are. We’re in your living room. I’m on a laptop, you’re on a couch, because 2020 is a heck of a year. I know I’m not supposed to say this, but you’re not missing out on that much, because honestly nobody—and by “nobody” I mean nobody—remembers anything about their high school graduation. In fact, a lot of us spend a lot of our lives trying to forget as much about high school as we possibly can. You know what I mean; you remember sophomore year. You don’t want those memories to be defining for you.

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Voting in the time of COVID-19

This week our state held its 2020 primary election, complete with in-person voting. Voters were scarce, though—nearly 400,000 mail-in ballots were counted statewide.

I served as a poll worker for the first time since November 2018; this week I was an inspector, overseeing two precinct sites based in the same church. State election officials had refused to postpone the primary or switch to an all-mail format as other states had done. Our county election commission scrambled to develop additional sanitation procedures and to acquire the necessary equipment. Some examples:

  • Wearing masks and gloves for reduced contact with voters
  • Providing masks to voters upon request (most wore their own)
  • Issuing ballpoint pens (non-returnable) for marking ballots
  • Wiping down voting booths and ballot sleeves after each use
  • Maintaining social distancing as much as possible

Voting booths for both precincts were set up in one common area but spaced several feet apart. We never had more than four people voting at once, which greatly simplified crowd management, much to our relief.

Overall voter turnout, including absentee ballots, was around 39%. I suppose we’ll have to wait a couple of weeks to see whether it was a successful test run for managing an election during a pandemic. (Side notes: between Tuesday and Wednesday, there were around 700 new COVID-19 cases statewide. There was a corresponding spike in the number of tests conducted on Wednesday. And for the past two weeks our state has been reopening: barber shops, tattoo parlors, massage therapists, churches, restaurants, salons… all with social distancing guidelines and increased occupancy restrictions.)

All of this to say I have no idea which of these configurations—wide open or tightly controlled—will win out for the November election. I suppose I’ll be there either way.

Test for echo

“But how can I tell,” said the man, “that the past isn’t just a fiction designed to account for the discrepancy between my immediate physical sensation and my state of mind?”

—Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe