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Daily new cases as of 3-20-2020

Changes

For the first two months of 2020, I was burning the candle at both ends, and then cutting the candle in half and burning both of those ends. I use this very specific, vivid, and slightly awkward yet humorous metaphor to describe my time engaging in an intense and focused job search while also working full time—and trying to find time to help plan a move for me, Dawn, the cats, and our stuff from San Francisco to Wisconsin.

And that effort paid off. On March 3rd, I got the call I wanted: a job offer from my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Starting April 22nd, I will be a Strategic Communications Specialist within UW-Madison’s office of University Communications. Dawn and I had been planning to move to Madison in April whether or not I got a job, but this makes it far more possible—especially now.

Because, of course, the context today, March 20th, is worlds away from the context of March 3rd and pretty much each of the individual days since. We’ve seen huge increases in COVID-19 infections and deaths worldwide, voluntary self-quarantines, the physical closing of non-essential businesses, most of the rest of us working from home (including my future co-workers at the UW), orders to shelter in place at the city and state levels, hospitals running out of supplies and having to make terrible no-win decisions. We live in a new world that is changing by the minute, and we have only vague ideas about our future course—aside from the almost certain fact that millions of people will die from COVID-19.

I don’t even know how to describe witnessing a pandemic unfold in real time. It makes you rethink everything you’ve valued and failed to value. It certainly reinforces my opinions of capitalism and plutocracy. I can’t help but think about, and worry about, our family and our friends, their health, the health of all their loved ones, and the tragic and profound losses we’re seeing worldwide in every facet of life.

My and Dawn’s continued health seems good as we take it slow and easy. I’m grateful (and lucky) that my soon-to-be new job is with a state university and not a more precarious organization. They made the offer, they need me and my skills as much as ever, and the hiring process continues to move forward.

There will be all kinds of unpredictable side effects of this crisis. One somewhat random one: right now, I’m not at all inclined toward comparison shopping. If a mover or an apartment rental company is willing to engage with us now, and the price point is reasonable, I want to give them our business and not waste anyone’s time. They need to make a living and we need to get there. So far they seem to very much want our business and that’s a relief. The possibility of not getting to move when we planned has been one of my immediate worries since this thing started.

I was hired to work to promote the Strategic Partnerships unit (which does federal, state, tribal, community, and business relations). Right now, it sounds like my team is doing crisis communications more than anything else, which I’d be happy to help with. I love jumping in and doing what’s most needed. No matter what, I am excited to work for my alma mater in a role that fits my strengths and in which I’ll be able to actively build meaningful connections between UW-Madison and the larger community.

For her part, Dawn will be leaving the VA and opening up a brand-new private psychotherapy and training practice, and will be available for tele-mental health referrals later on this spring.

In this last year, Dawn and I have been thinking and talking a lot about our lives and the direction we’re going. Losing my mom last February drove home the point that we want to prioritize family more than we have. We have also faced the fact that—even on one federal salary and one non-profit salary—we will simply never be able to have a better place to live in the Bay Area than our one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, under current conditions.

These are the main reasons we’re picking up these roots and moving them to Madison. (Back home to Madison, in my case—after 20 years.) We’d been incredibly excited about a new adventure and a different pace of life. We still are. Now we just have to wait a little longer for some of the things that we were excited about, and that’s okay.

So many of the things that were planned in the old world are going to suffer drastically. One of my good friends just lost his mom this week. The fact that he won’t get to gather with friends and relatives young and old, the way I and my family did last February, seems to me like it would compound the sense of loss. The associated expressions of love and connection and sense of closure (to the extent that it is attainable) will have to be deferred and/or happen some other way. One of Dawn’s former trainees was going to have a wedding this spring. It’s not going to happen the way they planned.

I’m grateful for many things in my life. Now I’m grateful for a whole new set of things I never realized I took for granted. Having a wedding with 80 guests. Having a celebration of life for my mom. Not being sick.

More to come.

Giving it away for free

Hi there. Happy 2020, a year that promises to be filled with a great deal of change. For the better, I fervently hope.

I am back, very nearly a year after losing my mom (see prior post for a very personal avalanche of thoughts and feelings about the person who influenced me more than anyone else in my life).

That isn’t necessarily what I came here to write about, though.

I have mentioned previously on this site that I have cultivated a slightly lazy habit of commenting on articles on newspaper and other websites. I get a brief hit of gratification from responding to news with my own unique and well-thought-out opinion. But, eventually, it scrolls into the ether, and probably no one else goes deep enough into the comment thread to ever read it again, five minutes after I’ve written it. (Except when I go back through the links in my commenter profile to see how many likes I got. Yep, I do that. Another penny dropped in the slot, another tiny dopamine gumball.)

What is the point of giving it away for free like that without building it into something else? Sure, for a moment other people feel like they’re part of a community, or maybe they feel like they have another enemy to despise. But if I were to only expand those thoughts a little bit into reasonably cogent blog entries and tweets, there’d be a lot more content on this site and maybe a few more readers.

Do I care about having readers? In a broad sense, sure. My original audience was 80% my mom and 20% the people I left behind when I abruptly decided to leave Madison in 1999. My new #1 fan (2011 to present) got a bit of a glimpse into who I was by reading the archives of this site and luckily wanted more.

Anyway, here’s what you’ve all been missing.

On liars, debates, elections, and brainless columnists

In response to David Brooks’s pathetic column “Moderate Mitt Returns!” I wrote:

Dear Editor:

David Brooks’s column [“Moderate Mitt Returns,” October 4, 2012] taking Mitt Romney’s debate comments at face value is either dangerously naïve or disgustingly disingenuous. When Romney didn’t think anyone but his rich friends were listening, he showed his true colors. He does not plan to work for the interests of the American people as a whole; therefore, he is unworthy of being elected President. Anyone who lies as obviously, audaciously, and frequently as he does should never be entrusted with that much power and access.

Sincerely,

Jason L. Gohlke

For the Times’s sake, I’m really hoping I just didn’t get the joke and the whole thing was one big winking joke soaked with sarcasm, like a nice moist piece of tiramisu. I don’t think that’s the case here, unfortunately.

As I’ve said here a zillion times, I hate politics. Right now, though, it seemed like a good idea to dash off a note, if only to get it on the record. Mitt Romney is too dangerous, and President Obama is just good enough, that I am horrified at the prospect of Mitt Romney actually winning.

That said, I had absolutely no fear that Romney could actually win this thing — after all, John Kerry lost because he got tagged as a flip-flopper, and Romney is 100 times worse, and a bunch of other reasons — until reading David Brooks’s steaming pile of electrons.

Established news organizations are so desperate for eyeballs that they (a) will do anything to keep the horserace close, since that keeps them relevant and (b) sensationalize as much as possible to get as much attention as possible. There’s also the big problem of liars being given the benefit of the doubt. In the gradual shift of news departments’ focus from investigation to entertainment, truthiness is as good as truth. And I don’t think the majority of the public — and worse, the journalists — can really tell the difference (or care to do so). The irony is that the entertainers (Colbert, Stewart, The Onion) are the ones telling the truth now, through satire and parody.

I don’t really think Romney has much of a chance. I think, or hope, Obama was using a bit of a rope-a-dope strategy (though it’s not exactly clear which candidate was doing so).

To be clear, my fondest political hope (which seems incredibly unrealistic) is for the Republican party to dissolve in internecine conflict after losing this election, for the majority of the “mainstream” Republicans to flood the Democratic party (moving it really not that much farther right than it already is), and then for the progressives to bolt the Democrats and create a viable third party with a kind of progressive/libertarian flavor that captures everyone’s imagination and ultimately gives real power to people fighting the corporations. That might not happen in my lifetime, but it’s a happier prospect than some massive catastrophe that requires us all to learn survival skills and start over*… or a continuation of the slow decline of the middle class that results in something very close to feudalism.

You can see why I kept my letter to the Times short.

________________
* (in my initial draft, I wrote “take over,” which couldn’t possibly be a Freudian slip or anything)

Revealed: Who wrote the book of love?

If you didn’t see this on February 25th, you really missed out:

Hilarious, no? An iPhone, a brilliant girlfriend with a great sense of humor, and a whole lot of serendipity are the needed ingredients.

Also, if you haven’t heard, I am moving to San Francisco in June! Dawn and I found a great apartment together in her existing building and we are incredibly excited about it.

Jason’s “Brainwash” era is no more

Today marks the joyful end of my run of seven years of involvement in the Brainwash Movie Festival.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done to improve, enhance, and run the festival for all of these years.

I started helping Dave out in 2004 with one very simple goal: to add a couple of pieces to my print design portfolio (a flier and a program). Somehow that grew into maintaining and redesigning the website, as another portfolio piece, and a way to help out a friend. Then, a couple judges moved on, so I started helping judge the movies. And every year I did more to promote and run the thing. At that point, a couple years ago, I reasoned that I was so involved that I might as well get some kind of minimal material benefit (a tax break, and it didn’t amount to much, monetarily) from participating in the festival, which led to my having become a partner in the business.

I have to admit that during that act I was ambivalent and had a fair amount of trepidation. I knew that Dave wanted to ultimately develop a fictitious, episodic tv series (now webisode series) about the film festival, and make money by doing so. I wasn’t convinced that I could really help pull it off, nor did I particularly want to. I did help, though, and spent many grueling, frequently middle-of-the-night hours in 2010 working on the series.

It certainly wasn’t all bad. We had meetings, wrote story ideas, figured out which shots we wanted, and spent hours putting some stuff on video. (We also had nights that lasted until dawn, and grueling physical labor, and arguments, and tedium.) What ultimately came out of 2010’s effort was a mostly incomprehensible 23-minute curiosity (of which only 4 or 5 minutes ended up being our own footage — the rest consisted of a couple of the best movies from 2010’s festival). The few that watched it reportedly said that it accurately captured the feel of the drive-in festival. However, apparently none of them understood the underlying plotline, which (of course) was that aliens on a distant planet who survived by consuming stimulating intellectual content intercepted from other planets were literally being bored to death due to a lack of such content — and that Hollywood was aware of this and was keeping the quality of their movies deliberately low in order to (I guess) commit genocide. Therefore, one intrepid alien sent his hench… alien… to earth to harvest independent film content so that their race could survive.

Silly? Yes. Clever? I’d say so. Doable? Absolutely not, 100% no way. Not with the team we have (or, rather, had). But we actually created something, which was something. And now, I move on. No hard feelings — it’s just time for a new chapter in my life. In the meantime, check out Brainwash when it comes around again!

RIP Steve Jobs

Not much to say but that a visionary man is gone, and that I wrote and published this blog entry on my iPhone.

iPads, cash, and the U.S. government

I have absolutely no need for an iPad. Where it would fit between my iPhone and my MacBook Pro is a very small space indeed. However, being an Apple fanboy in general, I just read this article about the iPad’s total domination of the tablet market. One paragraph really stood out.

With its cash reserves — I’m sure you’d seen the reports than indicate Apple has more cash than our own government and now we learn Apple is more valuable than the 32 biggest euro banks combined — Apple could outlast all of them without breaking a ledger page sweat.

Oh. No, I hadn’t seen those reports. Indeed, CNN says:

According to the latest statement from the U.S. Treasury, the government had an operating cash balance Wednesday of $73.8 billion. That’s still a lot of money, but it’s less than what Steve Jobs has lying around.

Tech juggernaut Apple had a whopping $76.2 billion in cash and marketable securities at the end of June, according to its last earnings report. Unlike the U.S. government, which is scrambling to avoid defaulting on its debt, Apple takes in more money than it spends.

“We don’t let the cash burn a hole in the pocket or make stupid acquisitions,” CEO Jobs said last fall. “We’d like to continue to keep our powder dry because we think there are one or more strategic opportunities in the future.”

Offering Uncle Sam a short-term loan is probably not one of them.

Probably not, indeed. But the imaginative CNN writer offered another possibility in the lede: “Maybe the cash-strapped U.S. government should start selling iPads.”

Sorry, that’s all wrong. That would be silly! The reverse is a much better idea: Maybe Apple should take over all the operations of the U.S. government. Apple couldn’t do much worse, could they? I have more faith in Steve Jobs than I do in Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court combined, and my wild guess is that a majority of Americans do, too.

Should I start a petition drive? (No. No, I shouldn’t.)

The art of getting bumped

Neat (via the New York Times):

[A]irlines continue to cut capacity in an effort to keep up with rising fuel prices, leaving fewer seats for passengers…. [T]here are some travelers who see the flight crunch as a lucrative opportunity. Among them is Ben Schlappig. The 20-year-old senior at the University of Florida said he earned “well over $10,000” in flight vouchers in the last three years by strategically booking flights that were likely to be oversold in the hopes of being bumped.

If you subscribe to the credo that there’s “nothing new under the sun,” then this is exactly the kind of pursuit you’d expect from young Americans who possess entrepreneurial spirit. There are many worse ways one could devise to maximize one’s benefit by exploiting some aspect of a system.

It’s refreshing to me to see a reversal in the trend of corporations destroying our society, even such an insignificant one. So, thank you, Mr. Schlappig, for doing the legwork. Perhaps others will gain from your pioneering ways.

You’ve gone and done it this time, Wisconsin Republicans.

Wisconsin Solidarity
Wow, Wisconsin Republicans, very slick. Your crap plan to kill collective bargaining (and a whole lot of other things about Wisconsin government) basically had the votes. But instead of waiting out the Dems who fled the state, you had to go and create a committee that met in violation of state open meeting laws.

Wisconsin state politics has long featured some degree of blatant corruption and/or powermongering (Tommy Thompson, Chuck Chvala, Gary George, etc.), but Governor Scott Walker isn’t anywhere near as savvy as any of those guys were.

Convening the hastily formed committee was clearly an illegal act. What fools they are to choose not to play by the rules and completely give up the moral high ground, especially when everybody knows they had the votes to eventually win anyway. It was an overreach from the start.

From http://www.doj.state.wi.us/dls/OMPR/2010OMCG-PRO/2010_OML_Compliance_Guide.pdf (a guide to open meeting compliance from the WI attorney general in 2010) —

page 10:

The two most basic requirements of the open meetings law are that a governmental body:
(1) give advance public notice of each of its meetings, and
(2) conduct all of its business in open session, unless an exemption to the open session requirement applies.

and page 13:

The provision in Wis. Stat. § 19.84(3) requires that every public notice of a meeting be given at least twenty-four hours in advance of the meeting, unless “for good cause” such notice is “impossible or impractical.” If “good cause” exists, the notice should be given as soon as possible and must be given at least two hours in advance of the meeting. Wis. Stat. § 19.84(3).

No Wisconsin court decisions or Attorney General opinions discuss what constitutes “good cause” to provide less than twenty-four-hour notice of a meeting. This provision, like all other provisions of the open meetings law, must be construed in favor of providing the public with the fullest and most complete information about governmental affairs as is compatible with the conduct of governmental business.

Seriously, think about this for a second. What good cause could there possibly have been to create a committee and have it meet almost immediately? There is none. The Dems have been out of town for days, so the fact was that they just wanted to ram it through — that definitely doesn’t pass the “good cause” smell test (and if you argue that there was a good cause, think carefully about what your biases might be).

Maybe Michael Moore’s speech the other day spooked them.

Frankly, I’m amazed that this is happening in my home state. You know things are bad when even Wisconsinites finally decide enough is enough. To be honest, my (wacky and perhaps unrealistic) dream is that the next big progressive movement arises (again) in Wisconsin.

One guy’s initial thoughts: What conditions precipitate the shooting of Congresspeople?

I started to post this as my status on Facebook, but it was getting long.

I hardly need to say that I’m sad and angry that people are shooting at Congressional representatives and judges and children. I’m certain that our country’s culture of violence and cavalier attitude towards human life has something to do with it. The media, which have conflated news and entertainment, and politicians (and by extension political parties), who are increasingly disconnected from reality, bear much responsibility for where we are today.

I’m not sure how we as a country and as a society are ever going to grow up. I’m not quite naïve enough to believe that violence can ever fully be eradicated, because it’s been with us for all of history. I am still idealistic enough, however, to think that working to stop it is worthwhile. I think that starts with thinking of the people around us not as enemies or competitors, but as our brothers and sisters, people who are in the same struggle to survive and thrive as we are.

It continues by recognizing that the people who set us against one another, who have created this climate, do it because they have something to gain at our expense. (From kumbaya to overly abstract, I know, I know.)

In these times, I can’t help but think of George Washington’s warning against political parties (emphasis mine, of course):

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

“Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

(Relevant portions are excerpted and explained in this only slightly dated column from Harper’s Magazine, and the full text is here).

I have to say that I favor the actions and tenets of one party over another. And I’m not saying they’re equally responsible for what happened yesterday — using obvious violent metaphors in political rhetoric is inexcusable. Both parties have to be part of the solution, though.

And I know there are good people in the media, and in politics (like this guy); I really don’t know what happens to them on the way to the top. Maybe most of the ones that make it to the top are the ones who are willing to do anything to get there.

Regardless, this is a point at which I would like to see our country’s “leaders” take some responsibility, admit their errors, and call for people to be calm. Unfortunately, I expect to be waiting for a while.

The main thing I’d like them to say, and the impression I want this essay to leave, is timeless: Let’s treat those around us the way we want to be treated. Not as enemies.

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