Recommentunde: COVID-19 is Cancel Culture ❌ (08 Mar 2020)

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The Recommentunde Newsletter

For the week that began 8 March 2020

An image I saw flying by on my Twitter feed through a filtered list I made to better understand this virus and its impact.

This is what cancel culture looks like.

I’m marveling at how analog, human, and connected the world still is. We very much depend on gatherings, a topic beautifully explored by Priya Parker in The Art of Gathering, and those gatherings are now changing rapidly due to the spread of COVID-19.

I started to feel the effects a few weeks ago, not through a cough or fever, but because my career heavily depends on physical travel and gatherings. Something rattled in my mind when an event in Vegas I was supposed to do got postponed. Another tremor occurred when a gala I regularly host was rescheduled. Then I overheard a group of lawyers say their global partner gathering was canceled altogether, and last week I met a young black man at a conference. That’s not the tremor. Meeting black people is always a joy! The tremor happened when I offered him my newly-customary elbow bump instead of a handshake, but he insisted, “Nah bro, I wanna dap!” And I’m thinking, “DAP EQUALS DEATH!” I hesitated, shook his hand, then held it away from my face like it contained COVID19 in concentrate form until I could wash for 40 seconds. They say 20, but 40 is double!

What’s your Covid-19 handshake and hug substitute? Namaste? Wakanda forever? That Kid N Play dance from House Party??

Those rumbles and tremors I felt are now shaking the world. SXSW was probably a tipping point, as was Italy’s nationwide lockdown, and today, Harvard. In case you missed it, the university announced it’s going entirely virtual for undergraduate classes and asked students not to return after the end of spring break on March 23. Any large gathering that does not cancel or postpone will face a form of shaming that will force the organizers’ hands. “Are you smarter than Harvard?” will be a question one has to answer.

So I find myself thinking less about the epidemiological facts behind this disease and more about the social and economic ripple. This year, 2020, will look like a dip or gap on many charts. When we suddenly reduce the ability of people to physically gather, we short circuit a part of our society. Film festivals, sporting events, graduations, weddings, theatre performances, mass transit all connect to jobs, revenue, information flows, and even joy. Gatherings power culture, and they are being canceled. So, how do we maintain social cohesion in a time of “social distancing?” What happens when people cannot opt out of those gathering places? What if that place is a prison? What if those prisoners are forced to make hand sanitizer they themselves can’t use?

I over-consume information, so I couldn’t really say what “mainstream media” was doing to effectively handle the crisis, but Elizabeth has assured me, they are doing a bad job at prioritizing relevant information, so here are some tools to help.

First, Imade you a Twitter list (no twitter account required to view). It contains a handful of trustworthy voices on the virus and its impact. Because there’s a lot of information out there, some bad and some useless, I think list is one place to start to filter out the noise.

Here’s a review of informational dashboards (thanks to Micah Sifry’s Civicist newsletter). The best ones show infections, deaths, and as important, recovery rates. My favorite is what Singapore uses. Most of us don’t live there, but it’s what a solid government response seems to look like, and I’m jealous.

Most crises reveal the good within us and the bad, the strength and the weakness. From my place in the United States, I am nervous about the political response. I don’t think we have ever been through a crisis like this with such underwhelming leadership. Many assumptions of how “strong” we are will be tested. Like the election. A dark question bouncing through my head is, “Will we even have one?” To an authoritarian demagogue, what better excuse is there to “delay” an election that might end your reign than an epidemic?

On the flip side, with polarization extending deep into our informational realities, could we see wildly different impacts of this virus based on party affiliation? Will the MAGA crowd be more susceptible to infection and harm because they see the virus itself as “fake news.” Any dark momentary satisfaction I get from that retreats when I remember something I wrote above: we are all connected, so their pain is mine too.

That’s a big lesson I’m trying to keep in mind. I may never show symptoms. I may never require hospitalization. But my actions can put others at risk, and if there are steps I can take to improve the health of the public overall, I’ll take them. That’s “civilization” in a nutshell. We look out for each other because we recognize the connection between us makes the distinction between us meaningless. Like the famous line in Glengarry Glen Ross, “A. B. H.: always be hand-washing.”

And now, for your regularly-scheduled content.

Plug Zone!


We are going to be doing a lot more remote everything over the coming weeks and months. Here's a reminder about my Patreon! I've been sharing a lot of project footage the world has never seen. Want to watch the TV shows I made than didn't make it through the gatekeepers? Want to hear the full audio from my conversation with Neal Katyal last week in Brooklyn? Join up at any level. It's fun. It's like a private Netflix or something.

Just a joyful video teaching you how to wash your hands. Thanks Vietnam!

How economic effects of global virus outbreak ripple beyond stock markets and travel

Video on YouTube from PBS

Public media FTW! This is an excellent overview of how this virus and attempts to manage it are hitting all parts of the economy in a way that’s quite different from the financial crisis of 2008/2009.

A vulnerable film industry feels the impact from coronavirus

Article in Quartz

This is a solid deep dive into the effects on one industry and how everything from making a movie to viewing it rely on large groups of people physically collaborating.

The Rich Are Preparing for Coronavirus Differently

Article in the New York Times
Because of course they are. They can literally afford to.

Why the coronavirus outbreak is terrible news for climate change

Article in MIT Technology Review

A bit counterintuitive as I and others have assumed the dip in global emissions could be a silver lining to this. Turns out, not so much.

Coronavirus: How does the Covid-19 outbreak end?

Article in Vox

Epic yet simple read that captures a lot of information in one place. They cover how the mortality rate differs by age group, why slowing the viral spread is so valuable (so we don’t overwhelm health care systems), why containment as a strategy is over, and where we are on the vaccine hunt. Mostly, there is just so much we don’t yet know.

The Best Movies New to Every Major Streaming Platform in March 2020

Article in IndieWire

Because you’ll need something to do in the coming quarantine, Indiewire has you covered with some dope movie recommendations. Also, goodies coming to Netflix!

Incredible deep fake technology that delights rather than terrifies. Also if you're not old enough to understand that these actors aren't in the movie, I don't have anything else to say to you.

Elizabeth Warren: A Populist for the Professional Class

Article in the New York Times

This is one of those post-mortem pieces that tries to cover a lot of ground, and a few things of value jumped out to me “Her best demographic groups? Those with advanced degrees and regular users of Twitter” plus “her campaign’s decision not to rely on a polling firm as a challenge that most likely made it harder to determine how the candidate best connected with voters.”

Joe Biden’s Democratic primary surge: What the media missed

Article in Vox

A good mea culpa article which explains some of the media blindspots and biases that lead to Biden’s surprise resurgence last week. We’ll see what happens today, but the author does a great job filling in his own gaps.

Fox News Audience Agrees with Bernie Sanders

Video on YouTube.

I love what I see in this video. Bernie Sanders somehow turned the Fox News town hall audience into a positive call and response session in support of raising the minimum wage, fighting climate change, implementing Medicare For All, and publicly funding college. He’s a master at framing. Look at this!

Watching ‘Hillary’ in the Wake of Elizabeth Warren’s Exit

Opinion article in the New York Times

Jill Filipovic does a great job articulating the impossible feat we are asking of women: be perfect. She reflects on Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren with clarity. Last week I spoke with someone devastated by Warren’s departure from the race and it occurred to me that Barack Obama may have just been lightning in a bottle. He was close to perfect enough to wind his way through the obstacle course and win. And his lightning strike, rare as it was, still showed that it will strike for a man before a woman.

Lisa Mosconi: How menopause affects the brain | TED Talk

Video on TED

Lisa’s talk (pairing nicely with her book) has this overall message: women’s health is basically all about breasts and tubes. Lisa’s work tries to recenter the notion of women’s health back to brain health — because women’s brains have different capabilities and risks, and require different care. If you’re into geeky neuroscience and women, check this out.

An Exclusive Club of Black Women Is Disrupting Silicon Valley

Article in OneZero

OMG A HAPPY STORY!! This article mentions my former partner-in-crime, Cheryl Contee, so points for that. It is also an affirmative story about the nature of power and what a group of black women have done to claim an advantage oft-bestowed on raggedly underprepared but over-networked white men. Go Visible Figures!

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