You said you wanted peaceful protest

After the Jacob Blake shooting in Wisconsin, and the resulting chaos and gun-toting teenage vigilantes (2020, ladies and gentlemen) we may not have a conclusion to the NBA season:

The Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers, led by superstar LeBron James, reportedly voted to boycott the rest of the NBA playoffs.

According to Shams Charania, lead NBA writer for The Athletic, James walked out of a hastily-called players meeting when other team representatives said they would not join.

However, Mr. Charania reported, other players realize that even if just those two teams boycott the season, enormous problems would be created in finishing the playoffs.

“Sources: Miami’s Udonis Haslem spoke and essentially told everyone in room that — without Lakers and Clippers, how will season continue? LeBron James walked out. Rest of Lakers and Clippers exited behind him,” Mr. Charania wrote.

The Lakers and Clippers were the two best teams in the Western Conference during the regular season and were poised to win their first-round series in the next day or two.

In theory the NBA season could continue without the Los Angeles teams, but I don’t see how it actually goes ahead without the Lakers and the league’s marquee player, Alex Caruso LeBron James.

Will this players’ strike (not a “boycott,” as the media insists on calling it) actually bring about changes to American policing and racial inequality? I don’t know. But if you’ve been saying you want peaceful protest instead of rioting and looting you should be all in favor of this non-violent action. Right?

Right?

And, yes, the elephant in the room when the NBA deals with social justice issues is China. Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, was slapped down by his bosses and colleagues – including LeBron James – for his own non-violent stand in support of human rights in that country. When pressed about the NBA’s relationship with Communist China, basketball executives deflect like Republicans confronted about the proliferation of guns.

But China’s crimes against humanity don’t make America’s problems with race and policing any less serious, and doesn’t make this players’ protest any less legitimate. And who knows? Young Chinese NBA fans may notice that games aren’t being played anymore, and the reason for this, and ask themselves why Americans can so publicly protest their country while they are not allowed.

(That’s the best-case scenario. Because everything in 2020 is terrible, I can easily foresee a worst-case scenario in which Chinese sponsors and broadcasters demand an immediate end to the players’ strike because it’s hurting their bottom line.)

UPDATE: from today’s Washington Post. I don’t think so…

The mask has been torn off

We all knew he’d float something like this eventually, but it’s still shocking to see a sitting President of the United States come out and say it:

U.S. President Donald Trump took to Twitter Thursday morning and called for the 2020 presidential election to be delayed due to mail-in voting.

Trump has been attacking mail-in voting for months as health and government officials are trying to make it easier and safer to vote during the coronavirus pandemic.

Health officials have said voting by mail can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but Trump has made clear he believes widespread mail-in voting would benefit Democrats in November’s election.

“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???” he tweeted.

Can he do this? Legally, he cannot:

The U.S. president does not have the power to change the date of the election. The day of the federal election is set by U.S. Congress and the Constitution makes no provisions for a delay to the presidential inauguration, which takes place on Jan. 20, 2021.

The 20th Amendment says that “the terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January.”

According to NBC News, a change in the election date means a change in the federal law and it would need to go through Democrats-controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-controlled Senate.

The key word is “legally.” I have no doubt any attempt to delay the election, at the national or the state level, would eventually be overturned by the courts. Even Trump’s own Supreme Court appointees have proven they won’t blindly do whatever he wants.

But Trump has spent the past four years insisting the 2016 election, which he won, was somehow marred by fraud because Hillary Clinton got more of the popular vote. (An election you can win without a plurality of the votes? What kind of banana republic is that?) He is gearing up to declare an increasingly likely 2020 defeat illegitimate, and everyone knows it.

Unlike in Canada, where a federal agency governs federal elections, American Presidential elections are administered at the state level. I can easily imagine a nightmare situation where Republican-controlled governments in crucial swing states (coughFloridacough) try to delay the election and throw the outcome into chaos. Even if the courts slap them down, that still gives them enough time to sow doubts about whether a Biden victory is legitimate. And Team Trump will run with that for years to come.

Before 2020, we could say the Trump years have been awful in many ways, but the most pessimistic predictions have not come true. In this blighted year, the worst-case scenarios about this man testing a 224-year-old democracy look increasingly plausible. Whatever concerns I might have about Trump’s opponents – not so much Biden himself, but the increasingly vocal far-left fringe of the Democratic Party – are mere annoyances by comparison.

The defining sentence of the Trump era

From this Mediaite article about Trump’s latest conspiracy-addled tweetstorm:

The reckless and irresponsible posts by Trump come exactly one week after the president tweeted a photo of himself wearing a mask and the press hailed him as having adopted a new, more serious tone about handling the outbreak that has claimed nearly 150,000 American lives since February.

Even Charlie Brown occasionally expressed some skepticism about Lucy promising not to pull away the football.

Masks, now more than ever

As we gawk at the absolutely shambolic response to COVID-19 south of the border, we Canadians smugly assume it’s largely because the Americans are locked in a culture war over wearing masks while – aside from a few yahoos – we wear them with pride.

Yeah, about that

Canadians are more likely than Americans to praise their government’s handling of COVID-19 and keep their hands to themselves in public, but less likely to wear masks when out of the house, according to recent polling data.

[…]

Nearly three in five Canadians – 58 per cent – reported as of June 11 that they were regularly wearing face masks when out in public.

This was one of the lower rates of face-mask usage, as only six of the 25 other countries surveyed reported less take-up of the masks: the United Kingdom (31 per cent), Australia (21 per cent) and the four surveyed Scandinavian nations, with Denmark at the very bottom at three per cent.

Even Americans reported being more likely to wear masks in public than Canadians. Since June 11, the American mask-wearing rate has risen from slightly above two-thirds to 71 per cent.

Americans who believe masks contain secret 5G antennae get all the media attention, but overall, our Yankee cousins have adopted mask-wearing at least as well as we have.

(An aside: can you imagine how awesome it would be if your mask really did have a 5G antenna? Cell phone reception would be great!)

So why is coronavirus spreading so quickly in the United States while Canada has kept its numbers low? Likely because Americans didn’t really take to masks until after it was too late. Texas made masks mandatory in early July, but by then its COVID-19 numbers were already skyrocketing.

Here in Halifax, most of the people I see in stores and on the bus or ferry aren’t wearing masks. (Halifax Transit is making them mandatory starting this Friday.) Even at Costco, where they’re handing out masks at the door, most shoppers don’t seem to be wearing them.

Our numbers have remained very low in recent weeks, but there are signs that COVID-19 is coming back in other provinces, especially Quebec and Alberta. It seems like only a matter of time before it re-emerges in Nova Scotia, and if people wait until then to mask up, it’s already too late.

Will COVID-19 get as bad here as it did in the United States? It’s unlikely – a universal health care system, less political polarization and a more sparsely distributed population should spare us that fate. But it doesn’t have to get as bad as it is in America to still be really, really bad.

Missing the point on purpose

More evidence, as if any were needed, that Donald Trump has given up trying to expand his appeal and has gone all-in on white grievance politics:

Here’s the thing: for once he’s not completely wrong. In the United States, on average, more officer-involved shootings take the lives of white people than African-Americans.

But there are also far more white Americans than black Americans, and the raw numbers show that more white lives than black lives are taken by police, African-Americans disproportionately bear the brunt of the problem. And that’s why people are protesting.

Trump either knows this and doesn’t care, or he legitimately doesn’t understand the math. I leave it to you to decide which would be more depressing.

In the meantime, an infuriating case from Alabama illustrates, once again, that police shootings are not the only problem:

The Alabama Cannabis Industry Association on Monday released a statement critical of the decision by an Alabama court to imprison an Arizona man for five years after his probation for a 2016 marijuana arrest was revoked in April.

Sean Worsley was an Iraq War vet who legally uses marijuana for post-traumatic stress disorder, and for back and shoulder pain stemming from being wounded in an IED attack in Iraq.

He and his wife were arrested in Gordo, in Pickens County, in August 2016 after a police officer found the marijuana while questioning the Worsleys about the volume of their music when they stopped to get gas.

That Worsley had a valid medical cannabis card in Arizona — one of 33 states where that is legal — was no defense for the authorities in Pickens County. Worsley missed a court date in Pickens County after the VA rejected his application for a substance abuse program, so Pickens County issued a fugitive arrest warrant.

When Arizona arrested Worsley for letting his medical cannabis card expire, he was extradited back to Alabama. He is currently detained in Pickens County awaiting a spot to become available in an Alabama Department of Corrections facility.

Worsley could spend the next 60 months as a guest of Alabama taxpayers.

Police shootings and tactics get most of the attention, but ending drug prohibition is probably the best thing American lawmakers could do to show that Black Lives – and, indeed, “All Lives” – matter.

The Chairman of Alabama’s Senate Judiciary Committee (who, to his credit, appears to be a criminal justice reformer) has spoken out against the prosecution, and Worsley’s family has started a GoFundMe campaign to appeal the decision. Everyone with a “support the troops” bumper sticker or T-shirt should donate.

If it’s close in Texas…

The FiveThirtyEight polling average for the Lone Star State has Joe Biden ahead of Donald Trump by the slightest of margins – literally, one-tenth of a percentage point – and one new survey gives Biden an even bigger lead:

Former Vice President Joe Biden has built a five-point lead over President Donald Trump in Texas as unease over Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic mounts, a new Dallas Morning News/University of Texas at Tyler poll has found.

Biden had 46% support to Trump’s 41%. If the general election were held today, the outcome could depend on the 14% of voters who were undecided or named someone else.

Biden’s lead, which comes after he and Trump were tied 43%-43% in The News and UT-Tyler’s April survey, is significant, if barely: The poll, conducted June 29 through July 7, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.24 percentage points.

The story behind Biden’s slight bulge is the softening of the Republican incumbent’s support among independents and “weak partisans,” said Kenneth Bryant Jr., a UT-Tyler political scientist who helped design the poll.

“While President Trump has and still enjoys near universal approval from Republicans, and overwhelming disfavor from Democrats, he has lost considerable ground among the folks in the middle, who may ultimately decide who wins Texas in November,” Bryant said.

For years, Democrats have been counting on demographic change to flip this deeply red state, so these results must be absolutely mouth-watering. But is Joe Biden really going to beat Donald Trump in Texas this fall?

Meh, probably not. Every year seems to be the year Texas votes Democratic, but it never happens. (Remember Beto O’Rourke? No? He was a big deal once, I swear.)

The thing is, Biden doesn’t need Texas to win the election. He just needs it to be close. Donald Trump, by contrast, cannot win re-election without holding Texas.

Trump’s fluke win – and for all the talk about what it means about the American character, I still say it was very much a fluke – came about because he pulled out razor-thin victories in Rust Belt states Hillary Clinton thought she had in the bag, like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Trump needs to win them again, and the polling is looking extremely bad for him in 2020.

The point is, Trump needs to throw everything he has at these states. But if he has divert desperately resources to Texas – not to mention other traditionally red states like Georgia and Arizona, where Biden is competitive – that hurts him in the swing states. It’s the political equivalent of Hitler sending troops to bail out Mussolini in he Balkans while he was planning his invasion of the USSR, and we know how that turned out.

(To be fair, Biden could make the same miscalculation and divert his scarce resources to states he’s unlikely to win, but my hope is that he learned from Clinton’s mistakes in 2016.)

As long as Biden keeps the pressure on in Texas, it throws the Trump campaign into further turmoil. And it could be a moot point anyway, with Trump also needing the state hardest hit by COVID-19 to win.

Meanwhile, he’s retweeting game show hosts who insist that the virus is a big hoax. That ought to play well in the Sunshine State. (“The virus that killed your grandparents is a scam. I’m Donald Trump and I approved this message.”)

Don’t panic about American travelers

A new poll says a staggering 81% of Canadians want to keep the Canada-US border closure renewed at the end of the month.

I can’t imagine why.

This chart should be used in every Joe Biden campaign ad.

We Canadians have flattened the COVID-19 curve, while infections south of the border are skyrocketing. This CNN report explains some of the reasons why:

Until the Americans get their act together, I agree wholeheartedly that the border should remain restricted to entry. That said, I’m detecting a hint of moral panic in the air about Americans who have entered the country.

On social media I’m seeing people call for locking down the border entirely, reporting American licence plates to the police, and many, many variations on an apocryphal story about American tourists visiting a restaurant and gloating to their waitress about how easy it was to lie their way across the border. Some drivers with American (or even out-of-province) licence plates are being harassed.

To be sure, here in Atlantic Canada, a small resurgence of cases have been linked to an American visitor who didn’t self-isolate. Some travelers from Minnesota to Ontario have been charged for not following quarantine rules. Needless to say, anyone coming here who doesn’t follow our rules should be punished for it.

But if there’s a massive surge of Americans coming here and blatantly flouting our rules, it isn’t yet reflected in our case numbers. Maybe next week will be different and we’ll start seeing COVID-19 cases in Canada take off, but so far it looks like most Americans coming here have been following the rules. Or, there just aren’t nearly as many coming here as social media would have you believe.

Part of the reason cases have exploded in Florida is because of complacency. The virus initially didn’t hit the state as hard as people expected, so Floridians let their guard down. (See this blog post, which aged like fine milk. If our cases do skyrocket in the coming months, and the outbreak is linked to Americans, we’ll know for sure that the Damian Penny curse is very real.)

I’m concerned that the same thing is happening here in Nova Scotia. Whenever I go out to stores or the gym, hardly anyone is wearing a mask. If you’re really worried about a new outbreak, covering your face is much more effective than looking for foreign licence plates.

The panic over “COVID parties”

Look, it’s possible that teenagers are having parties where they try to give each other COVID-19 and then bet money on who contracts it first. My kid has shown me what teenagers do on TikTok, so all bets are off.

“China imposes security law on Hong Kong, Page A13”

Wired magazine is extremely skeptical that this is actually happening – and points out that, ironically, stories like this get the Trump Administration and State governments off the hook for their disastrous mishandling of the pandemic:

This is not the first reporting on the spread of Covid parties, which are, in fact, neither happening nor spreading. Back in March, Kentucky governor Andy Beshear announced during a daily public-health update that one case in the state had been tied to a “coronavirus party.” “We ought to be much better than that,” he said. “We should forgive that person, but no more of these—anywhere, statewide, ever, for any reason.” His one-sentence anecdote, presented without any further detail, was dutifully passed along as news by CNNNPRThe Washington Post, and other outlets.

Then in April, The New York Times ran an op-ed from epidemiologist Greta Bauer, offering “seven reasons your ‘coronavirus party’ is a bad idea.” She’d heard “rumblings” that these events were going on, the piece explains, because some people think they would be better off with antibodies.

Rumblings had developed into rumors by the start of May, when a public health official in Walla Walla, Washington, claimed to have discovered, via careful contact tracing, that at least two patients had indeed attended “Covid parties” so as to “get it over with.” The local police chief told reporters that he wouldn’t rule out criminal charges for any other such events, but assured them that “we’re not going to overreact.” Two days later, the same public health official admitted she’d been wrong: “We have discovered that there were not intentional Covid parties,” she said. “Just innocent endeavors.”

The latest version of the tale, from Alabama, follows the same pattern as the others. It appears to be the product of a weird game of telephone mixed with loose talk from public officials and disgracefully sloppy journalism. On Tuesday, Tuscaloosa fire chief Randy Smith told the city council that his department had heard about parties “where students or kids would come in with known positives.” It sounded like just a rumor, Smith said, but “not only did the doctors’ offices help confirm it, but the state also confirmed they had the same information.”

You’ll notice immediately that Smith didn’t say anything about people trying to get sick, let alone betting on who could do it first. So why is everyone saying that’s what happened? The notion seems to have originated with McKinstry, who shared it with ABC News after the meeting. It’s not clear whether McKinstry had a source for this idea, and she did not reply to WIRED’s request for comment. The Alabama Department of Health responded with a statement that it “has not been able to verify such parties have taken place.” It’s not even clear that the fire chief had it right about kids going to parties while knowing they were sick. (The Tuscaloosa Fire Department did not reply to a request for comment, either.) But that didn’t stop the dogpile of national media outlets repeating and amplifying the Covid betting-pot story as if it were fact.

The University of Alabama has investigated and found no evidence that “COVID parties are happening. Neither has the state Department of Public Health, according to Birmingham’s WBRC television.

But the toothpaste is out of the tube now. Next, news outlets may get their teenager moral panics mixed up and start reporting that the COVID partiers are also performing Satanic rituals and listening to back-masked messages on Judas Priest albums telling them to commit suicide.

Who needs Facebook and Twitter to spread viral misinformation when “mainstream” media outlets are doing the same thing?

“Unsolved Mysteries” in name only

The best thing about the reboot of Unsolved Mysteries, which debuted on Netflix yesterday, is the updated version of the iconic theme song. As the title appears on the screen, you can even see a shadowy outline of the late, great Robert Stack, who hosted the original program for several seasons on NBC.

After that, it’s basically just another crime documentary. A well-made crime documentary, but it’s just not the same as the series that captivated us during the eighties. Admittedly it’s hard to imagine a suitable replacement for Stack, but a host and narrator would make the stories move faster. (Dennis Farina, who hosted a short-lived revival, is sadly also no longer with us.)

The biggest problem is that each episode deals with only one case at a time. The disappearance and questionable “suicide” of Baltimore resident Rey Rivera, covered in episode one, is undeniably interesting. (Try watching it and tell me you don’t think his best friend/business partner has something to hide.)

But the original series treated us to three or four cases – usually an unsolved murder, a disappearance, and for dessert, an “unexplained” segment about UFOs or hauntings – per hour. If one story didn’t grab you, at least there was a good chance something more interesting was on its way. Considering how TV has ruined our attention spans just like it ruined our ability to…um, uh, oh well, it’s a bit surprising they didn’t stick to the old formula, with more mysteries packed into the show’s running time.

This IndieWire review gets it pretty much exactly right:

…This new version of “Unsolved Mysteries” certainly tries to pay tribute to the original series, starting with a shadow of Stack accompanying the opening credits. But there’s something off about this one, akin to when you go to visit your favorite restaurant now under new management. The food and decor is the same, but the fundamental reason for its existence — the memories — have been washed away.

The 12-episode series has each 45-50 minute episode focus on one individual mystery. Almost immediately, this is frustrating because numerous shows, like “Forensic Files” and this new series’ closest competitor, “Dateline,” already do this. This isn’t to say the stories aren’t interesting; they are just as compelling as the original series, particularly the story of missing man/alleged murderer Xavier DuPont de Ligonnes or the disappearance of Liehnia Chapin. But of the six episodes provided for review, all but one focus on a missing or murdered person, the lone hold-out being an examination of a series of UFO sightings in the Berkshires in 1969. This can easily cause burnout to set in, with what feels like the same story being told in slightly different ways.

What made “Unsolved” so unique from “America’s Most Wanted” or “Dateline” was that everything unexplained was up for grabs. Elongating episodes only works if there is a story worth fitting into nearly an hour, and of course murder and missing persons cases often can. But it will be hard to see the series tackle something like lost loves to fit in an hour. Conversely, some cases suffer from filler, with the camera capturing moody shots of centipedes walking through a wooded floor or, in the pilot episode focused on the death of Rey Rivera, taking two minutes to detail the unrelated significance of the location he died in. There’s a greater sense of tightness and cohesion — as well as being able to pack in more stories — with a shorter runtime.

The lack of a host also leads to a feeling of repetition. Stack and Farina’s narration not only kept things moving, but were able to fill in blanks that didn’t need to be prodded from the subjects. Here, the emphasis is on having the family members lay out the story in its entirety, and what isn’t verbally explicated is presented in on-screen timelines. This become laughable at times because a subject will say a person has been missing X amount of days, only for the timeline to spell out that same number of days. (The use of a host also negates the need for excess graphics that aren’t accessible to blind viewers.)

I’m still glad they brought it back, and I will certainly check out all six episodes. But if there’s a season two, here’s hoping the producers (including Stranger Things‘ Shawn Levy) hear out fans of the original to go back to what worked so well.