The Risks of Being First
This is a newsletter not so much about any topic as about trying to find ways to say things online while avoiding Twitter. I’ve been on Twitter for 10 years and it’s had both good and bad moments for me. But I finally came to the conclusion that it’s not a place for any kind of serious or thoughtful content, even though that’s the stuff I’m most eager to post. I enjoy writing 5-10 tweet threads that act as brief but digestible manifestos or a quick 101 on some esoteric topic. I like answering questions and engaging other ideas.
Twitter can be a place for that, but more often it is the land of dunks, where we all go to find some dumb thing someone on the other team has said and just pound it into the ground. I’ve finally lost all my interest in that. I tried for a couple months to redeem the scene, but it’s like trying to use a drill to saw through a board. When your tool is designed to do one thing, trying to use it to do something else is more trouble than it is worth.
I’m going to try to keep this newsletter somewhat focused on one topic per issue, but as it is also something of a replacement for those 4-5 paragraph threads, it may jump around from time to time. My inability to focus on a single topic is a necessary sacrifice that I’m willing for you to make.
One last note before we get into it: I’m on Substack because I’ve enjoyed reading from other writers on Substack. I have a subscription option, it is literally the lowest option they will allow me to have. If you want to subscribe with money, I would be thankful and put the money to good use. But absent a truly remarkable subscriber base, all my posts will be public.
Off we go!
Leadership is Making Hard Decisions. Wait, Maybe Not! That Might Be Wrong. Let Me Get Back To You.
Sometimes I get frustrated that approval patterns for governors in the COVID crisis seems to have an inverse relationship with how badly their states were hit. I theorize that maybe suffering causes people to rally around their leader, no matter how awful he or she is.
In that sense, I’m sympathetic to this sentiment.
Kemp was unfairly maligned by people who had no particular insight into how the COVID crisis was going to impact Georgia as lockdowns lifted. He was blasted as callous and cruel, stupid and evil, all based on a spike in cases that has not come to pass. It’s easy to blame the media for his low approval ratings, which, if approval ratings were a perfect mirror of COVID response, seems terribly unfair.
But sometimes I’m reminded that maybe people have a firmer grasp on what is happening in their own state than I do.
My brother was supposed to get married in a small town outside Atlanta in early June. When this crisis first hit, it seems like we would at least be able to have some kind of ceremony, this surely couldn’t last for more than 3 months. He and his fiance played chicken with the venue, waiting for it to cancel on them before they canceled on it and for a week or two it seemed like everything was still on, especially as Georgia was among the earliest states to open up.
But here we are, in the home stretch before the wedding, and Governor Brian Kemp has issued new guidelines just this Tuesday banning gatherings of more than 10 people. And even in the 24 hours between when I wrote that last sentence and now, the venue has decided that yes they *will* host the event. Chaos reigns.
There is a lot more going on with approval than raw numbers and we can’t jump to the conclusion that we know more about a given state than the people living in it. Kemp’s big problem (at least with my family) has nothing to do with the COVID numbers in Georgia and everything to do with the fact that what is being done, whether opening or closing, feels half-assed and capricious. His method of dealing with this crisis has made it impossible to plan around and it’s hard to see any guiding light in his decision making. The only thing worse than being closed is trying to schedule employees, caterers, perishable foods, rent payments, and deliveries when tomorrow lives in a quantum state of both open and closed and you don’t know which one it is until you get there and look.
This has not so much to do with the media and everything to do with simple poor leadership.
Which brings us to the topic of…
Terminology In A Crisis
Let’s talk about “lockdowns” or “stay-at-home” orders or “stay-at-home” advisories or, to get to the point, what do all these words mean?
Part of Governor Kemp’s problem is that everyone heard “opening up” but everyone had a different idea of what “opening up” means. It doesn’t help that each state seems to be putting together it’s own 5 phase plan for reopening, each phase representing a maze of options (a phase maze, if you will).
I’ve generally been pretty “meh” about the value of a coordinated federal response. Every state is different and I like the idea of states being able to figure out what kind of re-opening works for them. But this is an area where federal guidance would be valuable… and is nearly totally absent.
Yes, there’s a CDC guide to re-opening but it is, quite frankly, terrible. It covers only 6 specific industries. Despite what you might be hearing in the press, Phase 1 of “re-opening” looks like where every state is right now. In Phase 1 of re-opening, schools are closed, child-care is for essential workers only, and restaurants are take-out only. Even Phase 3 of re-opening is so far from “normal” that, for bars and restaurants, it is a largely unrecognizable dining experience.
A really superb federal response would not only set clear recommendations for when to enter the various phases, but would work tirelessly to help people understand what those phases are how we are likely to get to them. A solid federal response would homogenize the terminology and make sure we are all using words the same way so we can understand each other.
We do not have a solid federal response.
The Band Concert
I’ll be closing every newsletter with a pointer to a classic Disney short. I’ve recently become fascinated with Walt Disney and his role as (arguably) the most influential cultural figure of the 20th century. I’m on a mission to watch every classic Disney short I can get my hands on (I have nearly over 350 and I’m about a third of the way through) and I’d like to share some of them. I’m picking stuff that is available on Disney+ just so you can check it out if you so desire.
The Band Concert is the very first color Mickey Mouse cartoon. This was a big deal. Disney had been first to release a synchronized sound cartoon with Steamboat Willie and he had been the first to release a color animated short* with the lavish Silly Symphony Flowers and Trees in 1932, a full 7 years before Wizard of Oz. Silly Symphonies had been making color cartoons for a couple years, but they never kept the same characters and Mickey Mouse was beloved, the shining star of the young company.
Disney chose the “performance” genre for The Band Concert. Having Mickey Mouse perform plays or music was a well worn path (The Orphan’s Benefit, Mickey’s Gala Premiere, Mickey’s Mellerdrammer, Mickey’s Revue, The Barnyard Broadcast, Blue Rhythm… the list goes on and on) but it was a favorite of Disney’s because he loved music and he loved and excuse to run his cartoons to the background of classical music. I think he felt there was a beauty in joining the high-art of classical music with the low-art of slapstick comedy and animation was the perfect venue for that marriage.
What is really fun about The Band Concert is that we get Mickey before Walt Disney sanitized him into a nice guy who never does anything wrong. Here we get a Mickey who fumbles around, breaks Donald’s flute, and gets cross with his orchestra. The visual gags don’t out-stay their welcome, there’s always a new one just around the corner. And the music is just glorious.
* don’t bother me with the argument that Ub Iwerks beat him to color, Iwerks was too eager to be the “first” and settled for the murky two tone Technicolor process while Disney held out for the much richer three tone Technicolor.