The Pandemic Diary: May 26

Like everyone else I am having trouble thinking about anything other than the coronavirus pandemic and the shockwaves it has sent, and will continue to send, through the system. As it began to unfold I found myself thinking, talking, and posting about it fairly constantly. In an effort to try to keep it confined to a given time and place, both physically and psychologically, I am keeping a diary of it all.

Follow this Category for all entries.

 

May 26: In the summer the kids like to drink crappy instant lemonade for some reason. Crystal Light, actually, which isn’t even lemonade, but hey, if they like it they like it. It got hot over the weekend so I bought them a package of it. I made a pitcher of it for them yesterday and they drank almost all of it. Early this afternoon Anna came downstairs and saw it was nearly empty.

Anna: “Make me lemonade.”

Me: “It’s instant lemonade. Nothing could be easier than doing that. Do it yourself. I don’t drink it.”

Anna sighs heavily and then theatrically struggles in the kitchen

Anna: “This is LITERALLY the hardest thing I’ve had to do in weeks.”

A moment or two passes. By now Carlo has come downstairs and is watching her struggle and is mocking her. 

Anna: “How many cups are in two quarts MY GOD THIS IS STUPID!”

Me: “The package says it makes two quarts. The container actually has two quarts written on the side. Cups are irrelevant. But it’s eight if you need to know, honor student.”

Anna: “I DON’T NEED ALL Y’ALL HATING ON ME.”

The thing is: mixing instant lemon, er, drink, probably is the hardest thing she’s had to do in weeks.

Their school did online stuff at a pretty high level — there were lessons and assignments and tests and everything, all of which got deployed pretty seamlessly compared to most places — but it was not the same as regular school. The lack of a daily routine allowed them to set their own schedules but even smart and committed kids like Anna and Carlo aren’t really prepared to be doing that so thoroughly. School is about more than the subject matter. It’s also about learning to simply live and function within a structure. They’re old enough and bright enough that their two-plus months of drifting isn’t going to do much damage, but they’ll definitely need to get back in the swing of regular school this fall, assuming it happens.

 

Which it will, I presume, because no data is going to change the course Ohio has set for itself.

Today Governor Mike DeWine said, “nobody in my position could be comfortable” with the rate of business re-openings that could lead to more coronavirus cases. Except (a) he re-opened all the businesses despite the state achieving none of the statistical benchmarks he said were necessary; and (b) we’re getting more coronavirus cases. He added, “I think you’re going to see more people test positive” as Ohio goes back to work and business. Well, yes.

When asked about people feeling compelled to go back to work despite the rising COVID-19 cases he said, “we’re not twisting people’s arms to go back to work.” Except he is, as Ohio infamously set up a snitch line in the form of a web page where employers can report “employees who quit or refuse work when it is available due to COVID-19,” thus making their employees ineligible for state unemployment. No one is compelling anyone, DeWine says, but you either have a choice of working in a potentially unsafe environment or starving. So, yeah, you’re pretty much compelled.

Finally, DeWine said that mask-wearing “certainly varies in communities.” Before the state was re-opened, he set a goal of 90% mask usage and talked constantly about how it would likely happen because he was so convinced that people would “do the right thing.” Today he said that goal of 90% mask usage was “aspirational.” Meanwhile, the entire Republican caucus of the Ohio Legislature has aggressively campaigned against mask-wearing as a means of cultural warfare to which DeWine has issued no substantive reply.

What explains DeWine’s incoherence?

The about-face the state of Ohio made at the beginning of the month was clearly a function of DeWine wanting to head off the sort of heat the governors of Michigan and Wisconsin got. To head off the growing heat from the Ohio legislature. To avoid Ohio making national news due to armed protests or similar spectacle. He decided that, rather than continue on the course he and Dr. Amy Acton so admirably set in March and April — a course that took the political courage to exercise all powers at their disposal to protect the health of Ohio’s citizens — he would instead pacify of neutralize those who would cause him trouble and manage the retreat from proactivity in ways that allowed him not to look embattled or defeated.

Our president was incapable of understanding what he was dealing with and even if he did understand it a little he didn’t give a shit. A lot of other governors lacked either the appreciation of the threat or, like Trump, weren’t interested in doing much to stop it. Trump and that lot can either be described as stupid or callous or some combination of the two.

DeWine, however, was neither of these. He understood the threat. He showed he cared. He acted on that knowledge and concern for some time. And then he stopped. To this day he says things which stand as admissions that stopping was ill-advised and dangerous.

The only explanation for that sort of behavior is cowardice.

 

Mail call!

I’m wondering how much more the stimulus payments could’ve been if the government didn’t have to print and send out a couple hundred million of these taxpayer-funded campaign flyers announcing them. I’m also wondering if the fact that the front side was in English and the back side is in Spanish is angering Trump’s racist base. I hope it is.

 

The Department of Justice has dropped its insider trading investigation of three senators accused of making or selling investments after receiving early, classified COVID-19 briefings. The Senators in question made millions on stocks of companies that, with the benefit of hindsight, stood to increase in value due to the lockdowns.

That investigation was handled by the DOJ’s Public Integrity unit which is tasked with going after political corruption. When I practiced law I had two cases in which I was defending public figures from Public integrity investigations. Their m.o., both in my experience and in the experience of lawyers with way more cases like that with whom I consulted, was to leave matters open, basically forever, in the event new information came in. The target of the investigation would dangle for a while, then hear little if anything and then eventually, it just sort of went away. It could take months, sometimes years, before you’d get a definitive notice that the investigation was dropped. 

That was annoying and, I would argue, unfair. I will also allow that it is possible that the facts of the cases of the senators accused of insider trading here justify different treatment. Maybe some committed wrongdoing. Maybe some didn’t and, obviously, if they did not, they should not be investigated any further.

But given the DOJ’s recently baldly politically motivated decisions and the administration’s steadfast commitment to corruption in almost all of its forms, this simultaneous dropping of the investigation a few weeks after it started stinks to high heavens. 

 

My beat is in the news again. Major League Baseball made an economic proposal to play the 2020 season that called for a massive pay cut for players. While couched in terms of it being on a “sliding scale” that would allow the most well-off players to shoulder the burden more than lower-paid players, it can and should be seen as the league looking to pay the players whose skills and star power make the league the most money only a fraction of their value.

I’ll be writing about the ins and outs of all of that over that the day job, but for our purposes here, know that it definitely creates a difficult and contentious situation. In my gut, it makes me think that the playing of a 2020 season is less likely today than it was yesterday. We could very well go without baseball this year. Which, as a baseball writer, is a very weird place for me to be personally.   

Subjectively speaking I’m not sure what a year without the sport I love and the subject of the work I do would be like. Personally it would be a drag. Or maybe worse than a drag. While I have no reason at the moment to believe my employer would make changes if a baseball season doesn’t happen — it’s a pretty massive and diversified company, there would still be news to cover, and the sport would, eventually, resume — the one thing this pandemic has taught us is not to assume best outcomes. So yes, baseball not happening in 2020 would cause me some personal anxiety as well.

Objectively speaking, though, it’s hard for me to look at the world right now and honestly say that professional sports is or should be anything approaching a top priority.

We just recently fell below 1,000 people a day dying of COVID-19 in this country and, thanks to an inevitable second wave, we’ll likely be back above that again soon. Unemployment is still at Great Depression-levels. Massive displacement of all kinds continues and will continue for the foreseeable future. The mental and emotional health of the country has gone far less remarked upon but it is no doubt dire and the impact of that will last years and even decades after the immediate physical toll of the pandemic has run its course. We’re a nation — a world — in crisis. And that crisis has and will continue to inflict incalculable trauma.

One response to that is to say “well, this is bad, but that just means we need normality — amusement, entertainment — wherever we can get it!” I know that, in past crisis, entertainment that uplifts or distracts the populace from the horrors of the world has been important to people. I understand that. I’m sympathetic to it. I get what people say when they say they simply want to watch a ballgame again and forget about their problems.

I’m not there though. Not yet. I don’t know if I will be any time soon.

I love baseball but I’ve never been one of those people who consider it or any other sports to be something big enough to crowd out the rest of the world let alone to heal it or to serve as a balm of some kind. Indeed, my whole philosophy as a baseball writer has been — to the chagrin of many fans and readers — to place baseball within a larger social context and to discuss how the world affects baseball and how baseball affects the world. To not, as the saying goes, stick to sports. To not elevate it beyond what it really is, objectively speaking.

Because of that, I’ve been fairly hostile to the notion of “baseball as a healing balm” narrative for most of my professional life. I think it’s a load of bunk — and leads to some of the worst exercises in fiction and non-fiction — and as a personal rule I’m not ever going to be in the business of perpetuating bunk. I’m not saying that every baseball writer who traffics in that stuff is consciously doing P.R. work for Major League Baseball and its owners, but that kind of stuff definitely furthers the P.R. interests of Major League Baseball. The Lords of the Realm want to couch the sport as a quasi-public concern and a civic institution in order to get special treatment and tax and regulatory breaks and to pressure their workers into taking bad deals out of some allegedly patriotic or altruistic impulse. But no, it’s just a business.

My relationship with baseball has always been one in which I feel a greater affinity to it or a greater distance from it depending on what’s happening in the sport, in the world, and in my personal life. I can still cover it and write about it fine for my job regardless of where that stands, but on a personal level it feels a million miles away at the moment.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the national baseball writer for NBCSports.com. He writes about things other than sports at Craigcalcaterra.com. He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.