We Can Handle This, America

A poll worker casts a mail-in ballot for a voter at a drive-thru polling station during the primary election amid the coronavirus outbreak in Miami, Fla., August 18, 2020. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

On the menu today: As Facebook takes steps to prepare for a divided and angry election season, let’s remember what we can do to ensure we have faith in this fall’s elections; a grim number that indicates that COVID-19 isn’t just a menace to the elderly and immunocompromised; some revelations about Alexander Graham Bell I wish I hadn’t learned; and a new spot online for voracious readers.

If You’re Worried about the Election, You Can Do Something about It

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, this morning: “The U.S. elections are just two months away, and with Covid-19 affecting communities across the country, I’m concerned about the challenges people could face when voting. I’m also worried that with our nation so divided and election results potentially taking days or even weeks to be finalized, there could be an increased risk of civil unrest across the country.”

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Facebook is taking additional steps to help the upcoming election run smoothly — removing misinformation about voting, partnering with Reuters and the National Election Pool to provide authoritative information about election results, and not allowing political advertising in the final week before the election.

But whether or not the country witnesses election-related unrest shouldn’t be dependent upon the policies of a social-media company. Functioning as a constitutional democratic republic requires a little bit of responsibility on the part of each citizen, poll worker, volunteer, government employee, and elected leader. Not a ton or an unbearable burden. We can handle this, America.

First, you know there are foreign forces hostile to the United States who want you to have no faith in any aspect of your government, right? Vladimir Putin, Chinese State Security, and the Iranian mullahs, among others, want you marinating in a toxic stew of suspicion, confusion, paranoia, rage, and eagerness to lash out at other Americans. The more energy and time we spend attacking each other, the less time we have left to focus on what they’re doing — whether it’s Novichok assassinations, running concentration camps or crushing democratic opposition in Hong Kong, or executing children. We, as ordinary citizens, have limited ability to impede their efforts to put out disinformation. But we can choose how we respond to it, and we can choose to be less credulous about everything we read on social media.

If everybody in America resolved, “I’m not going to rush out and smash something because I don’t like the election result, or the votes are taking a long time to count,” we would prove that all of these foreign disinformation efforts are a waste of time. We’re not taking the bait; we’re not so easily manipulated.*

Second, you know that in most jurisdictions, you can volunteer as a poll worker or poll watcher, right? There are various age, local residence, and voter registration requirements. If you’re wondering whether it’s safe to work at a polling place . . . with the proper precautions, yes. We’ve held primary elections all year long.

If you have any doubts that the elections in your community won’t be run fairly, you can do something about it. If you can’t get involved in the election process yourself, you have no shortage of legal authorities to turn to if you suspect election fraud or some other illegal activity. Every state government has an election security office. The Department of Homeland Security has an Election Security division. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s whole job is to help states and localities prepare and secure their elections.

Don’t just sit there and predict that the election will be stolen on social media; get up out of your chair and do something about it. Those hostile foreign forces want you feeling helpless and that there’s nothing you can do.

I am among the world’s most insufferable critics of government bureaucracy. But although there are a handful of places that are notorious for poorly run elections and counts, in the vast majority of places in the United States, elections are run fairly, legally, and smoothly.

Yes, the 2020 election will almost certainly have more Americans voting early and voting by mail than ever before. But last cycle wasn’t exactly low — about 57.2 million in 2016, or about 40 percent of all ballots. Sixteen states had more than half their ballots cast by mail or early. Running this year’s general election without too many snafus or confusion will be a tougher endeavor, but it won’t be wildly different from the challenge last cycle.

We can do this, America. Don’t get anxious, get prepared.

*Perhaps we are so easily manipulated. Last year, somebody wrote a novel about a sinister group with ties to the Iranians using social media to stir up mistrust and fear, climaxing in widespread violence in cities as Americans lashed out at each other in suspicion, trying to create an atmosphere of runaway paranoia where Americans started to see every stranger they encountered as a deadly threat. But hey, what are the odds of that happening, right?

COVID-19 Has Killed More Cops This Year Than All Other Causes Combined

This is a useful reminder for the “COVID-19 is only a threat to the elderly and those who were already seriously sick” crowd:

As of Sept. 2, on-the-job coronavirus infections were responsible for a least 100 officer deaths, more than gun violence, car accidents and all other causes combined, according to the Officer Down group. National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reported a nearly identical number of covid-related law enforcement deaths.

Both organizations only count covid deaths “if it is determined that the officer died as a result of exposure to the virus while performing official duties,” as the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund put it. “Substantive evidence will be required to show the death was more than likely due to the direct and proximate result of a duty-related incident.”

In addition to the 100 confirmed coronavirus fatalities listed on the Officer Down website, the nonprofit said it is in the process of verifying an additional 150 officer deaths due to covid-19 and presumed to have been contracted in the line of duty, said Chris Cosgriff, executive director of ODMP, in an email.

A disturbing number of people have chosen to interpret “COVID-19 is a greater threat to the elderly and immunocompromised” as “COVID-19 is only a threat to the elderly and immunocompromised.”

Technically, I Guess Alexander Graham Bell Is to Blame for Robocalls, Too

A wise voice wrote in, marveling that the District of Columbia’s Facilities and Commemorative Expressions (DCFACES) group singled out over 150 landmarks having the names of “persons of concern” and on the list was Bell Multicultural High School in Columbia Heights, named after Alexander Graham Bell.

This is the report that urged the mayor to use her position on the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission to recommend that Federal government “remove, relocate, or contextualize” the Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument, and six other federal “assets.”

Keep in mind that the District of Columbia has no authority over the Washington Monument or Jefferson Memorial, as those are run by the National Parks Service.

I did some Googling . . . and learned some disappointing things about Alexander Graham Bell:

Bell’s second chief interest was the study of heredity and animal breeding, and he became an early supporter of the eugenics movement to improve human breeding. Bell did not go so far as to advocate social controls on reproduction, as many eugenicists did. He did, however, decry the immigration into the United States of what he termed “undesirable ethnical elements,” calling for legislation to prevent their entry in order to encourage the “evolution of a higher and nobler type of man in America.” His views on immigration, deaf education, and eugenics overlapped and intertwined. He described sign language as “essentially a foreign language” and argued that “in an English speaking country like the United States, the English language, and the English language alone, should be used as the means of communication and instruction at least in schools supported at public expense.” He maintained that the use of sign language “in our public schools is contrary to the spirit and practice of American Institutions (as foreign immigrants have found out).”

In 1884, Bell published a paper “Upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race,” in which he warned of a “great calamity” facing the nation: deaf people were forming clubs, socializing with one another and, consequently, marrying other deaf people. The creation of a “deaf race” that yearly would grow larger and more insular was underway. Bell noted that “a special language adapted for the use of such a race” already was in existence, “a language as different from English as French or German or Russian.” Some eugenicists called for legislation outlawing intermarriage by deaf people, but Bell rejected such a ban as impractical. Instead he proposed the following steps: “(1) Determine the causes that promote intermarriages among the deaf and dumb; and (2) remove them. The causes he sought to remove were sign language, deaf teachers, and residential schools. His solution was the creation of special day schools taught by hearing teachers who would enforce a ban on sign language.

Ugh. Eugenics? Opposition to deaf people socializing or marrying other deaf people?

I don’t know if I necessarily would rename the Bell school now that I know this; the man was still a revolutionary inventor. But reading the above, it’s at least easier to see why some people would prefer a school not be named after him.

ADDENDUM: A little more than 13 years ago, I set up my Goodreads account . . . and did almost nothing with it. I’ve finally updated it with more information about my books and will soon add links to my book reviews, etc. If you’re on Goodreads, check it out, and if you’re not, but like books and reading, you may want to give it a try.

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