Modern Life: The Complexity of Simplicity
MODERN LIFE

Modern Life: The Complexity of Simplicity

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A daughter told me about this social media slugfest.

Some teenagers were driving a little too fast in a pickup in an empty school parking lot. Some kids were in the back, holding on. Amusement park thrills, without the safety restraint harnesses. No one was hurt. Kids.

But someone passing by shot a few seconds of the action. Posted it on Facebook. “If your kids are in this video, they’re hoodlums, dangerous, should never be allowed near a car again, etc.” The usual Facebook stuff.

The daily, restless social search for something to be angry about found its target du jour.

Within minutes: “Someone will end up dead with this kind of behavior.”

“Where are the parents? Their parental rights should be terminated. Move the kids to foster homes with adults who will teach them about Jesus Christ.”

“I’m scared to go to the store if this is the way people drive here.”

“OMG, I was thinking about moving there, but no way now. Just too dangerous. What’s wrong with you people?”

Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure kids have been driving in tight circles in empty parking lots for as long as there have been cars and parking lots.

I believe it’s safe to say that as a society we’re losing our ability to perceive nuance and complexity. The more people involved in a conversation, the dumber the conversation becomes. Every small action becomes a referendum on what’s wrong with the kids, boys, girls, ethnic group, religious group, political party, or social philosophy ending with -ism.

But, as Walter Cronkite used to say, that’s the way it is. We look at whatever behavior or idea runs afoul of our five second attention span, then blow it up like a balloon to an absurdly exaggerated version of itself, and call the distorted monstrosity we’ve created a fair and balanced summary of the situation.

We can find evidence of this everywhere we look—from small-town gotcha Facebook videos to the campaign rhetoric of presidential candidates.

Thus “liberal,” which means open-minded or marked by generosity (look it up), now describes a person who is evil and/or stupid who wants to destroy society by eliminating personal initiative and turning us into helpless government-following lemmings.

And thus “conservative,” which means one who adheres to traditional methods or views (look it up) now describes a person who is evil and/or stupid who wants to destroy society by eliminating basic social safeguards, while allowing those with money to stockpile ever increasing amounts of it by naked exploitation and without conscience.

We all know, individually, that the preceding two paragraphs are incorrect, exaggerated, and basically ridiculous. But get us together as a group, and suddenly we find ourselves cheering for our team and wanting to slaughter the other guys.

Over the next several months we will be hearing a lot about the heavenly virtues of capitalism, and the demonic vices of socialism. The first is a one-way ticket to the promised land. The other is a one-way highway to hell.

Please allow me to point out that neither of the preceding statements is true, no matter how much it financially benefits those who will be making the claims.

Unfettered capitalism leads to unfettered greed and exploitation, and tends to create a society of only winners and losers without a middle ground.

Unfettered socialism diverts so much of the nation’s capital into taxes and services that personal initiative is difficult to execute.

The answer will not lie in establishing one while destroying the other. The answer will be finding intelligent restraints on both that will permit a robust economy while providing basic social safety nets.

When Social Security was established in 1935, Republicans called it creeping socialism. Now, aging Trump supporters aren’t lining up to give their monthly checks back to the government. At least none that I know.

Just like social media, which reduces all discussions to unhelpful, black and white screaming matches that in their knee-jerk simplicity are incorrect on all sides, the coming political discussion is not likely to be productive. Balance, nuance, and an understanding of complexity is what we need as a nation and as individuals. For now, it’s a talent we seem to have lost. This is not to our credit.

Chris Huston is semi-retired in the Magic Valley following a 35-year career in broadcast journalism. Connect with him on Facebook, and at chrishuston-modernlife.com.

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Small news organizations in rural states aren’t often on the front line of broad public service journalism, but times are changing and one-or-two person shops can make a lot of difference in public awareness of issues if things come together.

A small outbreak of coronavirus at a Fry Foods plant in Weiser gives a prime example of the importance of testing for COVID-19. More than that, it represents a warning shot across the bow of potential pitfalls if we don’t reopen our economy the right way.

As we tiptoe through Stage 2 of Gov. Brad Little’s phased reopening plan and approach a more robust Stage 3, it’s going to become even more important that we take the necessary steps to prevent future outbreaks.

And there will be future outbreaks.

The fact remains that the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still out there. It’s ready to strike again, and without a vaccine, it remains a potentially destructive and fatal disease.

Aggressive and quick testing remains one of the key elements — perhaps the most important element — of controlling outbreaks at this point.

Fry Foods offers an early case study.

The Weiser food processing plant employs 260 people to make onion rings and other food products. It shut down earlier this month when at least seven employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

Fry Foods initially didn’t test all 260 employees at the Weiser facility — only the 50 or 60 who likely came in contact with the employees who tested positive. Other employees were able to get tested on their own.

The Idaho Bureau of Laboratories (state run-laboratories) tested all that they had the capacity to do in one day, according to Kelly Petroff, director of communications for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The state lab can do about has a testing capacity of approximately 200 tests per day.

“We are not prepared to handle this,” Doug Wold, human resources manager for Fry Foods, told the Idaho Statesman, referring to the lack of coordinated response. “If you don’t have an employer who’s willing to be proactive, we’re just going to fail.”

Fortunately, Crush the Curve Idaho, a private, business-led initiative established during the outbreak to increase testing, stepped in and tested every employee at Fry Foods.

By Tuesday of this week, 20 employees — about 8% of the plant’s workforce — had tested positive for the coronavirus, along with at least two of their family members. Nearly all were asymptomatic.

RAPID-RESPONSE TESTING

That’s what needs to happen: rapid-response testing. If you have an outbreak at your workplace, get everyone tested. For those who test positive, keep them home and isolated. For those who test negative, they can keep on working and you’re back in business.

When the outbreak hit Fry Foods, company officials made the decision to shut the plant down.

Without adequate testing, that’s unfortunately the right thing to do. Without testing, you have no idea whether you have seven infected employees, 70 or 270.

We applaud Fry Foods company officials for making the tough call to shut down, even though they were given the green light by the Southwest District Health Department to resume operations.

Coronavirus is stealthy. A person can carry coronavirus longer without symptoms, potentially spreading to others unwittingly. Some people who carry coronavirus have no symptoms at all.

We are encouraged that Crush the Curve Idaho stepped up and stepped in here.

But Idaho needs a more concerted and organized plan to do rapid-response testing.

We are a fragmented health system. Health providers include Saint Alphonsus, St. Luke’s, Primary Health, Saltzer, among others. Then think about all the entities who pay for health care: Blue Cross of Idaho, Regence BlueShield, PacificSource, SelectHealth, etc. Throw in Medicare, Medicaid and those who are uninsured.

Even our own government health management system is fragmented, with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and seven independent health districts not operated by the state.

And, in the case of Fry Foods, situated in a city bordering Oregon, workers were from two states.

NO COORIDINATED EFFORTS

No wonder Fry Foods officials were at a loss for where to turn for help. Without some sort of coordinated effort to test all employees and somehow pay for those tests, shutting down the plant was the best option.

It’s worth noting that the Fry Foods employee who initially had coronavirus was at a family gathering of a larger number than outlined in the governor’s reopening plan and was with visitors from out of state, two violations of the governor’s guidelines. That’s why we have the guidelines, and that’s why it’s important to follow the guidelines. Otherwise, this is what you get: an outbreak that shuts down an entire food manufacturing plant.

Unfortunately, shutting down operations every time there’s an outbreak is not going to get the job done.

And there will be more outbreaks as we reopen our economy, reopen factories and workplaces.

Idaho has a lot to be optimistic about, and we have a golden opportunity to lead the nation in reopening our economy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. We have had relatively few cases (around 2,300) and few deaths (77). Our early efforts to shut down parts of our social interactions and Little’s quick call to issue a statewide stay-home order clearly have paid off. Idahoans’ adherence to the stay-home order has helped to flatten the curve and control the number of new cases. Residents and businesses, alike, have done their part to make this happen.

Our hope is that Idaho can chug along through the stages of reopening. Our fear is that if we don’t do this the right way, we’ll have a surge and we’ll be back to a statewide stay-home order. Nobody wants that.

If Joe Biden is counting on African American votes to win the White House in November, he may want to reboot his outreach strategy. During a radio interview Friday morning with Charlamagne tha God on the nationally syndicated, "The Breakfast Club," Biden said that "if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black." It took a handful of nanoseconds for the ...

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