bookmark_borderElection Week 2020 Scenes #7: Trump signs abundant in western Maryland

Taking advantage of unseasonably good weather and clear skies, from October 25 to 28 I was hiking in western Maryland, primarily in Washington County. I did a long tour of Antietam battlefield as part of this, which is entirely within Washington County. Harpers Ferry is also part of the general battle theater, which is where I came up from. (I don’t know how many people do an all-on-foot tour of Antietam, but it can’t be many. The battlefield area is definitely car-oriented.)

Antietam battlefield scene, preserved as it was in 1862

Maybe I’ll have another opportunity, another day, to write about that hike itself. I have done many such hikes and they are always liberating and you always learn a lot, regardless of what you think you know.

The most notable thing in Washington County, Md., was the overwhelming support for Trump. Granted, western Maryland is ‘red’ anyway. But Arlington is ‘blue,’ an there was a distinct lack of signs for Biden around Arlington, which I wrote about in a recent post. This is a strong contrast I was immediately hit by.

It feels like I felt ten Trump signs for every Biden sign in Washington County, which if much higher than the actual likely vote ratio.

One of the few Biden signs I saw actually included a separate sign next to it apologizing for the Biden sign:

Sharpsburg, Maryland, October 2020. The sign on the right says: “Just to be Clear! I support police officers, but not the ones who commit crimes. I support protestors, but not the ones who commit crimes. Yes, it really is that simple.”

This elaborate explanatory note attached to the Biden-Harris yard sign display is something I’ve never otherwise seen. I interpret it as an apology for Biden support in this area, given the strength of Trump support.

The same is true in much of Middle America. Washington County, no doubt has people in it tied economically or otherwise to the Washington DC-centric core, but the basic population stock here is Middle America Whites, the Trump 2015-16 base.

I didn’t bother taking pictures, in part because I was trying to preserve my phone battery and in part because there were just so many houses with Trump signs. Here is one, a very large sign (see the mailbox opposite for scale):

The largely rural landscape here fits with the image of core Trump supporters.

Here someone took it upon themselves to decorate a stop sign at the intersection with the Harpers Ferry Road (which dates back two centuries and featured in the battle at Antietam):

Being here a few days made me think of Iowa, my father’s home state. His home county delivered the biggest margin to Trump in Nov. 2016 than it ever gave to any presidential candidate in history. Trump is the type who tosses around words like “historic,” but in that case it really was, literally ranking number one in the modern political era. There are lots and lots of counties like this, once you step out of core metro areas, which broke much more ‘Red’ than they normally do. Deep-blue areas tended to do the opposite, which led to Hillary’s win in the popular vote.

What to make of clear and strong Trump support in western Maryland and places like it? For one thing, Maryland is a locked-up blue state. Everyone knows who’s getting its electoral votes. The fact that these people in western Maryland are so dedicated to the Trump movement, despite knowing full well they won’t swing the state, speaks to the mystique and power of MAGA many have spoken of.

If Trump wins again in most of the key states, the belt of Obama-to Trump states, Pennsylvania to Minnesota, and thus wins the election, it may be because of strongly motivated core supporters like these. I even spotted evidence of sign wars in Northern Virginia:

(“Vote for Democrats” sign vandalized with a “Trump 2020” bumper sticker, Northern Virginia, late October 2020.)

As I write this, it is just past noon on election day. There are a few more of these types of stories I wanted but I got in mostly what I wanted. There is always more to say. I’ll be in DC in the evening and till late with more stories to tell.

bookmark_borderElection Week 2020 Street Scenes #6: Blue Lives Matter

In the first two weeks of October, I was doing daily census work in the field in DC (their operation was in considerably much worse shape than ours in Northern Virginia was, by late September; there was a tentative October 5 end date at the time. It was announced we were being transferred us over on I think September 29).

I never had time to stroll around making “Election Week” observations, but on several days I did pass in the general White House area for one reason or another. October 10 was one such day.

Here was the scene in Constitution Avenue, south of the White House (visible in the distance):

Here we see the Blue Lives Matter flag, something I was not familiar with before the June riots and the flurry of activity that felt a lot like a color revolution attempt. (I was up close and personal to much of the worst of it in DC. I even got a black eye out of it.)

I have long admired the area around the White House for being what I thought of as a town square, a place for mutual exchange of ideas. Everyone with their little causes, and almost always a crowd of some kind around. You could also see something new. It helped a lot that the Pennsylvania Avenue north of the White House has long been closed to traffic.

While “Open Schools Now” only partially and ambiguously overlaps with “Trump 2020” as a campaign, “Blue Lives Matter” overlaps something near 100%. I can’t imagine many Blue Lives Matter flag-carriers are voting Biden-Harris.

I see a handful of Blue Lives Matter flags around, but in political-Left-heavy areas of Northern Virginia they are far outnumbered by Black Lives Matter. (In non-Black areas, Black Lives Matter yard signs are almost exclusively seen in wealthy neighborhoods. This must be a puzzling phenomenon to foreigners to observe. I was through many non-Black and non-White areas for the census, especially Hispanic areas, and really never saw Black Lives Matter signs at all.)

This good feeling I had for the area of the White House which I have described to others as feeling like a political town square was disrupted in June by the fact that the riots reached there, and then weeks of occupation of the area proceeded — blessed by the mayor, who cynically ‘renamed’ the street Black Lives Matter Plaza.

The protests and street-partiers in which the rioters moved (the rioter, maybe, moves among the crowd as the fish swims in the sea, to quote Mao) were as far as the park north of the White House, a focal point for them. It proved to be unfortunate for them that this became the focal point, because it is so easy to defend. The rioters did the most damage when the battles were scattered all over, looting here, burning garbage cans there, no way for police to mount a defense.

The riots were shocking enough, an if Trump wins I expect a common ‘take’ will be people in Middle America — who really are the forgotten people in national dialogue, looked down on or ignored — did not like the riots.

On this the last weekend before the election, there have been impressive showing of Blue Lives Matter and Trump supporters all over, in marches and car caravans. It’s for this reason I think Trump has at least a 50-50 chance, not the <10% chance the pollsters and pundits give him.

bookmark_borderElection Week 2020 Street Scenes #5: Open Schools Now

Political yard signs are not limited to actual yards in front of houses or windows, and the US has a long tradition now of people putting them up in public places, especially in median strips on roads or other comparable places.

One you’d never have guessed you’d see is this one:

This particular median strip got more crowded with political signs as time went by. If you’d shown this to someone in 2019, they’d never guess what the sign was supposed to mean.

“Open Schools Now” is a defacto political slogan, overlapping with national politics but not identical, though the two positions have grown closer over time as people rearrange themselves into familiar political boxes.

Schools in Arlington remain fully closed, as the Panic crowd demanded and, in retrospect, easily got. In August, there was a sign campaign demanding no opening at all until there were “fourteen days with no new cases,” which I’, sorry but is an insane position. It’s a respiratory/flu virus, people. What are you thinking? And elected leaders caved in.

(Schools never should have closed at all, not in March and not to the present. It was never an evidence-based or data-based position. It was purely a panic-based, emotion-based decision. The negative effects of this decision far, far outweigh any potential positives. This is my position, reached through analysis of the data. But if I’ve learned nothing else from other people in my time, it’s that most people don’t think like that — which is why it’s a good think public policy people generally do, to avoid constant disruptive panics.)

The Coronavirus Panic overlapped this year with regular political currents, but at least at first it didn’t fit previous division lines, so you saw people all over the place in their positions. The media drumbeat terrified people, putting the cart miles ahead of the horse because they never bothered to wait for evidence to come in.

Meanwhile, the “Open Schools Now” people are like figures out of the Twilight Zone, the kind of episode where the protagonist is the same and everyone else one day is different (“they were all like that,” Seinfeld said). Very few, early on in this virus panic, would have wanted schools closed for a full one and a half school years, as may now be the case.

So this “Open Schools Now” campaign seems hopeless, with the people in it, mainstream just months ago, are now cornered into looking like malcontents or perennial candidates for office, like the Clement sign behind the Open Schools Now sign. Clement is a perennial candidate and critic of the local one-party state of total Democratic Party machine control. She won’t win because most Arlington voters are transients (don’t know much about the local area, nor care) who vote straight Democrat.

Arlington is the kind of place where schools were shut down and have not reopened as of election week. It’s impossible to trust the media on Corona and all topics related to it, given their responsibility for frankly creating the Panic and leading the digital lynch mobs that demanded shutdowns. I don’t know if Open Schools Now is a position from which a candidate could win, if an election were a pure national referendum on it.

In April I started to sense that the November 2020 general election might be a partial referendum on Shutdowns/Lockdowns, and that prediction has turned out quite right. In simple form:

Pro-Shutdowns/Lockdowns, Vote Biden. Anti-Shutdowns/Lockdowns, Vote Trump.

It’s not that simple, but both candidates have made moves suggesting they are comfortable carrying that banner. The all-important question is which direction that pushes Pennsylvania and the rest of the key states that swung to Trump in 2016. Demanding schools stay shut indefinitely feels to me like it’s more like a Blue Bubble position, but it’s hard to say. It’s really not political, of course, but more personality based.

I must say, in any case, that I pity students and am glad I am not one just now.

bookmark_borderElection Week 2020 Street Scenes #4: Honk for ‘Black Lives Matter’


At this same intersection at the corner that would be visible if you peeked behind the poll from the previous post (“No Photo ID Required to Vote”), there are often two wheelchair-bound men, one Black and one White, silently glaring at passersby. They have been staging daily hour long “Honk for Black Lives Matter” protests since the riots in June.

Usually they have one to three hangers-on with them. Here they are on October 30:

This protest elicits lots of disorganized honks and therefore causes considerable noise, making it seem like perpetual, angry traffic jam is in place.

Why are people honking this much? I know Arlington and I know the answer: It’s a signal of how much Arlington types want to signal their support for the trendy movement (support rates shot way up during the riots and the aftermath), and therefore signaling their social status, their social prestige, that they are one of the good people. Though yard signs are plenty sign enough of that. Yard sign ratio is such a very much low-hanging-fruit observation that I decide to spend a few hours quantifying it with personal data collection which I published yesterday.

But there are plenty of people not on board with the Black Lives Matter agenda. It is also not hard to see this for what it is, a political campaign in no small part directed against Trump and as a rallying call for anti-Trump forces and to some extent a grab-bag of left-wing ideas. I’d go so far as to say Black Lives Matter isn’t even primarily about Black people, at least not in this manifestation, the dynamic of the two wheelchair-bound guys and the mainly White honkers and sundry passersby.

Some passersby distinctly express their disapproval. One of the times I passed by, I witnessed a pair on bicycles shout “Trump 2020!” several times at the protestors, which about sums it up. Supposedly there was, for some days, a solitary counter-protestor who silently carried a US flag and stared at the Honk for Black Lives Matter grouplet, which again sums up the point of what the dividing line is, I think.

But there is also a non-political argument against this kind of protest in this kind of area, a largely residential area. It causes a constant assault on the auditory senses.

I did a few census addresses in the area. There was one resident in the area complained bitterly of the constant noise, saying he couldn’t sleep, saying he didn’t understand why they were doing that. I could barely conduct the interview for all the steady honking. He was a Spanish speaker. Anyone living, working, or just passing through the area is subject to this noise for an hour a day.

Will it end if Biden is elected? Will it continue if Trump is re-elected?

The newspaper profiled the pair, and the man was a professor of history at Howard University and adopted the other man, paralyzed from birth, from Lesotho.

bookmark_borderNeighborhood political yard-sign survey suggests Biden is in trouble (Election 2020 – Street Scenes #3)

(This was written October 30-31; the survey was mid-October; observations on which I decided to do to full survey were made in August and September.)

After census work ended in mid-October, I conducted my own census, a political yard sign census, around a certain neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia. It is heavily white, heavily educated and credentialed and with new in-mover necessarily having to be pretty high income as since the early 2000s it has had ballooning land prices. It is quite strongly Democratic for a white neighborhood.

I walked past 478 occupied homes (houses, mainly; some townhouses) and noted what kind or yard signs they had, if any, whether there were Halloween decorations, an whether there was a US flag. This was a personal research project ahead of the election, to see if I might spot anything that might signal the election result, either before or after:

Political Signs:

  • Biden signs alone,
  • Biden signs with other political signs,
  • Other political signs without Biden signs, or
  • No political signs of any kind.

Halloween decorations:

  • Pumpkins alone,
  • Pumpkins and other Halloween paraphernalia, or
  • No Halloween decorations.

Flags:

  • US flag flying
  • Other flag/banner flying
  • No flag of any kind

13.1% of occupied homes had a Biden sign, of which 7.5% had a Biden sign alone (no other accompanying political sign) and 5.6% having a Biden sign along with at least one other political sign, including “Black Lives Matter” and a particularly common long list of doctrinal statements. (Earlier versions had existed before but in June this year after the protests, riots, and looting, some of which I witnessed personally, the signs began to be replaced with a version that led with “We believe… Black Lives Matter,” followed by the other doctrinal statements of belief below it.)

Another 6.1% of occupied homes had some kin of political or quasi-political sign but no Biden sign, 0.8% pro-Trump or proxy pro-Trump, and 5.3% anti-Trump or other.

Of these, only 0.8% appeared to be pro-Trump either directly (0.4%) or by proxy (0.4%). In the latter I include a house with a “Blue Line” flag, the flag being flown to support police.

The other 5.3% had left-wing signs such as the doctrinal confession aforementioned and various other common ones such as the “Hate Has No Home Here” sign. Another common one was “You are Welcome Here,” which explains to mean the resident is pro-immigration and implies they also support those illegally resident in the USA.

Often, the homes in this 5.3% set that had left-wing slogans but passed on the Biden signs had a more radical and angry and even obscene tenor: “Tuck Frump.” One had “Profits are a Crime Against Humanity.” About three homes had “A Woman’s Place is in the Resistance” featuring a picture of a Star Wars character (I think a reference to a 2010s-era Star Wars movie which put women as the protagonists). Lots said Dump Trump and had various kinds of anti-Trump slogans. There were other miscellaneous signs that those who followed the various political news cycles would recognize to also be connected to the Orange Man, such as “Save the Post Office.”

Rearranging the categories a little:

  • Homes advertising support for left-wing causes d’jour (with or without a Biden sign alongside) were at 10.9%.
  • Those advertising support for Biden without any co-endorsement of any left-wing cause d’jour were at 7.5%.
  • Those advertising possible Trump support were at only 0.8%.
  • (People without any political signs were at 80.8%.)

Using these groups as proxies for Left, Center, and Right, respectively, we have a ratio in the large sample of 14:9:1, or 23:1 on the expected Biden-Trump vote in this area. The problem is, this is far higher a ratio than the actual result is going to be; 23 to 1 is a blowout on par with one-party stats that have rubber-stamp elections. Sure enough it can hold in isolated geographic zones, but not in this one: The precinct’s result in November 2016 was strongly tilted Left, but nowhere near 23:1. The Left-to-Right voting ratio in 2026 was 26:10 (Hillary+Stein vs. Trump+Johnson+McMullin). The Hillary:Trump margin alone was 37:10.

But what about the four-in-five majority who put up no political yard signs in 2020? The 2016 voting rate was 26:10:18 Left:Right:Nonvoter. So not quite a majority voted Hillary. This is hardly the kind of total dominance you’d expect from a casual walk through the area with an eye on yard signs, or the data as presented in this post, with its 230:10 Left:Right political yard sign ratio.

That is the first lesson I take from this. In certain areas, a tipping point is reached an a status quo asserts itself, and people in the minority begin to self-censor. This is the Arlington I have known. It is run by smug, self-satisfied, and self-righteous people who cannot fathom any opposition, and never see any. Truer bubble people you seldom find.

I’ve often wondered when the tipping point was in Arlington. In decade terms, I think it was the 1980s. There was still a conservative element in the 1970s, although by fading fast as new arrivals kept coming in, from near and far. Starting in the 1980s, the apparent public consensus was established and conservatives began to disappear from public discourse; I expect you could find similar versions of this finding of a laughably lopsided sign ratio back to the 1990s at least. Having been a relatively regular observer of Arlington starting at that time, that aligns with my memory. There was still some degree of conservative strength but it was only seen in the privacy of polling booths and with very occasional civic questions of the moment, but starting the 1980s they had an unbeatable voting coalition given the type of person coming into Arlington, and they had a coming one-party state. The one-party state is all I’ve ever known of Arlington, 1990s to present.

They are crowing with victory and have, of late, been on a tear of name-changing, statue-toppling, and memorial defacing. The image you get is one of a wine-and-cheese Taliban. (Their latest target is Lee Highway; they put up a website for people to vote on new names for Lee Highway, something no one asked for. Almost all the many options were ridiculous. They are again trying to push “Loving.” They refused to offer a None of the Above option in their poll or a Keep the Name option or a face-saving “Symbolically rename it for another Lee” and not the great general, the most famous man to ever come out of Arlington.)

In any case, back to the neighborhood political sign survey I conducted. I decided to survey flags flown in front of the same houses once I perceived a possible lopsided sign ratio way beyond the voting ratio. My idea was that US flags might be a proxy for Trump support or Right voting (in 2016, they also could’ve voted for Trump, Johnson, or McMullin to be counted as a Right voter).

8.8% of occupied homes had US flags flying or otherwise displayed at time of visit, of which 1% had a Biden sign and 7.8% had no Biden sign.

  • Homes advertising support for left-wing causes d’jour (with or without a Biden sign alongside) were at 10.9%.
  • Those advertising support for Biden without any co-endorsement of any left-wing cause d’jour were at 7.5%.
  • Those advertising possible Trump support were at only 0.8%.
  • Those flying US flags without a Biden sign or a left-wing activist sign were ca. 7.2%.

Ratio of the first two categories (18.4%) against the second two (8%) puts us at a 23:10 Left:Right ratio, which is near the actual voting ratio in 2016, which was 26:10 Left:Right.

So finding two is that US flags are a proxy for conservative voting, also not the shock of the century but interesting how well the numbers line up. Maybe a coincidence.

Homes with a Biden sign would occasionally also have a US flag. I would interpret these people to be older people, mid-twentieth-century liberals, of which Arlington has had plenty for a long time.

Homes with left-oriented or activist signs but without a Biden sign almost never had a US flag. I would interpret these people to represent the new Democratic Party, the one that has rejected its once important populist streak and reoriented to being a party with close ties to academia and the well-credentialed broad elite, which again is certainly well represented in Arlington and in the neighborhood I surveyed.

I didn’t write down perfect notes in all cases on this, but I don’t think more than one of the houses in this grouping (activist signs without Biden signs) had a US flag, and I am sure many would, if asked, say they don’t want to fly the flag because it offends them because reasons. (I am thinking of the Profits are Evil sign-poster.)

Finding Three is that support for Biden is unenthusiastic. This was the most interesting of all and the reason I wanted to do this survey, especially coming off three+ months of hard census work doing things a lot like this. This finding is also why I am typing away at this on November 1, 48 hours before the election results start to come in.

You often hear anecdotal reports about Trump signs versus Biden signs, but how to test these rigorously? I don’t have access to comparisons over time and space, but I do have access to a possibly ‘control’ dataset: Halloween decorations.

Halloween is definitely now part of the USA’s civic religion, with many people taking it as seriously as religious people took religious holidays in days of yore. And a Martian anthropologist would definitely think Halloween something to do with the state religion. For this reason I’d say those who put up Halloween decorations are civically minded and civically engaged, with the caveat that of course it’s a ‘holiday’ primarily for children. Celebrating Halloween is effectively an expression of defacto civic patriotism. Some of these decorations people do are very involved, almost embarrassing amounts of time, money, imagination, effort, and energy go into some of these.

I noted how many houses had pumpkins alone (17.8%), how many had Halloween paraphernalia or decorations besides pumpkins (16.1%) and how many had neither (66.1%) as of the time I collected this data on Oct. 13-15.

19.2% of homes had any kind of political sign up; 33.9% had Halloween decorations up. There were noticeably more homes with Halloween decorations of some kind, even 2.5 weeks before Halloween, than had any kind of political sign.

This, along with the finding of so many anti-Trump signs or other activist signs in comparison to actual pro-Biden signs, leads me to believe people are unenthusiastic about Biden. This doesn’t matter in Virginia, which will certainly be in the D column Tuesday night; Virginia is now a “solid blue” state, entirely because of Northern Virginia and migration into is from elsewhere, domestic and international. The process I described of how Arlington flipped from being once competitive to becoming a dreary one-party state with party bosses controlling who wins each time was ongoing elsewhere as well, driven by essentially the same things it was in Arlington but following by twenty or thirty years. Virginia voted Obama in 2008 and 2012, then, even as so much of Middle America broke for Trump, doubled down on Hillary.

The election is looking very close and could still go either way, and no one knows what to believe. I think this survey of political yard signs gives the insight that Biden support is weaker than it may seem, and the odds must be more like 50-50 than the 90-10 they are talking about.

Yes, there is a large core that just hates Trump with a passion, and this is also reflected in the distribution of political signs. There were more anti-Trump signs than pro-Biden signs in the neighborhood. But beyond this angry and agitated core, will marginals in the middle go for Biden? Given the softness of his support even in such a strongly Democratic-voting area as the precinct of Arlington I surveyed, I can only expect the key states will see lackluster support for him, too. But maybe he doesn’t seen it, and maybe anti-Trump feeling alone, and the anti-Trump drumbeat we hear on the news, could be enough to win. It could.

It turned out Trump’s real odds of victory in 2016 were around 50-50, and he won because he came up heads in more Midwest states than not (all within about a point). The same could happen in 2020.

I remember November 8th, 2016. I was in Washington and saw a lot, many things to remember. Glimpses of what was to come in the mass outbreak of politicized violence and politicized(?)-looting in mid-2020.

bookmark_borderElection Week 2020 Street Scenes #2: “No Voter ID Required”

Another small street scene from election season:

“A photo ID is not required to vote.”

These were taped up around Arlington in October. I spotted this one on October 30. I met a census guy I worked with over the past few months and now that the census is over he let loose more on what he really felt. He confidently predicted a Trump win. I said it’s 50-50. (As it really was 50-50 in 2016, too.)

He mentioned Virginia has recently abolished the requirement that you have an ID to vote. We had talked about the library (which has cocooned in on itself and effectively declared itself irrelevant by continuing to be closed down tight since mid-March) and he said you need an ID to borrow a library book (whenever they feel like opening again), but not to vote.

Maybe there are good arguments for getting rid of the long-established voter ID law, but whatever those may me, it seems pretty cynical to me to advertise “no ID required!” at the very top of your election pitch!

____________

bookmark_borderElection Week 2020 Street Scenes #1: Boarding Up

Wednesday, October 28, early morning. Downtown businesses boarding up already.

I am returning from Brunswick, Maryland, after a few days in western Maryland and one day walking the length and breadth of Antietam battlefield.

I arrive at DC Union Station. Not much going on. For a central train station anchoring a population of a few million, DC Union Station is somewhat pathetic and never very busy, but less so than usual. On my trip out, teams of armed police were accosting people demanding to see their tickets. What was the meaning of this? Lockdown enforcement, maybe. I’d never seen it before. In any case, the mood is somewhat gloomy. The commuter train I’d rode in on was naturally rather empty, and they’d just announced further service cuts. Amtrak itself formerly ran one train a day each direction through Harpers Ferry en route to Pittsburgh and Chicago but now seems to be down to two per week. This is pretty depressing

I exit the station, still on the early side of the 6am hour. It’s still dark.

This is a building I am well familiar with. The building itself bespeaks glory and prestige of great architecture and the civilization that dares to design such. We don’t get designs like that anymore. The station dates to the 1910s, I think, and was used heavily by Washington politicians in its early years. It is even a long walk from the Capitol building. (I don’t think many politicians do this anymore, though Joe Biden has long had the habit. Delaware is one of the few places from which it’s at all feasible to even do.)

The glory and romanesque architecture of the train station itself contrasts wit the street scenes. I am told Union Station was, in my father’s heydey here in the area in the 1970s-1990s, effectively one part of the giant quasi-ghetto. Dangerous. Don’t hang around here. Don’t walk around here at night. This has not really been my experience here.

I think I first remember it in the late 2000s and at that time while it still seemed dangerous at night, it was a long way from the Bad Old Days. By the 2010s, when I had pretty regular experience at the station, it improved considerably. The new order in Washington is metaphorizable as a battle line in which one side pushes the other side out. The one side is sometimes reduced to being ‘White, young, wealthy’ and the other ‘Black, not wealthy.’ My natural inclination is to favor my own people, you’d think, but I hardly see the Bubble People that make up the ranks of the one side to have much in common with me. In any case, crime is way down but one cannot spend time in Washington east of Rock Creek Park almost anywhere without seeing signs of the past, echoes of the ghetto. The park in front of Union Station provided such an echo: A black man was ranting, possibly at someone or possibly at nothing, and threatening violence.

I get on a bikeshare bike to head towards Virginia. My legs are plenty tired from lots of walking over a few days, but bicycling is fine. It uses different muscles. I take a slow and meandering route. No hint yet of predawn glimmer in the sky when I begin but towards the end of the trip there is. I am going east, navigating by instinct. I know my may around on a bicycle on these streets, and from September 29 to October 12 I was in DC daily for census work, seeing places I’d never seen.

Still not much traffic as you’d normally expect downtown. (How long will the shutdowns/disruptions last? How much of the continuation of the disruptions is people preferring a perceived soft-vacation of staying home and never having to go into the office, and bosses morally disarmed?)

A few people here and there. A few signs here and there, but DC is a true one-party state with a foreordained result in any presidential head-to-head which makes putting up Biden signs a little ridiculous.

In November 2016, for every 25 voters resident in DC, 23 voted Hillary, 1 vote Trump, and 1 voted for someone else. These are communist-bloc rubber-stamp-election-type results, of course. I am sure the obvious one-party lock nature of DC, that even the dimmest and least perceptive potential voters are aware of, effectively discourages Republican-leaning voters from voting at all. And a lot of the daytime population of DC consists of commuters, so the average person you encounter in greater downtown is much more likely than those odds to be a conservative or even a Trump supporter, but they don’t say it. They exist on shibboleths. I had two S*IS professors who I was sure were pro-Trump but only by reading between the lines.

Not many people, not many signs, not much light, and I had the heightened perception of someone at the end of a long trip on the lookout for things to see.

Most conspicuous are work crews, some of them clearly in the process of erecting plywood boards, turning nice glass office-front and storefront windows into fortresses. The goal: Make easy vandalism or looting difficult, discourage casual looters.

I saw the same thing in June, even in Arlington after the worst of the looting. (General looting never crossed the Potomac, but one CVS was hit on Columbia Pike.) I was down here most of the key rioting/looting days, and after so many stores were hit and looted, generally with police doing nothing, businesses prudently began boarding up.

I was familiar with the process from June. They’re clearly expecting fairly explicit political violence associated with an election, Third World style. They might have Black Lives Matter signs (a process that reminds me a lot of the 1970s-era observation by the Czech essayist, later president, on the psychology of the greengrocer putting up Workers of the World Unite sign in his shop window), but talk is cheap. Money talks, and looting and vandalism or potentially arson are clearly a worry.

This may not be not pure political terrorism or extortion, the implied threat of violence if one side doesn’t win, but it’s in the ballpark.

As to the scenes of open looting and anarchy I saw in late May and June, I won’t soon forget them. I was very much up close. A clothing store near my old office was hit by a gang of about 30 Black teenagers as I walked by. Some of them had baseball bats. I stupidly made a point to watch them a few moments and one of their watchers, a black teenage girl warned me not to “snitch.” The scenes those nights are worth much more ink. The scenes of chaos coexisted with scenes of eerie normality, as if mass looting, graffiti everywhere, and the occasional fire set by hotheads within a roving mob were all part of the normal cityscape. This is straight out of dystopian fiction.

I came to interpret these late May and June riots, the embers of which have simmered for months, as Lockdown Riots. When authorities began pulling the ‘Lockdown’ trigger in March, I predicted violence would eventually come of i all, but didn’t know exactly how. I remember by the week of March 16 seeing visions of violence and destruction associated with the lockdowns, and it is no surprise the riots began the exact week states began reopening. People were bored and frustrated, with their usual social networks disrupted for the entire spring. Schools were closed, of course, as the Panic demanded. Few seem to have noticed this correlation, but it looks obvious in retrospect.

I was downtown on the overnight of November 8-9, 2016 (the hours after polls closed), and saw many unforgettable scenes there as well, some of which clealry foreshadow the Lockown-induced, politicized riots and looting of mid-2020. Luxury shops in Georgetown were also hit that night, with police as usual flatfooted, even those around doing nothing. (What is the purpose of the police if they won’t enforce order? I wonder. They seem to have orders to never stop looters. I saw this again ion May 31 and June 1, 2020.) What will the overnight November 3-4 be like?

Later on the news I saw reports of this

bookmark_borderPost-390: Anti-Shinchonji

By late February 2020, the name Shinchonji was surfacing in the media, both in the Korean media (where it would very occasionally make an appearance anyway) and for the first time ever in the world media. The reason was the Virus Panic (so-called COVID19 disease; caused by a “coronavirus”) was tied to a returning Shinchonji missionary in China who ignored self-quarantine orders; most of the Korean cases seem tied to this incident. I am not surprised that it was them because of what kind of group it is.

Shinchonji [신천지] is a religious cult which I had many experiences with, directly and indirectly, in the 2010s, some of which I caught onto at the time and others I reconstructed later as certain, likely, or possible cases. Because generally you don’t know what’s going on. They don’t tell who they are. They use deception. As a result, I can say I have hated Shinchonji for years. I can equally say that few have ever actually taken me seriously when I talk about this, because it seems too bizarre; I wouldn’t take someone who talked about it as I do either, had I not seen it. I will record a few things here.

Continue reading “Post-390: Anti-Shinchonji”

bookmark_borderPost-389: “Virus Panic” of 2020 and China’s Soft Power

I was in China for part of December 2019, but only Beijing. About the time I left (which was Dec. 29, I think), the headlines began coming out that someone in Wuhan, China, was suspected of carrying a “new virus.” I had previously been in China at the very start of the decade, May 2010, and now was back in the last month of the decade, Dec. 2019. I had many observations of how I imagined China had changed.

This “virus” story, from my perspective, writing in early March, has been bad for China’s soft power.

The writing I was doing, in emails and chatting-app messages to many at the time, were all about how I perceived a South-Korean-ization of China economically and a North-Korean-ization of China politically. The South-Korean-ization of certain consumer goods and television shows were, I think, probably consciously copied. On the other hand, anything political was much more reminiscent of North Korea. The political sections of bookstores were laughable; they might as well have been selling nothing but repackaged and new editions of the Little Red Book.

That was my perceived reality. I admit it was probably colored by the fact that in 2010 I was in the south and in May, and in 2019 I was in Beijing in December; Beijing is never a friendly place, they say. In any case, the restrictions I perceived, such as on the Internet, I felt were tougher in 2019 than 2010.

What I meant was China’s soft power deficit still had a long way to go in 2019.

bookmark_borderPost-388: Virus Panics; the COVID19 panic vs. the June 2015 MERS panic in S.Korea, as I remember it

The COVID19 virus is all over the news. Though it began in the Chinese interior in Dec. 2019, South Korea is again in the news for an outbreak, as if on cue re-earning its sometime-nickname of the Land of Extremes. S.Korea has racked up more confirmed COVID19 virus infections (called in Korea “Corona19,” 코로나19), by a considerable margin, than anywhere outside the epicenter around Wuhan.

I have a few things I’d like to say related in some way to this latest big virus panic and/or to Korea’s place in it, in descending order of how long ago:

(1) My observations on what’s going on around me now with regard to the virus panic;
(2) China’s soft-power problem; COVID19 as a potential serious a blow to China’s image/prestige;
(3) S.Korea and the negative influence of the Shinchonji group [신천지] (my experiences with this group, which is definitely a cult by popular understanding of the term, date to 2014; second-hand as early as 2012; the experiences were through no fault of my own, as they use front groups and all manner of deceptions to get in contact with people, effectively like an intelligence agency);
(4) My memory of the MERS virus panic of June 2015 that hit South Korea.

I’ll do these in succession in separate posts, starting with the last and most distant, the MERS virus panic of 2015 (2015년6월의 메르스 바이러스-감염병 위기).

I remember “MERS” well. What’s strange to me is how few others seem to, or their memory of it as something minor. I doubt it made the news much at all in the US.

Here we go with this MERS memory post.


The MERS crisis as I remember it:

Continue reading “Post-388: Virus Panics; the COVID19 panic vs. the June 2015 MERS panic in S.Korea, as I remember it”