Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Dear Mr Surgeon General Re: Meatpacking Plants

Dear Mr Surgeon General,

I note with interest that China's second wave of Covid-19 seems to have been kicked off by superspreading events in meat packing plants and markets. Frankly, I am tired of maintaining my Coronavirus Superspreading Events Timeline. Can we just acknowledge that this is a global disgrace?

Mr Surgeon General, couldn't you just declare that it is a matter of national, nay global, urgency, that we address the intolerable situation in meat packing plants? That a root-and-branch, and systematic reimagining of the meat packing industry and the entire food processing pipeline is in order?

A public declaration from the Surgeon General would carry a lot of weight. Your predecessor wouldn't have hesitated - I know, he's The Wife's classmate, and I take her at her word.


I know that Doctor Birx is a water carrier so I wouldn't expect an intensely political animal like her to weigh in, perhaps she's a distant relative of the Vicar of Bray - just speculating based on her sartorial choices. Similarly, kindly Doctor Fauci might be wavering, but he already has his hands full with The Grand Reopening of Texas, not to mention that I've already written 23 stanzas imploring him to do something. No luck with him, he's acting as if he doesn't already have the Presidential Medal of Freedom and has to pander, for whatever reason.

No, this is your call, Mr Surgeon General.

Oh I know, "We are still weighing the evidence", "The facts are still in dispute", "Our decision making will be guided by the best available science", "The enforcement of OSHA and FDA regulations is the province of a different department" etc.

Platitudinous laments.

How many more superspreading events in these kinds of places are we going to tolerate? The ongoing cost of inaction is being measured in blood and sin. I read that the strategy in Texas where I live and elsewhere in the USA was just to make sure we had the testing capacity to deal with these potential hotspots. Well, here's a suggestion: how about ensuring that they are not hotspots to begin with? Whether in Beijing, in South Dakota or in Tennessee? Why are the farms hotspots in the first place? Why are the hostels where our essential workers sleep hotspots? Why are the food processing and distribution plants hotspots? Why are the markets where we buy these essential goods hotspots?

Sensational Fruity Delights

I've heard that folks at the CDC have been sending out emails with links pointing to my layman's timeline for the past couple of weeks. I couldn't quite believe it when I heard it, yet, when I went to check, the clickstream, served up by Google Analytics, bears out that troubling anecdote. What kind of dysfunction is this? Don't they have a timeline internally at the CDC? What have they been doing since January? Or is that all those epidemiologists feel so disempowered and muzzled by Mike Pence, or whoever it is who has decided that your boss, Mister Trump, can't be made to look bad or get bad news? Is it that they need external validation to force the issue on their internal bureaucratic struggles? There is either incompetence or dysfunction at work, or perhaps both, which makes for the worst case scenario. This is a matter of considerable distress to me.

Relying on conveniently-timed leaks, and outside pressure, is no way to run the response to a global pandemic. No, I hope to be proved wrong, but we should not expect anything substantive from the CDC, it is sad to say. In any case, now Atlanta is burning, and so the CDC staffers there might be a touch preoccupied with other matters, and probably have their work cut out simply getting to work, or picking something up from Wendys. I don't envy them. Still, waiting for the CDC at this point is like Waiting for Godot in Khayelitsha.

No this in on you, Mr Surgeon General.

Waiting for Godot - Khayelitsha, South Africa

The economic interests of Tyson, Smithfield and the Big Meat Packing, Big Agribusines Industrial Complex matter for nought in this public health matter, campaign contributions and late night phone calls to the White House notwithstanding. Your boss's invocation of the Defense Production Act to keep these deathtraps open was a tell.

What exactly is the purpose of that ceremonial uniform you wear?

Oh, tell a lie, I did like your early invocation at the outset of the emergency of the fact that you were a walking, breathing risk factor - that your very DNA and concomittant underlying conditions, place you in the high risk category. I heard the urgency and your empathy then, and gave you virtual plaudits: I clicked several like buttons, truth be told. But you have been curiously silent since - almost an erasure even, in this sorry business. I would have thought the occasional savaging was just an occupational hazard, that you'd bounce back. For essential workers, OSHA regulations are a matter of life and death - mostly death.

Wikipedia has you down as "the leading spokesperson on matters of public health in the federal government of the United States". My ears have been wide open hoping for something, anything, from you. This disastrous spectacle has gone on too long.

It's a cheap shot but I'm going to go there, let me try the brother card. I'm an African in America so I may miss some of the nuance of the African American vernacular but I'm going to try. I'm 18 months older than you, so perhaps you should at least give me a listen. Hear me out, real talk now, Mister Surgeon General. Perhaps you're a visual person, so I'll give an illustration of what I mean:

At this point subsequent horrific events are still reversible - kodjo crobsen

That's from my man Kodjo Crobsen who made it his business to be the cultural intepreter during Ghana's lost decades, during our worst crises. If you read his book, Power to the People, Reflections on Retrogressive Politics, you'll see this angel periodically appear, as if a Greek chorus, amidst the poems and cartoons that mark the milestones of his history of our country's times. Conscious decisions could have been made at so many crucial junctures, but they weren't. There were so many men of integrity who had it in their power to act so that our society could be spared the worst. They failed to act, and we all paid the price, even those of us who managed to survive. We lost so much and remain the walking wounded decades later.

Anyway, perhaps you respond better to words, let me try again:
At this point, subsequent horrific events are still reversible

You know as well as I do that the reality show Actor-in-Chief in America's B-movie put you up, you along with Ben Carson, because you're straight out of central casting. Unlike Uncle Ben, who is indeed a surgeon, your current position is solely devoted to public health. That should count for something. Like all of us, you've been watching the spectable of the George Floyd protests - now 16 days and counting as I started this note. This will be unfortunate fodder for my coronavirus superspreading event timeline come early July since a crowd is anathema to social distancing and, in many places, the righteous protestors are not wearing masks and, crucially, they are chanting cries of outrage, the choral catastrophe as it were.. The wages of depraved indifference are punitive damages, made doubly worse in this instance by a covidious collateral damage.

My point is how can you breathe?

The Donald doesn't like hearing the calm entreaties of Tedros Adhanom, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) to "test, test, test". Being calmly advised by an Ethiopian reeks of the aversion he, and they, had to the professorial Mr Barack Obama, it's a visceral reaction, plain and simple. He is already threatening to withdraw and defund the WHO in the middle of a pandemic. Even mild-mannered and apolitical Bill Gates was moved to act to mitigate the damage. The WHO is a creation of the CDC, for God's sake. What kind of cognitive dissonance is this? Heck your boss set The ADP (Attack Dog Pompeo) on him and the WHO. When the former head of the CIA turns his attention to you, well, you don't have to be Salvador Allende to know how these things might end. Ergo, the WHO is going to tread very gingerly going forward as Fox News and worse will be trained on it to jump on any messaging missteps.

No, Mr Surgeon General. This is under your control, these things are entirely in your domain. The Donald's dismal debacle is happening under your watch, as are the accompanying deaths. You know as well as I do that, when he is looking for scapegoats to divert attention for his dereliction of duty, that you will be the first to go, optics be damned. What is the point of your office if you can't speak to the nation's health? You have the bully pulpit. What is it for if you decline to use it? For it is your choice, Mr Surgeon General. It is your decision alone how you use it.

How many outbreaks do I and so many others need to point you to?

Sure it is a political decision, and we know as well as you who pays your bills, and at whose pleasure you serve. At this point though, our covidious predicament is akin to a species event, and we're fiddling while Rome is burning.

No one is coming to protect our essential workers, no one in authority is at all interested.

Appealing to Mister Trump's better angel is like Charlie Brown lining up to kick Lucy's football; today is not the day he finally becomes presidential. That day is never coming. Robert Redfield, your pal, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines the phrase regulatory capture. With a straight face, he will start his Congressional testimony with "I guess I anticipated that the private sector would have engaged...". That guy will keep anticipating that meat packing plants and nursing homes will engage themselves out of this pandemic. It's Wolf Hall, bring out the bodies.

It's on you Mr Surgeon General. The buck stops with you. The most catastrophic public health response in history is happening on your watch. You should be leading the global effort and setting an example. Don't let it be German outrage that sets the worldwide example. America First was your boss's slogan.

It's a shell game, all remnants of a shame culture are vestigial in this country. The fix is in. This is a public health emergency, and the powers that be have decided on the pursuit of herd immunity. I'll keep saying it until I am proved wrong, and will gladly eat crow.

America's real herd immunity is to shame

Mister Surgeon General, I beseech you. Prove me wrong. Stand up and be counted.

Timing is everything
Observers are worried
Observers are very worried.

Yours truly,

Chief Toli Monger

Dear Mr Surgeon General, a playlist

A soundtrack for this open letter (spotify version)

  • Tennesee by Arrested Development
    This would have been your jam, Mr Surgeon General, back at university. I have golden memories of just getting down with the guys when the song came on. We didn't need the girlfriends around, we just got down when the drums dropped, and they dropped hard. Sidenote: Prince waited until it topped the charts before launching into negotiations about the uncleared sample from Alphabet Street.
    The Lord allowed me to drink some more
    He said what I am searching for are
    The answers to all which are in front of me
    The ultimate truth started to get blurry
    For some strange reason it had to be
    It was all a dream about Tennessee
    See also: Every Single Worker Has Covid at a Farm in Tennesee on Eve of Harvest
  • C.R.E.A.M. by Wu-Tang Clan
    Cash Rules Everything Around Me
    Get the money
    Dollar, dollar bill, y'all
    The phantom thread of greed lies at the heart of the matter.
  • Alphabet Street by Prince
    Another memory, it was Easter break in 1988. It was perhaps 3am at night and I'd just come home on the night bus from a night in a South London club. Derek B had been in the crowd that night and I was still buzzing with excitement. Jools Holland's show was on, and the Alphabet St video was given its British premiere. The reaction from Jools and the audience on the screen was priceless - they were as flabbergasted as was I at the musical inventivess of those 3 minutes. I know people say that the song's focus on "going down" meant that it was the most overt paen to carnal matters to play on commercial radio. I preferred the reading that it was a funky and infectious satire of USA for Africa. In this light, think of your acronym soup, Mr Surgeon General: CDC, WHO, FEMA, FDA, OSHA and all the others I'm urging you to wrangle together. As the Minneapolis genius sang
    We're going down, down, down,
    If that's the only way
    To make this cruel, cruel world
    Hear what we've got to say
    Put the right letters together
    And make a better day

    Yeah, yeah, yeah,
    Better days
Dear Mr Surgeon General, two comments from a reader named Anonymous (prolific writer this Anonymous fellow) suggest that perhaps you're a movie person and that I add two movie scenes to my advocacy - great additions to the playlist by the way.
  • The meatpacking scene in Rocky is probably the most iconic scene that sears that meat packing institution in the mind. Straight from the rough and tumble streets of Philadelphia. Also it's a lot more family friendly than the abattoir or slaughterhouse scene in The Long Good Friday. That gothic horror of the underbelly of London that Bob Hoskins prowled.

    Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky) by Bill Conti is the most inspirational music we know.

    I prefer that miraculous first Rocky movie to the sequel Rocky II because even though he lost the fight, at least made the valiant effort and tried. I'm rooting for you Mr Surgeon General, I want you to be shouting Adrienne at the end.
  • Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett's amazing movie never saw the widespread release it deserved. It's a masterpiece in short, a look at the life of essential workers who work at meat packing plants in Los Angeles.

    This Bitter Earth by Dinah Washington
    Dinah Washington should be part of any playlist. Her voice is the sound of wist.

Mr Surgeon General,

I know the nation's mental health is your current focus but my mental health can't handle the situation in meatpacking plants and the entire food processing pipeline.

Covidious priorities?

Bill of Particulars

And so forth, Dear Mr Surgeon General...

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