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What about the Butter Dish?

cooked pie

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So, here we are, staying relatively safe by staying home. One of the impacts of never eating out is doing more dishes. We end up washing dishes nearly every day now rather than a couple times a week. 

Today, it’s my wife washing the dishes while I gather dishes and dry them. She likes to wash the dishes for the cats nearly every day while I generally wait till they obtain the proper patina of dried food. I think about how tigers drag their dead prey around for a week or more in the hot tropical sun. I think about how the cats eat bugs, plastic, lizards, and each other’s puke so — I’m thinking they’re likely not into the same exact aesthetic as I am. But — hey — if she wants to do cat dishes, fine with me. I go around the house and collect cat dishes. 

You may think that I would “know” where the cat dishes are because we only have six white cat dishes for wet food and six aluminum ones for dry food “snacks.” And mainly I do know because the cats generally eat in the same places every day. Tally however, likes to lead me on a bit of a game before she decides exactly where she wants to eat on any give day. 


Luna also likes to switch it up. On the one hand, she likes to socialize with her best (and only) feline friend, Charles Wallace. So, often times, she wants her food put down right beside him. But Charles Wallace, being younger, male, and more aggressive, sometimes steals Luna’s food — sometimes, even before he’s done with his own. Sometimes, Luna therefore prefers me to place the food farther away so she can have more of her meal in peace before Charles Wallace swoops in and starts chomping on it. 

I explain to you these details to illustrate that even though gathering the cat dishes is easy, it does require some attentional resources. 

What about the butter dish? What does that have to do with anything? 

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We keep a small human dish with butter in the cupboard so that it’s soft enough to spread on bread, waffles, potatoes, pancakes, or vegetables. When the butter gets used up, I put the butter dish down by some of the cat dishes and let them lick the plate clean. Yes. I do. Once the cats have licked it clean, one of us still washes it by hand and then puts it into a dishwasher whereupon the scalding water will kill any cat germs that might be on the plate. 

I leave the butter dish out for two reasons: first, the cats like the butter. 

Their tongues are able to lick it very much cleaner than I can manage with, say, a butter knife. So, the second reason is that putting it out for the cats is that it also works for my benefit. It makes the dishes significantly easier to clean. Not just the butter dishes, but all the dishes.


When I do the dishes, olive oil on a plate easily washes off with soap and water. Butter? No. — It’s like glue, not oil. If a plate has butter on it, it will “contaminate” every other dish that such a plate comes in contact with. It’s amazing how persistent butter is. Even honey and maple syrup come off a plate fairly easily with warm water and soap. But not butter. So, partly I put out the  “empty” butter dish for the cats because they will manage to lick nearly every butter molecule — less contamination for the other dishes. And, by the way, it isn’t only the other dishes which are subject to butter contamination. The same goes for my hands. Olive oil washes off easily and if a little stays on my hands, it seems to be absorbed into my skin and help make up for the endless hand washing. Butter, on the other hand, does not feel good on my hands. Your mileage may differ. I don’t like it. It does not feel “clean.” 

Anyway, here I am thinking of various things, listening to the news, and gathering up cat dishes. I am mentally counting them as I do so. I don’t want to miss one. Who knows what psychological harm could come to a cat who might be “singled out” by having their dinner presented on a dirty plate when the other five are clean. I come to the last three dishes where Shadow, Molly, and Blaze typically eat and I hand these and the other three to my wife. She takes the six dishes and says, “What about the Butter Dish?” 

A seemingly innocent question. 

I look down, and I see that indeed, there is a butter dish and that it’s within inches of the spot from whence — just two seconds ago — I had picked up three “cat dishes.” 

wildlife photography of tiger

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I am certainly aware that our collective goal is to wash all the dishes. Indeed, most have already been done or loaded into the dishwasher. I well recall that I put the butter dish down there to be licked just a few short hours ago. 

I did not, so far as I can recall, look down at the four dishes and think, “Well, let’s see — one butter dish and three cat dishes. But she only asked for cat dishes so I’ll just leave the butter dish alone. No. I did not even see the Butter Dish! It entered no more into my consciousness than the tile floor, the Christmas-themed place matts, or the faux panel behind them. I was looking for — and counting cat dishes. That was how I thought of my tasks. 

I recalled a video which was popular for awhile. Perhaps you’ve seen it? It asks you to count the number of basketball passes made by the people in white shirts. 


How did you do? 

In a previous essay, I talked about how our habits can virtually blind us to what is right in front of us. 


In the case of the cat dishes, it wasn’t habit so much as task focus that made me blind to seeing the butter dish. I was busy gathering the cat dishes, listening to the newscast, and — importantly, I think — counting the cat dishes. The butter dish was irrelevant to the task as I had defined it.

Since I was also listening to the newscast, I began to think that this is related to why 40% of Americans don’t seem to care that the mishandling of the pandemic is resulting in tens of thousands of Americans needlessly dying from COVID19. It isn’t that they are doing a bad job of evaluating the behavior of #45. Evaluating his behavior and its effect on America is not viewed as a task. 

woman in black dress holding balance scale

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Their task as they see it, is to defend the President and his actions against his “enemies.” He declares people who disagree with him “enemies of the people.” The task of the base, as they see it, is not to question whether the other 60% are “really” enemies. He says they are and so their job is to defend POUTUS against those enemies. 

For that task, it doesn’t matter whether he said this would all go away. It doesn’t matter that he said there was plenty of equipment, testing, masks, etc. when it was a lie. Whether it’s 1 American dead or 75,000 dead is irrelevant to defending him. You might see it as quite relevant to whether or not you should be defending him. I think it is. But they don’t. Their task is to defend him no matter what happens.

He says that it will be over soon — and 10,000 people die — the question for them is:
“How can I defend the President?” 

He says that we will open back up soon — but there are 25,000 dead — the question for them is: “How can I defend the President?” 

If a million Americans die, the question for them will still be: “How can I defend the President?” 

The number of dead Americans just keeps going up so thinking about how many dead isn’t only irrelevant to defending #45; it’s counter-productive.

They (the people who still defend him) don’t scan the news or his tweets to evaluate whether they should be defending #45. They listen to the news or his tweets to look for things to say or retweet that will defend #45. Thinking about how many dead Americans there are is completely beside the point! 

If it’s early March and there are only a few cases and he says it will go away, they hear that it will go away. Good sound bite! I can use that to defend, they think to themselves. 

If it’s mid-March and he says everything will be back to normal by Easter, they hear that and use it to defend #45. 

If it’s May and 75,000 Americans are dead, they don’t pay any attention. But if he claims that he’s done a great job, they do pay attention because that is something that they can repeat as a defense. 

If he claims that China misled us, they do pay attention because that is something that they can repeat as a defense. If he says we’ll have a vaccine in a few months, they do pay attention because that is something that they can repeat as a defense. It is not their task to decide whether what #45 says is true before they repeat it. They repeat it because it’s pro-45. 

If they end up repeating defenses that are inconsistent with each other, what difference does it make? Who cares? They aren’t trying to be consistent or coherent. That’s not their task. 

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Their task is to defend. 

Unfortunately, lies and corruption are a bit like butter. Put butter it in the sink with all the dishes that you wanted to clean and instead, everything gets coated with corruption butter. It is so heavy with corruption that it’s easy to drop plates onto the floor where they smash to bits. 

But who cares? 

They defenders judge their performance and each other on how well they are repeating the messages of Fox News — not on how many Americans are needlessly dying. 

And once you evaluate yourself in terms of how vigorously you defend #45 for a few years, the worse he actually does as POUTUS and the more Americans he kills, it does not become less important for you to defend #45. It becomes even more important. 

Now, having killed tens of thousands of Americans needlessly, he has even more enemies and the press is going after him even harder, and liberals think he’s even worse than he was when he was simply stealing taxpayer dollars to funnel them illegally toward the Trump Crime Family or ripping babies away from their mothers.

The rest of America keeps showing them the butter dish. “See? It’s right here. How can you miss it?” 

And the base answers: “So? I don’t care. Why are you showing me the stupid butter dish? My job is to gather up and count the cat dishes.” 

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Essays on America: Wednesday

A Profound and Utter Failure