What Freedom Really Looks like

Many people are refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Some of them have adopted a mantra that they will not be vaccinated because complying with government directives or even guidelines somehow compromises their “freedom.” It’s sometimes expressed as “I’m an American and no one tells me what to do.” Even if it’s for their own good and the good of their fellow Americans. Freedom first, they say.

These people are becoming increasingly marginalized because American businesses are recognizing, slowly but surely, that the best hope we as a whole people have to return to normalcy rests with achieving a high percentage of vaccinated citizens. The federal government recognizes this as well and is requiring vaccination for federal employees.

I’m not here to argue about that. You know where I stand on vaccination. No, I’m here to talk about what true “freedom” looks and feels like.

True freedom was the ability this past Saturday night to attend the Paul Taylor Dance Company performances at the Kennedy Center. Everyone entering had to show a vaccination record, ID and then received a wrist band (see the photo above). Everyone had to remain masked in the theater. What did this mean?

First and foremost, it meant the freedom, for the first time since early 2020, to watch remarkable talented performers live on stage right in front of us. We can’t do what they do but we soared with them in another way. I wanted to jump up and shout but I restrained myself.

It meant that my wife had the freedom to chat with the man seated next to her about his having seen the first set of dances ten years ago. He clearly felt the freedom too, that deep sense of relief that we can live again. Live dancers – no Zoom! The real thing.

The audience was a good mixture of older people and many younger ones as well. Some of the latter group looked like dancers and I have no doubt they were as excited to see the Paul Taylor company as we were.

The performances were amazing. The first set was devoted to music from the late 1930’s and 1940’s sung by the Andrews Sisters, tunes like Pennsylvania Polka, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Rum & Coca Cola. The boogie woogie vibe of that era was fully realized in the choreography and high energy of the dancers. The dancers were clearly having a good time, and the audience was extremely responsive to the skills and enthusiasm of those remarkable people.

The second set was quite different: danced to Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major and Double Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor (Largo & Allegro). If you aren’t familiar with those somewhat obscure titles, treat yourself here: https://yhoo.it/3lwXQc1 and here https://yhoo.it/3Bzy0tJ

While the set began with what seemed, to me at least, some pointless running around, it didn’t take too long for the choreographer’s vision to take hold with spectacular acrobatic leaps, rolls and more. Amazing athleticism. Amazing grace. Freedom!

Two days later we were still talking about the performance and the feelings it inspired.

Obviously, there are other more profound and, in a broader sense, more important aspects of freedom, but I’ll take this for now. We could breathe again, stop being afraid and just rejoice in the passion of the moment. Because everyone in the theater was vaccinated and wearing a mask. Everyone was respecting everyone else. The truth is I hate the mask. But it’s a small thing to do for my own and everyone else’s safety. And, not surprisingly, during the performances I forgot entirely that I was wearing a mask.

I read now that the Delta variant of COVID is in “remission” and that cases and deaths are once again declining. That’s good news, but we’ve been here before. Instead of declaring victory, do the smart thing: get vaccinated immediately. Demand that friends, family and co-workers do the same. That’s the only way we’re going to emerge from this nightmare. If you live in states where leadership is resisting vaccination mandates, replace those people. They don’t care about you.

If you want true freedom again, the fastest, best and only road there runs through the vaccination program. Do it now.

Places to Go, Things to See

The weekend looms. A good opportunity to review some of the places we’ve visited recently for relief from the continuing gloom of a city not yet recovered from COVID’s shutdown of the economy.

Over a span of a few months we have been on the road quite a bit. A very brief sample of some of the available delights follows, starting with the most distant from Washington:

Savage River Lodge

This place is located at the end of a 1.5 mile gravel road in upper northwest Maryland, best attempted only if you have at least a front-wheel drive vehicle and (in winter) 4-wheel drive. The lodge has a restaurant with outdoor seating and a collection of cabins and yurts for rent. The site is remote and hilly but abounds in natural beauty. It is an easy drive to Grantsville, MD and close to Frostburg.

In one day we saw about a dozen deer, a personal record. The Casselman Bridge in the last photo is in Grantsville whose principal attraction is the Hill Top Fruit Market which is mainly a candy store, lined with bins of all manner of sweet stuff, including many you haven’t seen since childhood. You can also buy fresh fruits and vegetables there. The Fernwood Soap shop and the flowers are in the Spruce Forest Artisan Village, adjacent to the Penn Alps Restaurant & Craft Shop.

Be advised that for a more accessible but still interesting “remote” experience, the cabins in New Germany State Park are very hospitable and inexpensive. They are a fun place to use as a base for exploring the area, maybe doing a little fishing, rafting and such.

Skyline Drive

This, of course, is the 105-mile mountain-top ride in Shenandoah National Park in the magnificent Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Don’t  think about driving the full length of the Drive unless you plan to stay overnight at some of the few on-site lodges. The speed limit is low and the road curves, rises and falls incessantly so fast driving is not in the cards. Besides, you’ll miss the scenery.

Great Falls Park After Hurricane Ida

One of the interesting aspects of Great Falls Park is that it is radically affected by upstream rainfall, which is evident in this small sample of photos showing the impact of Hurricane Ida having dropped massive water upstream. The water is high and brown. Impressive but you wouldn’t want to fall in.

Dyke Marsh

This little gem, about two miles roundtrip, flat as a pancake, can surprise you with unexpected visual delights. In the right season, red-wing blackbirds make the adjoining vegetation their nesting grounds. The Potomac River runs alongside. There are usually a few walkers along the way but even on weekends, we have found Dyke Marsh trail uncrowded and pleasant for a short easy walk. My wife’s uncanny ability to spot creatures in the wild accounts for the grasshoppers and Blue-tailed Skinks that I would have missed entirely.

Sadly, there is always evidence that humans have been here before us, seemingly the unavoidable consequence of so much nature so close to so many people who just don’t understand:

Tregaron

Finally, even closer to [our] home is Tregaron Conservancy, entered most conveniently from either Macomb Street NW or Klingle Road NW. It is situated between the Cleveland Park and Woodley Park neighborhoods just west of Rock Creek Park. The park is small but considering it’s in the middle of a city neighborhood, it has some interesting features, the best of which, for us, was the Lily Pond, small but full of life.

There were, of course, many more frogs and dragon flies, as well as a small armada of goldfish. The frogs are quite bold, as these photos attest.

Frogs have featured in Japanese haiku for centuries and somehow capture the essence:

The old pond

A frog leaps in.

Sound of the water.

What else is there to say?

Conclusion

We continue to be pleasantly surprised at the natural resources available around the Washington area and are often surprised by the wildlife that thrives in our midst. Walking slowly and observing quietly usually pays off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Than the Heart Can Bear

Early last evening we visited the Washington Monument grounds to see the acres and acres of white flags that have been placed there by artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg to memorialize the more than 670,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19. The display of flags is called America Remember. It has received little attention from media.

Stunning in scale, the flags cut into you, especially, I suspect if, like us, you have lost a loved one to the virus. Some who visited have penned notes on the flags, expressing their grief.

The setting is surreal, watched over by the Washington Monument. It can be seen from the White House. It is overwhelming. You have to see it, to walk among the endless row upon row of white symbols of death, of loss, of pointless tragedy. For those who can’t do so in person, I hope these photographs will suffice at least for now. There are no words.

 

 

Another Day, Another Park

Since a certain group of people continue to prevent the country from escaping the pandemic, we remain in partial shutdown and, if you regard your health seriously, limited to where we can eat and otherwise do “normally.” The road ahead seems long and unpleasant.

Thus, desperate for escape, needy of stimulation and just to get some air, we visited yet another “local” park last weekend. Two actually, though one barely counts, as you will see.

Our destination was Neabsco Regional Park in Woodbridge, VA, billed as “300 acres of natural, recreational, and historic amenities including the Rippon Lodge Historic Site, Rippon Landing, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail Neabsco Creek Boardwalk, Julie J. Metz Neabsco Creek Wetlands Preserve, and portions of historic Kings Highway.” https://bit.ly/2VS0oYt We opted for the Boardwalk. You can see an aerial photo of the Boardwalk on the website.

The upside of the Boardwalk is that it’s a … boardwalk. You stay above the muck, mud and other “things” while having a broad view of the natural scene. The downside of the Boardwalk is that it enables bicyclists, strollers and large groups to move easily along and disrupt, in a minor way, your tranquility.

This is part of the Boardwalk that is surprisingly long:

The other outstanding feature of Neabsco is that the bog/swamp area is surprisingly uniform. For an area this large there appears to be relatively little biodiversity.

Nevertheless, the observant observer can see plenty of interesting activity in  and above the bush. In addition to the turtle “hotel”

we saw some beautiful flowers, though, curiously, they mostly were single blossoms poking through the surrounding greenery:

though, as always, there were brilliant exceptions:

But, of course, the real “juice” at a place like this is the wildlife and we had several delightful surprises. At ground level, there was this amazing  heron whose neck contortions in his slow hunt for food were astonishing to see up close:

By the way, the crawfish (we think) in his bill in the last picture escaped at the least moment! The heron took it in stride and resumed his stalking through the bog.

The thing is that in a place like this your attention is naturally drawn downward, but it’s important not to focus too much on what’s right in front of you. My wife’s vision for spotting animals in the wild is remarkable. and she detected these bald eagles quietly hunting and the osprey in a tree  probably a hundred yards away:

Largely sated by these experiences, we departed for Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where we limited ourselves to what is billed as the Wildlife Drive. Mistake. If you want to see what this Refuge has to offer, you’ll have to do it on foot. The Wildlife Drive looks like a narrow gravel road running among bushes and trees for it’s entire distance. Nothing to see. There are foot trails; check the map carefully to find them. The oddest thing was that these signs appeared throughout the drive:

We still haven’t figured out what you would dig for but it must be a real problem because there were a lot of signs. We were pretty disappointed in this experience, but it did not detract from the cool stuff in Neabsco. And, yes, the featured image at the top of this post, butterfly on flower, was taken there.

The Doomsday Scenario – Strangelove as President

You’ve seen one of the movies, most likely. One masterpiece that comes to mind is Dr. Strangelove, subtitled, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” If you are one of the five living people who hasn’t seen it, Wikipedia summarizes the story like this:

The story concerns an unhinged United States Air Force general who orders a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. It separately follows the President of the United States, his advisors, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a Royal Air Force (RAF) exchange officer as they attempt to prevent the crew of a B-52 plane (who were following orders from the general) from bombing the Soviets and starting a nuclear war. [https://bit.ly/39fqU0M]

There are other such stories, including the similar Seven Days in May, about a “military-political cabal’s planned takeover of the United States government in reaction to the president’s negotiation of a disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union.” [https://bit.ly/2Xip8cF]

At the root of each drama is the conflict between the civilian and Constitutional leader of the military (the President) and the military leadership. Usually, it’s the military people that go off the reservation. In the real world, we had the opposite, terrifying scenario of the President of the United States becoming unhinged from reality and unrestrained by Constitutional or any other restraints (including his Cabinet). Trump was behaving so irrationally that the senior military authority, General Mark Milley, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, undertook steps to be sure that Trump’s lunacy did not destroy the world.

Republicans, and even a few Democrats, are losing their minds over this. Ignore the Republicans, who, as with COVID-19, Ukraine and many other situations, can be counted upon to suspend all rational thinking in favor of obeisance to Donald Trump. Especially people like the morally compromised Senator Marco Rubio. Their reaction is predictable and meaningless.

Our attention is captured, however, as it should be, when someone like Ret. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, driven out of the service by Donald Trump, complains that Gen. Milley should be removed because he “usurped civilian authority, broke Chain of Command, and violated the sacrosanct principle of civilian control over the military.” https://wapo.st/3zbu9Ry

Despite my great respect for Lt. Col. Vindman for his courageous stand against Trump’s lies about the Ukraine extortion, I disagree with his judgment on Gen. Milley.

In time of crisis, there are two essential options: (1) look to an authority source for direction and mechanically do what it says, or (2) use judgment to assess whether the authority source works in the situation at hand and, if not, choose another course of action. People face these choices every day in one way or another, thankfully almost always in situations trivial by comparison to the problem Gen. Milley faced. They make such choices on the spur of the moment, often without much thought. Sometimes they are right and sometimes not.

For example, in a different realm, the standard instruction is: don’t run from a bear; running will trigger its predatory instincts to attack. Also, don’t get between a mother bear and her cubs.

Fine, but what if you’ve wandered between the mother and cubs before you are even aware of their presence. The rules then are more complicated: if it’s a brown bear and it charges you, fall into a fetal position, trying your best to protect head, neck and stomach. If it’s a black bear, fight back. Throw things, get “big,” shout. Brown bears are more aggressive typically but may lose interest when you cease to be a threat. Black bears are ferocious but may yield and run from a fight.

If it’s a polar bear, well, hope your estate plan is in order.

The point is that these “rule book” principles are fine until they don’t work. If a grizzly attacks, you go fetal and he starts eating you, it may be that the stick lying beside you is your only remaining hope of survival. So, you grab the stick and poke him in the eye or other sensitive place, make a lot of noise and fight like hell for your life. You’re going to die otherwise, so you do what you have to do. Your options are few so you do what you can to change the odds.

Imperfect as analogies may be, the ultimate question is crisis is: will following the authority solve the problem or do I have to improvise and do the unthinkable?

Gen. Milley was faced with precisely this situation. [Disclosure: I haven’t yet read the Woodward/Costa book that revealed this story and even then might not have all the information.]

Gen. Milley had the real-life Dr. Strangelove in the role of President of the United States. His choice was to follow the rule book, let events take their course. He realized he could possibly be witness to, and complicit in, the destruction of the world as we know it if Donald Trump, desperate to cling to power, were to issue orders for a nuclear strike against China. Evidence was abundant that Trump was having serious mental disfunction. This was nothing new, but the loss of the 2020 election unhinged him from reality to a degree not previously seen. He claimed without evidence that the election had been stolen; he refused to cooperate in the peaceful transition of power; on January 6 he had urged his followers to use force to stop the final step in certifying the election result; he openly sought to reverse election counts in multiple states by pressuring state officials.

Donald Trump spit in the face of the constitutional order, giving every indication that he might be prepared to do something even more unprecedented in human history to retain power.

In those circumstances, perhaps one person alone stood as the final bulwark against insanity on the loose. That was General Milley. He chose to act rather than be another passive instrument of Trump’s delusion. I think I understand the tendency of people like Lt. Col. Vindman to turn to the “book” in cases like this, but history should vindicate the judgment of Gen. Milley that the evidence of irrational behavior was too strong, and the weakness of the inner Trump circle was too compromised, to simply hope for the best. The nation, indeed the world, should be grateful.

Note: Jennifer Rubin’s Washington Post opinion piece on this issue raises questions regarding the lessons to be taken from this episode and how we shore up the constitutional order against a future Trump. https://wapo.st/3hEyKpm Those are very important questions that require the most serious consideration.

 

Religious Exemption – What Religious Exemption?

I keep hearing about people claiming they have a religious objection to (1) wearing a mask and/or (2) getting a COVID vaccination. I have asked the Twitterverse to identify the religion that contains such prohibitions in its doctrine, so far without response.

To be clear, I am not writing this to belittle anyone’s religious faith. I write to raise the highly relevant question in the pandemic of what exactly qualifies as a valid “religious exemption” to masking and/or vaccination.

My thesis is that (1) the sudden discovery during the pandemic of one’s “religious doctrine” is just too convenient and is not a valid claim; (2) to make a valid religious exemption claim, at least two things must be demonstrated: (a) an established discoverable documented statement of clear doctrine opposing the use of masks/vaccinations to prevent/limit disease on the basis of an identified moral/ethical code, and (2) evidence that the claimant has in actual fact practiced the doctrines of the asserted religious for an extended period prior to the pandemic.

Point (1) should not be that hard. Established religions that have such doctrines can be expected to have produced writings/speeches/published practice directives that make these assertions and tie them to some “higher power” ethical controlling principles. I am not aware that such religions exist. Christian Science may be one, though I am not clear that it actually rejects vaccination conceptually. But I am not an expert on religions and there may be others. Waiting.

Point (2) may be much harder for many people. I do not accept that a person may make a valid religious exemption claim if they suddenly discover that their “religion” has some doctrine that may be used as an exemption support, and they then decide to assert it when the reality is that they never followed the doctrine before.

I am astonished and perplexed to learn that the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has adopted as policy in its Compliance Manual on Religious Discrimination the “principle” that in practice means a religious exemption is in most cases whatever the person says it is, regardless of past practice of adherence or any other considerations. I am not going to elaborate on my judgment of that – if you’re interested, you can find the details here: https://bit.ly/3yUWlIh I do believe it is conceptually and otherwise preposterous.

But that such muddled thinking is part of government policy, at least in one domain, it is small wonder that people are using religious exemption claims to cover their political or merely ignorant resistance to public health measures that have been shown to limit COVID infection spread. The resisters – the anti-makers and anti-vaxxers – are not only dying at much higher rates than the vaccinated, but they are facilitating the “evolution” of the virus into more virulent strains, such as the Delta Variant that is ravaging the country now. Breakthrough infections, with sometimes deadly outcomes, are increasing also. This is virtually certain to result from vast numbers of unvaccinated people walking among us.

My limited understanding of religion is that any legitimate one has an ethical/moral foundation of principles to live by. Whether it’s one deity or many, a set of principles to live by is the central idea. If so, I can’t help wondering what foundation of ethical/moral principles the people who suddenly found religion think they are asserting. Their new “religion” has the effect of exposing themselves and, worse, others to a deadly disease. What principle of ethics/morality justifies that? How do they square their supposed adherence to a set of ethical/moral principles while basically lying about their “sincerely held religious beliefs?”

The Road Not Taken

Kudos to President Biden for taking the hard but right path to restoring the physical and economic health of the country. Shame on those who continue to harp on the ignorant and irrationally resistant themes of “my rights” at the expense of the health and welfare of others. ENOUGH!

We’re at the fork in the road. Nothing short of a full-on frontal attack on the virus is going to get us out of this mess. The great American poet Robert Frost captured the idea in his famous poem, The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Biden has taken the road that many politicians would eschew – the one that will, and has, inevitably create another furor. Rather than the “safe path,” Biden has shown the courage of a leader by doing the right thing rather than the safe or easy route. You can hide from destiny only so long, as this great story reminds us:

A merchant in Baghdad sent his servant to the market.
The servant returned, trembling and frightened. The
servant told the merchant, “I was jostled in the market,
turned around, and saw Death.

“Death made a threatening gesture, and I fled in terror.
May I please borrow your horse? I can leave Baghdad
and ride to Samarra, where Death will not find me.”

The master lent his horse to the servant, who rode away,
to Samarra.

Later the merchant went to the market, and saw Death in
the crowd. “Why did you threaten my servant?” He asked.

Death replied, “I did not threaten your servant. It was
merely that I was surprised to see him here in Baghdad,
for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra. 

The choice we face now, that we must face, is between aggressively striking at the virus with all the tools at our disposal or continuing to beg the irrational and uninformed to do the right thing. The former has a chance to stop the pandemic, to take advantage of the astonishing opportunity that the rapid deployment of vaccines has provided. The latter approach has virtually certain terrible consequences: more illness, more death, more permanently damaged bodies.

The reality is that the vaccines are safe and effective. The reality is that the rapid spread of the Delta variant has again overwhelmed the nation’s medical capabilities. COVID infections that are mainly in unvaccinated individuals are denying needed medical services for people with other medical conditions.

I have read some of the insane rantings of primarily right-wing and libertarian “authorities” who claim to have inside knowledge that the virus was released deliberately by agents of the federal government who are cashing in on the vaccines. These people claim that the vaccines contain various poisons, microchips and who knows what else.

It seems that one can always find someone who claims to have the inside track on awful secrets and conspiracies that are constantly being plotted against the rest of humanity. These sometimes include people with “medical credentials,” but often they are former workers in the pharmaceutical industry who are certain that they have inside information to expose the crimes being perpetrated in the name of … whatever. They readily accept the plausibility of conspiracies involving many thousands of people around the globe, no one willing to spill the beans, all in the name of “follow the money” or some other cliché that substitutes for actual thought.

We see this same theme played out in science fiction movies and what I call “caper movies” in which bad guys pull off, at least temporarily, extraordinary schemes to steal, blow up, capture huge sums of money, power over the world, etc. Movies like Air Force One, Die Hard and so many others. I have struggled through a few episodes of a TV series called Eureka that is loaded with utterly implausible, preposterous concepts and science-like doublespeak and gibberish. Some people apparently take such stories to be true. It’s an easy shift from one phantasmagorical storyline to another. Harry Potter is real, flying broomsticks and all.

Reality is more mundane. Two kinds of sickness pervade the country. One is the COVID-19 virus. We’ve learned a lot about it and about how to prevent its worst manifestations. Vaccines, masks, social distancing – that’s pretty much the essence. Study after study confirms the validity of these measures, if, at least, they are applied broadly and consistently.

But it’s damned inconvenient and mighty annoying. COVID has shuttered many businesses, interfered with our fun and instilled a deep-seated fear in many people that they and their loved ones, including children for whom they are responsible, are being exposed to an invisible, highly transmissible and deadly disease. More than 648,000 dead from a disease that our former president assured us would “soon disappear like magic.” Damned annoying.

The other sickness is the resistance to the solution. We know what to do but for many Americans, the disease isn’t the real enemy. The real enemy is the government. Many people appear to believe the government unleashed the virus. Why would the government do that? Did the government want to destroy the economy? Weaken our national defenses? Reduce the population? End civilization? Apparently, many believe so.

Logic and reason have little to do with this mindset. It’s analogous to those who argue that the January 6 insurrection was actually the work of the winners of the election who wanted to stop the certification of their win so that the loser, whom they hate, would be installed as the winner. That make sense to you? If so, take two giant steps to the right.

Along comes the new president who starts an unprecedented and initially successful campaign to deliver life-saving and pandemic-ending medicine into tens of millions of citizens without any meaningful adverse consequences and at no cost. And yes, yes, I understand we can’t prove that ten years from now there won’t be some inexplicable adverse outcome for somebody. There is no scientific or medical reason to suspect that could or would happen, but we can’t predict the future with 100% certainty, so ….

But, you know, in the long run we’re all dead anyway. In the meantime, we can return to “normal life.” All we have to do is get vaccinated and comply with a few annoying but otherwise trivial practices a while longer with a few minimal restrictions on our behavior.

But, no, this is apparently asking too much for millions of Americans. They have their “rights” to protect, regardless of the consequences. “Freedom” is their watchword. Don’t tell me what to do even if it’s for my own good. Sounds like a teenager who thinks he knows everything already and is invulnerable. Or the guy with the boat who insists on going out in the hurricane because he can “handle anything.”

Many of these people end up in the ICU, begging for the vaccine, only to be told by doctors, “it’s too late for you. You should have taken the vaccine earlier. It can’t help you now. Nothing can help you now.”

The solution is in our hands, if only our minds will allow us to see it. I despair of it, after engaging yet another person who on first encounter seemed reasonable and thoughtful, but then insisted “we are being lied to” and that the vaccines contain deadly poisons that make them magnetic. She argued with me that the vaccination program was unnecessary because “natural immunity” was superior protection to the vaccines and lasted longer. How she knows this: read on the internet.

I end where I began. History will record that Joe Biden acted justly and rightly in ordering mandatory vaccination programs, with, in most cases, very generous opt-outs for people with true medical conflicts and genuine religious objections (I don’t know what religion that is, but the exemptions are available).

I find some inspiration in these closing words from Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 

September 18 — What Do I Expect from the Police?

As a resident of the District of Columbia, and a long-time resident of the DC area, I am fully aware that I live, by choice, in the heart of protest country. I also disapprove of violent protests regardless of which side is responsible. Peaceful protest, fine; choose your issue. I may think you’re a fool to believe, for example, that the 2020 election was stolen, but if you want to go out in public and proclaim you believe it was, go for it.

BUT don’t dare come here with the idea that you can violently display your anger or whatever it is and get away with it. That’s what happened on January 6. It appears that members of that violent mob of cowards and traitors who haven’t yet been arrested for their crimes are returning on September 18 to protest the arrest, detention and punishment of those who were arrested for attacking the Capitol. There is much conflicting information about who is doing what, which groups will show up and in what numbers. https://cnn.it/3A9oqgl No doubt there will be counter protests. What’s good for the goose….

This is the “law and order” mob. They’re for “law and order” provided it doesn’t apply to them. The mob includes many white supremacist groups and individuals. It doesn’t take much to start trouble in this kind of situation.

It’s a rule of life that you get what you tolerate. Most people seem to be competitive by nature. If there are no boundaries established, likely as not many, perhaps most, will simply do what they want to satisfy their personal desires.

Thus, if we tolerate air passenger violence, we tend to get more of it. That’s happened in 2021, mostly over mask requirements. Thousands of people threw violent tantrums when required to follow federal law and crew member instructions to keep masks on except when actively eating or drinking. Screaming, fights with other passengers and crew, people being forcibly duct-taped to their seats! In airports and even during flight. It took a while, but the government is now imposing serious fines on people who act out this way. Yet, it continues. Probably because people don’t regard the threat of fines as meaningful. Jail time, on the other hand, might get their attention. You get what you tolerate.

We tolerate anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers, people with bogus claims of “sincere religious objections,” and more. We tolerate health disinformation. And so, we get more of it. Just turn on any Fox News show. Or join Twitter.

Purely as a thought experiment, what do you suppose might happen if some rules were changed? For example, if the rule were that any refusal to comply with a crew member demand to mask up on a flight would be met with instant and automatic banishment from air travel on any airline for, say, five years. No discussion, no arguments, no fights. Fight and you go to jail, plus lifetime banishment, 100 percent of the time. Next time you want to travel, you go by car. And the next time and ….

I can imagine some of the objections. What about the evidence? Suppose the flight attendant talked mean to me and hurt my feelings so I pushed back? What about my rights? My rights! OMG! I don’t like being told what to do. This is America. And so on.

The evidence objection is easy enough to resolve with some good technology that would record all interactions. Inform passengers at the outset, like the seatbelt instruction: “Buckle your seatbelt and mask up. No mask, we suggest you deplane now. If not, you will, we repeat, you will be arrested, jailed and banned. 100%.”

But it’s not just air travel. I am concerned about September 18.

My view is simple. I expect more, much more, from the law enforcement establishment than was seen on January 6. Some rules need to change to assure that this is the outcome. Trump and his criminal cabal are gone so this should be relatively straightforward.

It is the job of DC law enforcement at every level to be sure that the government is protected so it can continue to function. No one has the right to interfere with the operation of the government. I expect the police, and such other reinforcements as they need, to put down with all necessary and immediate force any attempt to stop the courts from functioning as they are supposed to. The mob can blather all it wants to about the “injustice” of holding accountable the people who assaulted and killed police, threatened Congress and desecrated the Capitol. But they must be peaceful or face immediate and harsh consequences. Prepare for the worst and demand the best.

A democracy must tolerate much dissent. It is the nature of, and great strength of, a democratic republic that dissent is permitted, indeed encouraged. But when dissent boils over into violence aimed at stopping government functions, there is no basis for tolerance.

I understand well enough that there are people coming here on September 18 who believe that the people who stormed the Capitol on January 6 are American patriots. They are wrong. Their views are not entitled to deference of any kind or extent. If they get the necessary permits and want to march around like fools chanting about how the government is evil, how Joe Biden stole the election from Trump and all the other nonsense, go ahead. But that’s it. First sign of trouble, arrest them all. Use the same kinds of defense “tools” that have been used against multiple peaceful demonstrations in the past when Trump was president.

The consequences of failure to prepare and act appropriately on September 18 are too grim to contemplate. But they are real. There’s a popular saying on social media: “f*ck around and find out.” So it is written, so let it be done.

First, Nothing – Then ….

In the beginning, the Earth was a void. Just a roundish rock, really. Lots of volcanoes and other nasty things in the early times. How it came to exist, or more importantly, why it came to exist is a question to which mankind will almost certainly never have the answer. Some people are happy to simply believe that some spirit put it here and then planted humans and all the other biological forms. Whatever.

In my worldview, over an unimaginably long time, evolution took its course. Single-celled “creatures” formed, evolved … you know the story in general outline. That’s more than enough for most of us. We could continue to struggle with the question of how to reconcile those biological facts with the spirit mythology but, for me at least, that’s a waste of time. It turns out that evolution gave humans the ability to believe two or more inconsistent concepts at the same time. We live with the cognitive dissonance, partly by compartmentalizing. You can pray on your knees in your worship space on Sunday to the spirit of your choice (there are many to choose from) and then drive in your high-tech car or search for information on your computer/smart-phone and never give a thought to how both are valid. So be it. It’s who we are.

But on this day, this day of terrible memories, on which many say they are inspired to new hope, we should be reminded of the intersection of inconsistent ideas and what that can mean. Men claiming to be men of faith who believed we were evil incarnate decided to teach us a lesson. They used their “faith” to justify killing almost 3,000 people and had hoped to kill many more.

In truth, the actions they took on 9/11 led to many, many more deaths and much, much more suffering. The words of the prince in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet come to mind:

See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,

That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love!

And I, for winking at your discords, too

Have lost a brace of kinsmen. All are punished.

Evolution produced the cerebral cortex in the human brain. Over millennia, homo sapiens became the Earth’s dominant species. With that came the capacity to change everything. We could do much more than just kill another animal or eat another plant to survive. We were way smarter than that. We learned agriculture, invented tools and machines, built enormous cities, how to fly in machines, how to write and share knowledge.

But there were hard times too. Times when food was scarce. Times when another “group” had access to resources other “groups” wanted. Dominance rather than sharing was apparently critical to survival and thus the prime instinct, to live on, led to competition, fighting, killing. More for me, less for you. I win, you lose. Too bad. At least for today.

Mankind evolved to be the smartest and dumbest creature on the planet. Able to perform miracles of learning and healing and loving, mankind also learned to hate, to fight even when the fight was self-defeating. To change the planet in ways that now make it likely to become uninhabitable. Yet, we continue. The same mistakes. The same hates.

Compartmentalizing.

Love your fellow man. Love nature. Then kill them both if you think it’s necessary to survive … or maybe just to have more. Acquisitiveness – another human trait. Get more stuff because more stuff is better than less stuff, and it shows other humans your superiority. Your dominance in the hierarchy. Humans are very invested in hierarchies. Animals, too, are invested in hierarchies and one might conclude that hierarchies are essential elements of life. But, of course, animals generally don’t just go invade their neighboring animals’ territory.

Is there another way? I don’t know. As a species, humans have the capacity to do the right thing. We’ve created countries, nation-states, wrapped ourselves in “national identity,” “ethnic identity,” “cultural identity,” “sexual identity,” take your pick. So many identities.

Identities help us know who is in our group and it doesn’t take much thought to see how this can be important in the world we have made. But identities are, by their nature, separating. Categorizing. If you’re X and I’m M, we’re in different groups and never the twain ….

So, here we are. Smart and stupid at the same time. Victims of our own intelligence. Suffering now from an unseen enemy, the coronavirus. Most of us are grateful for the science and scientists who brought us a life-saving vaccine. We are grateful for the healthcare workers who put themselves at risk when we are most desperate for their help and comfort. And some of us, a remarkably large number, believe in conspiracies, in dark images of evil people doing insane and immoral things. This group turns away from vaccines and other established public health measures and consumes instead known poisons and unknown other substances, placing their faith in politicians rather than scientists.

Those people walk among us. Many are our friends and neighbors. Many are dying. Yet they persist in believing the unbelievable. Compartmentalizing to prevent being told what to do or to have their “rights” diminished. These people don’t care much about the rest of us, though many often attend religious services and say many prayers. When there is a mass shooting, they send “thoughts and prayers,” but they resist meaningful measures to control violence, and the poverty and desperation that often precedes it, because … they have “rights.”

I am rambling so I will stop soon. I am distraught, I confess, at the idea that years of my inevitably shrinking future life are being stolen by ignorance and deceit. I’ll never get those years back. Neither will the victims of 9/11, the dead and the families and friends of the dead. Never get them back. The permanent silence that awaits us all draws closer by the day, and I wonder why it is that the smartest creatures on the planet continue to be the dumbest. I wonder why we can’t see and correct the self-destructive paths down which our evolutionary history has driven us. We can look back and see history. Other animals can’t. We can look ahead and predict the future. Other animals can’t. We don’t have to wait until the planetary water hole has completely dried up before figuring out a way to stop the loss. What is holding us back from using our intelligence to do what intelligence demands?

Maybe we’re just not intelligent enough. I don’t know.

 

Facing the Abyss – What Should CDC Do Now?

The COVID-19 virus that Trump predicted would “just go away” has now killed More than648,000 Americans out of more than40 million cases. https://wapo.st/38PnK3N

The leading states in new deaths are, unsurprisingly, South Carolina (+36%), Florida (+32%) and Texas (+24%). As cooler weather approaches and more people stay indoors more of the time, the cases/deaths toll can be expected to rise, especially in places with low vaccination rates and persistent refusal to follow national health guidance on masking and distancing. It is what it is.

Predictions now always face opposition from the determined crowd of COVID deniers, anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers who are doing their best to ignore reality and push the country closer to the abyss. This is happening despite the overwhelming evidence that the vaccines are safe and effective and that masking works to reduce infection rates. The excuses offered for rejecting vaccines, masking, etc. are too well known to warrant recital.

The CDC and the leaders of the healthcare community that know the most about all this have, to be sure, made “mistakes” during the runup from early 2020 to now. Those mistakes are an inevitable part of the steep learning curve during a novel virus epidemic, especially when combined with inept and corrupt national leadership promoting bogus cures and inspiring resistance to promising candidates to contain the spread. We are where we are.

The question now is what could be done to change the national narrative. I address this with full awareness that millions of Americans would rather risk a horrible death than be seen to “comply” with national health guidance. There may be nothing we can do about them, but I think there are some things we haven’t tried yet.

Starting with the CDC, setting aside the chaotic approach in the early days when Trump’s political pressure seemed to influence CDC’s public posture, I have been troubled by what I label “website data bloat.” The CDC Data Tracker [https://bit.ly/3hd72A0] is the object of my derision. The site is an extraordinary trove of information for Job and others with much patience, consisting of a multitude of boxes and lists and maps, many of which are redundant or require some study to fully understand what is being shown.

I speculate that the site is the product of turning over the communication function to programmers who believe more is always better and just don’t know where to stop or how to organize information to tell a story rather than “show what we’ve got.” But, whatever the root cause, the site, for all its robustness, does not communicate the story as dramatically as it could. And if anything cries out for dramatic storytelling, it is the continued, and avoidable, rampage of COVID through America.

It should come as no surprise at this late date that, having been blunted in impact among most older people (who, generally, have a higher percentage of vaccinated individuals than other cohorts), is turning its mindless “attention” toward other groups, including children, many of whom are too young to be vaccinated according to the latest protocols.

In my view, parents of young children who refuse vaccination should be prosecuted for child endangerment, but we know that’s not going to happen. We can, however, more effectively communicate the danger.

This is how. It will require a fundamental change in the way the government does things.

Instead of presenting a vast array of charts/graphs/pathways to still more charts/graphs and offering data in various formats (gross, per capita, per this and that), focus on one thing: the message. This is a situation in which the data should be used not just to inform but to persuade. To teach. To affect.

So, what to do?

First, move all the “just data” charts/graphs to the back of the site with a simple index of what’s there.

Second, in the front, using graphs backed by data, show the key facts in a direct comparison of, for example, deaths of vaccinated versus deaths of unvaccinated people over time. Include data on adverse effects of vaccinations to the extent it exists.

Third, add to the data on cases and deaths, the data on known cases of adverse health impacts (heart, lung, brain, etc.) for COVID “survivors,” information that has largely been ignored.

Fourth, stop focusing on the number of people with one shot. We know that for the main two vaccines, two shots are essential and that’s the key number to show. Focusing on one shot is misleading.

Fifth, show the damn videos!

A wealth of videos exists showing, especially, the end stage of COVID experience in hospital ICUs: the ones where the unvaccinated, wired and tubed beyond recognition, are facing intubation and medically induced comas and are begging doctors and nurses for vaccination and “do anything to save my life.” Show those videos in TV ads in lieu of the bland “please do the right thing” messages now in use. Show the healthcare providers, dressed like aliens from Planet X, saying, “I’m sorry but it’s too late. Vaccines can’t help you now.”

 Some people will see this as unacceptably harsh. To them I say, if you don’t like it, don’t watch. But if done properly (get some experts in this kind of dramatic communication on the task), this stands some chance of jolting resisters into doing the intelligent thing and rushing to get vaccinated.

Make the message simple and clear and unmistakable – if you don’t get vaccinated, this is what may await you. Or your family. Your children. Do it now.

We know from experience that presenting the public with vast quantities of unconsumable statistics is not achieving the level of success we need to stop the pandemic. It is time to pull out all the stops. Stop acting like the government and act like you’re trying to sell something: public health. Survival.

Do it now. We’re almost out of time. The abyss is nearer by the day. It doesn’t have to be this way. Act like it’s the emergency it really is. Just do it.