Wondering in the Third Winter of Our Discontent

We are in the third winter of COVID-19. No let-up in sight, although there are some predictions that the peak of Omicron is imminent. Those predictions say that, after the peak, a precipitous drop will occur. We may then, yet again, be out of the woods, they predict/suggest/speculate/hope.

I don’t know. No one does. But we do know some things, and the things we know raise some questions. Knowing things always leads to more questions because we never know everything. As soon as we know some things, we want to know the others. What comes next, for example. Despite not knowing everything, we have progressed as a species from the muck of the Stone Age to now. As a species, we’ve done many foolish things. But here we are, stumbling along.

Thus, I have some questions. I understand the anti-vaxxers are coming to Washington, my home, to “protest” against vaccination against COVID.

I gather they don’t want to be “forced” to vaccinate and don’t think it’s right that they be penalized in any way for their “choice.” Among other things, they claim this is a matter of fundamental personal freedom – the right to do with their bodies what they, and they alone, decide. They appear to believe there are bad things in the vaccines that will, variously, distort their thinking (really), prevent pregnancy, give them heart attacks, and do other unknown but harmful things to their bodies and minds.

Thus, I have some questions. Here in the third winter of our discontent.

  • Do you anti-vaxxers smoke, drink alcoholic beverages, eat processed meat? If you do one more more of those, do you know, really know, what’s in them?
  • When a doctor says, “go home and take two of at night before bed, do anti-vaxxers say, “no thanks, doc. I don’t know what that could do to me, so I’ll take my chances on a heart attack.”
  • Do anti-vaxxers who do take medicines, either prescription or over-the-counter, ever read the labels/prescribing information on those drugs? You know almost all of them say something to this effect: “if you take this drug, you may experience catastrophic side effects including possible death.” And you take them anyway, don’t you?
  • How many global conspirators do you anti-vaxxers believe are involved in the effort to poison/drug/kill/murder people and/or publish falsified information about the infections, deaths and damage done by COVID?  50,000 doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, EMTs? 100,000? A million? Must be at least a million globally, right?
  • Do you anti-vaxxers really believe that medical professionals are falsifying the data on infections, hospitalizations, deaths from COVID? It seems so. Why do they suppose all these professionals who have spent years/decades/entire lives working to help people have suddenly decided to attack the population with a deadly virus and/or falsify the information about the damage it’s doing?
  • If indeed there is a global conspiracy, where do you anti-vaxxers think all the people who have disappeared due to claimed deaths by COVID are being held? Have they actually been murdered and, if so, by whom? If so, how is it that with more than 870,000 Americans having died allegedly by COVID, no one has come forward with a single shred/scintilla of evidence that those people are (1) being held incommunicado in the dessert out west (that many people would require a lot of space, not to mention places to sleep, food, restroom facilities, etc etc to keep them alive) AND what happens when they are released, or is the government/medical profession going to keep them locked up forever? OR (2) buried somewhere, OR (3) cremated somewhere and their ashes disposed of secretly? Is that even possible?
  • Has there ever been a global conspiracy, or even one confined to the United States, in which hundreds of thousands (or millions) of conspirators were involved and not even one came forward to reveal the truth and receive the accolades (and no doubt, a lot of money) of a grateful world?
  • Finally, for now, do you have any concerns about the counter-factual? That’s the one where you’ve been wrong about the vaccine and in reality almost all the deaths are among the unvaccinated with a much smaller number of dead being vulnerable people who were infected by unvaccinated people or denied medical care because COVID-infected unvaccinated patients were occupying all the beds and attention of medical staff? Any concerns about that at all?

So, anti-vaxxers, I have these questions. And more, actually, but those will suffice for now.

So, while you’re in town, maybe you could do a few interviews and answer these questions. Then, well, then we can talk about the next round of questions.

If I don’t see you, well, RIP.

A Great Spirit Has Left/Entered the Building

Today I read with sadness about the death of Thich Nhat Hahn, the great Zen Master. At 95 he had lived a long life during which he contributed much to our understanding of mindfulness and how to live a full life despite its inevitable disappointments and injuries.

I first encountered his writings many years ago, bought a book of his poems, and was particularly moved by his, Please Call Me By My True Names. For me, this poem expresses the essence of what Thich Nhat Hahn, and the Dalai Lama as well, represent. It is one of my favorite poems of all time, one to which I have returned from time to time for years when in need of grounding, I commend it to your attention. You can hear it spoken here by the Zen Master himself:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JADWkoUpXbQ

When you attend carefully to the words, you will understand the title of this post. And perhaps everything else.

Peace.

The Real Election Fraud – How to Fix It

Subtitle: Gilead is almost here. It can be stopped.

The so-called Republican Party supports Donald Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen, despite the reality that no factual evidence to support that claim has ever been produced in dozens of court cases or “audits,” not even in “audits” run by Trump’s most committed followers. Trump’s lawyers have been sanctioned for failing to properly research the factual basis for the election challenges they filed. This led to Republican-controlled state legislatures passing laws designed to suppress Democratic votes and, failing in that, to permit those same legislatures, or their appointed election hacks, to overturn the votes of their citizens and award the presidency to Donald Trump in 2024.

Such a step would, obviously, signal the end of American democracy and the establishment of a dictatorship by what purports to be “lawful means.” It might also/should lead to a second civil war. [Aside: if Republicans’ lust for power should lead to a civil war, what do you suppose our adversaries, like Russia, will do while our national government is distracted in such a struggle?]

While the American Civil Liberties Union and others are filing lawsuits to challenge many of these actions, it is far from clear that the courts will intervene. The bedrock principle of separation of powers provided for in the Constitution will then also cease to exist. America as we know it will cease to exist. The Republic of Gilead will have arrived in America. If you don’t recognize that phrase, please read, at once, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood. If you want to see what that looks like, read some of the stories from Tennessee where religion is now being used, under state law, to permit discrimination in delivery of adoption services. https://bit.ly/3qQNSVJ

There is a partial solution, and it should be adopted immediately. The Constitution, in Article I, Section 4, Clause 1, states that the,

Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations …. [bold face added by me throughout post]

It is time for the federal government to stop playing whack-a-mole with the states. The federal government should take full control of the process by which the national legislature is elected. Such a step would not, by itself, prevent the states from trying to tilt the playing field for other offices but it would make it much more difficult. If done right, it would establish a very high barrier against interference in the presidential election.

There is no ambiguity in that conferral of federal power. The National Constitution Center agrees:

Although the Elections Clause makes states primarily responsible for regulating congressional elections, it vests ultimate power in Congress. Congress may pass federal laws regulating congressional elections that automatically displace (“preempt”) any contrary state statutes, or enact its own regulations concerning those aspects of elections that states may not have addressed. The Framers of the Constitution were concerned that states might establish unfair election procedures or attempt to undermine the national government by refusing to hold elections for Congress. They empowered Congress to step in and regulate such elections as a self-defense mechanism. [https://bit.ly/3GnXRay]

To the same effect, a group of constitutional scholars filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Shelby County v Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013), the case in which the Court eventually gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965:

… the Framers wanted to make sure that state and local officials couldn’t undermine federal elections. [https://bit.ly/3rbVyRp]

Further, the Supreme Court itself has held that,

the Framers understood the Elections Clause as a grant of authority to issue procedural regulations, and not as a source of power to dictate electoral outcomes, to favor or disfavor a class of candidates, or to evade important constitutional restraints [quoted favorably from U. S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 U. S. 779 (1995) in Cook v Gralike, 531 U. S. 510, 523 (2001)]

The Court made clear that,

“manner” of elections as we understand it, … in our commonsense view that term encompasses matters like “notices, registration, supervision of voting, protection of voters, prevention of fraud and corrupt practices, counting of votes, duties of inspectors and canvassers, and making and publication of election returns. [case cites omitted]

Justice Kennedy concurred in the Court’s opinion, but added this:

A State is not permitted to interpose itself between the people and their National Government as it seeks to do here. Whether a State’s concern is with the proposed enactment of a constitutional amendment or an ordinary federal statute it simply lacks the power to impose any conditions on the election of Senators and Representatives, save neutral provisions as to the time, place, and manner of elections pursuant to Article I, §4 ….

The dispositive principle in this case is fundamental to the Constitution, to the idea of federalism, and to the theory of representative government. The principle is that Senators and Representatives in the National Government are responsible to the people who elect them, not to the States in which they reside. [emphasis added]

These principles governing the scope of federal power over elections for Congress are very longstanding:

It cannot be doubted that these comprehensive words embrace authority to provide a complete code for congressional elections, not only as to times and places, but in relation to notices, registration, supervision of voting, protection of voters, prevention of fraud and corrupt practices, counting of votes, duties of inspectors and canvassers, and making and publication of election returns — in short, to enact the numerous requirements as to procedure and safeguards which experience shows are necessary in order to enforce the fundamental right involved. And these requirements would be nugatory if they did not have appropriate sanctions in the definition of offenses and punishments. [Smiley v Holm, 285 U.S. 355, ___ (1932)]

That should be enough to settle the question whether the states can establish rules that prevent Congress from regulating federal elections if it chooses to do so. They can’t.

The argument for federal intervention seems conclusive until one encounters the Shelby County case that held unconstitutional the pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (the Congressional renewal of 2006) in one of the worst instances of judicial overreach and legislating by the Court in its history. The 5-4 majority opinion was written by Justice Roberts, the current Chief Justice.

In Shelby County, the Supreme Court held that the pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act (states with a history of racial discrimination could adopt no law on voting until advance-approved by the federal government) were unconstitutional. This was so, the Court said, because the problem at which they were directed had disappeared and that a “current problem” was essential to a law that was such a drastic departure from the principles of federalism whereby the states ran the election process.

The Court’s central reasons for this grotesque outcome were, in my opinion, a “conservative” hostility to the very constitutional principles the majority purported to uphold. The opinion’s opening lines reveal this in Roberts’ characterization of section 5 as “a drastic departure from basic principles of federalism” and of section 4 as “an equally dramatic departure from the principle that all States enjoy equal sovereignty.” The cart that follows that horse had nowhere to go but oblivion.

The Court ignored entirely the Constitution’s empowerment of Congress to regulate by direct action the election of members of Congress, claiming that

“the Framers of the Constitution intended the States to keep for themselves, as provided in the Tenth Amendment, the power to regulate elections.”

That is simply wrong. The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution says,

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The “powers … delegated to the United States” plainly include Article I, Section 4, Clause 1 explicitly empowering Congress to regulate Congressional elections.

The Court thus completed its elevation to quasi-legislature, eviscerating the separation of powers. Despite a long continuous history of (mostly southern) states inventing new ways to evade injunctions and settlements aimed at racially motivated voting restrictions, the Court made a finding of fact that the problems at which the Voting Rights Act had been directed and repeatedly re-enacted had, by 2013, disappeared and were unlikely to return. There was thus no current need for the legislation and in the Court’s view, that fact rendered it unconstitutional.

I would have thought that the question of the current need for legislation was as distinctly a legislative function as was the original question whether the legislation was needed at the time of its enactment. In principle, after Shelby County, there seems to be nothing standing between any piece of legislation and this Supreme Court’s disposition to decide that Congress was simply wrong about the need for it and thus the legislation is dead on arrival.

One can only wonder which other federal statutes have outlived their usefulness in the minds of the conservative Justices and how long it will be before the principle of Shelby County will be used to justify their rejection based solely on the Court’s view that the legislation is no longer necessary.

True enough, the Court in Shelby County made much of what it called, with relish, the “extraordinary and unprecedented features” of the law’s pre-clearance procedures. But Congress was dealing with an intractable history of racially discriminatory legislation, regulation, and practices, one with long-standing roots in history and culture. The Court swept that aside by looking at the current data on voting in the subject states, finding that all was well, and thus holding that the legislation had long ago accomplished its original purposes. In the conservative majority’s view, by 2013 the law was just a meaningless burden on the oppressed states that had for many decades been guilty of racially discriminatory voting policies but had cleaned up their act. The Court presumed to judge whether those problems and tendencies, buried in southern culture, would rise again. It didn’t think so.

It was oh so wrong.

The extent of that wrongness is well shown in these quotes from the Shelby County opinion:

In 1965, the States could be divided into two groups: those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout, and those without those charac­teristics. Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the Nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were….

If Congress had started from scratch in 2006, it plainly could not have enacted the present cover­age formula. It would have been irrational for Congress to distinguish between States in such a fundamental way based on 40-year-old data, when today’s statistics tell an entirely different story.

It could not be any clearer that the Court is acting as a legislature in making these judgments. If there is any saving grace in this debacle, it is the concluding language that purports to limit the effect of what the Court did:

Our decision in no way affects the permanent nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in §2. We issue no holding on §5 itself, only on the coverage formula. Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions….

Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.

If this weren’t so egregious an error by the highest court, I would laugh out loud. In reading that last paragraph, I immediately thought of the pathetic cliché, “I’m not racist; why some of my best friends are Black.”

Two important footnotes: (1) Justice Thomas, one of the two dissenting voices in the recent decision to allow the National Archives to release the Trump papers to the January 6 Select Committee, said he would have held all of Section 5 unconstitutional along with the coverage formula. No surprise there. (2) the remarkable dissent penned by Justice Ginsburg (RIP incisively destroyed the central premises of the majority opinion with an overwhelming recitation of facts the Court chose to ignore:

Jurisdictions covered by the preclearance requirement continued to submit, in large numbers, proposed changes to voting laws that the Attorney General declined to approve, auguring that barriers to minority voting would quickly resurface were the preclearance remedy eliminated.

Justice Ginsburg identified some of the “second generation” techniques being employed to defeat the will and ability of minority voters, such as racial gerrymandering and at-large districts that produced fatal dilution of minority voting blocs. She noted that,

… the record before Congress was huge. In fact, Congress found there were more DOJ objections between 1982 and 2004 (626) than there were between 1965 and the 1982 reauthorization.

… between 1982 and 2006, DOJ objections blocked over 700 voting changes based on a determination that the changes were discriminatory.

Those findings alone dispose of the majority’s manufactured claim that “our country has changed.”

Justice Ginsburg also made the point that the 2006 extension of the pre-clearance provision was no casual act, noting that the vote to extend the Act was 390 to 33 in the House and 98 to zero in the Senate. Congress’ intent to extend the protections of the Act in the face of continued recalcitrance and artifice by many states could not have been clearer.

In addition to completely undermining the factual basis claimed by the majority, Justice Ginsburg highlighted the majority’s massive legal mistake by pointing out that the principle of equal sovereignty among the states relates to the admission of new states and that the Court’s use of the doctrine was thus unprecedented. She concluded her devastating dissent with this:

After exhaustive evidence-gathering and deliberative process, Congress reauthorized the VRA, including the coverage provision, with overwhelming bipartisan support. It was the judgment of Congress that “40 years has not been a sufficient amount of time to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination following nearly 100 years of disregard for the dictates of the 15th amendment and to ensure that the right of all citizens to vote is protected as guaranteed by the Constitution.” …. That determination of the body empowered to enforce the Civil War Amendments “by appropriate legislation” merits this Court’s utmost respect. In my judgment, the Court errs egregiously by overriding Congress’ decision.

And, indeed, here we are. Multiple Republican states are passing a multitude of laws to make voting more difficult with almost certain disparate impacts on voters most likely to vote Democratic. For a dramatic statement of the problem, see Senator Klobuchar schooling everyone on this: https://bit.ly/3tQXSQS

The Republicans haven’t stopped there. They are replacing election officials with their partisans in anticipation that Democratic voting will overcome the implanted obstacles. In that case, the Republicans are preparing the groundwork for simply rejecting the vote counts and declaring the Republican candidates the winners. The main goal of this action is, of course, to install Donald Trump back into the presidency in 2024 even if the voters reject him.

If you think I am exaggerating, read these samples: https://wapo.st/3GzjIvJ [Election officials in Texas reject hundreds of ballot applications under state’s new voting restrictions]:

The clerk’s office in Travis [County, Austin] said it does not have enough information from the secretary of state to provide voters with what they must do to fix their applications.  Many other counties are experiencing the same high rejection rate,” the office said in a statement. “We have not received instructions from the state outlining what our office can do to assist voters in submitting a completed application.”

And it has now been disclosed that at the end of 2020 there was a multi-state effort by Republicans to submit fake collections of electors voting for Donald Trump. See, among others: https://bit.ly/3AnBf7G This seems like the plot of a cheap B-grade movie but it’s real. No more evidence is needed of the dishonesty and determination of Republicans throughout the country to undermine democracy and install Trump as dictator.

I am, of course, aware that two putative Democratic senators, Manchin and Sinema, have aligned themselves with Republicans to prevent the adoption of federal voting protection laws. https://nyti.ms/33HxBtw They almost certainly will stand with Republicans in opposing any other federal regulation of voting even if limited to congressional seats as the Constitution provides. Hypocrisy is the missing name for Republican politicians and the Democrats who align with them.

Realistically, we must acknowledge that the constitutionally appropriate solution I am advocating (the complete federal regulation of elections for House and Senate members) is not going to happen until the party balance in the Senate is changed or the filibuster is eliminated. The most likely path is to remove the turncoats Manchin and Sinema, and elect Democrats in other states where Republicans now have Senate seats. This is a tall order to put it mildly, but it is likely the only way to prevent Republicans from simply “taking” the presidency in 2024.

History is not favorable for this outcome. Usually the party “in power” loses seats in Congress in the mid-term elections. If Democrats don’t overcome that history and lose majorities in both houses of Congress, the Republicans will simply stop any legislation favored by Democrats and it will be ‘game over.’

It appears from my sporadic observations that the Democratic Party lacks a strategic vision that spells ‘high likelihood’ of success. The news is generally dominated by Republican talking points. Democratic politicians in online gatherings I have attended spend most of the time with canned talking points. There is little or no follow-up with compelling data points. Trump appointed judges are doing just what the conservatives wanted them to do. Main case in point is the decision just handed down: a nationwide injunction against the President’s vaccine mandate for federal employees.

The President has already achieved many major goals. As he points out, the Republican Party stands for nothing but obstruction, the official Party of No. Who is going to tell that story in terms the voting public can understand? When are they going to start? The run-up to mid-terms is underway now.

It’s great that the Democratic Party stands up for diversity and economic equality, goals I endorse without qualification, but the voters are likely more interested in tangible gains than in broad statements of high principle. Democrats need to stop sounding like politicians and talk about delivered deliverables and what comes next. Every day that goes by without a coherent plan to reach the voters with comprehensible truths is a lost opportunity that cannot be recaptured. The Republicans are wasting no time in undermining the ability of Democrats to vote. We need to move now.

Maybe multitudes are a strength, but I continue to be put off by the number of organizations claiming Democratic credentials seeking donations but stating no clear use of the money. New groups seem to crop up every week. We’re not going to win this way. The national Democratic Party needs to address this and bring the legitimate disparate groups together in a coherent strategy. It’s harder than for Republicans who know exactly what their goals are. It’s time to get the act together.

Why I Hate the Snow

We had fair warning even though my two weather apps had drastically different predictions of how the second snow of the year would play out. Until the snow had already exceeded predictions, both said it would amount to little, somewhere between a dusting and three inches. Not that big a deal. And anyone who has lived a while or read books about weather will know that predictions are highly uncertain. Fine, as far as that goes.

My tale.

My wife is flying back to Washington DC from California, scheduled to land at National Airport (DCA to we cognoscenti) at 4:53 pm, a few hours after the snow was expected to start but given the predictions, we should have no issues. I drive a Ford Escape Hybrid that, in addition to extraordinary gas mileage, has front-wheel drive. It’s really a computer on wheels, with multiple sensors around the perimeter (aside: on road trips it will often suggest, by flashed dashboard message, that I am tired and should take a “rest”).

I set out from our apartment in the West End of DC at 4:30, plenty of time given that my wife checked her bag on the return flight. I am monitoring the flight’s progress on a cell phone app that, it will later appear, provides way more information than anyone could need, making the key information very hard to read while also trying to stay on the road whose lane markers have long ago disappeared.

Indeed, traffic is very light, although it’s apparent immediately that the car in front of me has no business being out in this weather. I carefully navigate Washington Circle, one of the cruel gifts of the original French designer of the city’s layout, and proceed down the hill to the Memorial Circle (site of the iconic Lincoln Memorial) and cross the Memorial Bridge to the George Washington (yes, that one) Parkway leading to the airport. Road conditions are not great but I’m moving right along and arrive at the Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary parking lot, a short hop from DCA. I join a handful of other cars hopefully waiting to proceed to the airport where the cellphone “waiting” area is very small and the other places to stop and wait are patrolled regularly by police with guns.

[Aside No 2: According to the Washington Post, Roaches Run is named that because “The stream that feeds the lagoon is named for the family of James Roach, who ran a nearby brickworks and owned a mansion, since torn down, called Prospect Hill.” https://wapo.st/3KhGU3R Do not read that article because you will then be tempted to read the Comments where you will find yet another unnecessary war of words between two readers set off by an allegedly “off topic” comment and followed by “you’re one – no you are – no you…”]

After a while, I glance at my phone and see that the flight arrival is being pushed back. Not surprising considering the weather, runway clearing, etc. My weather app now changes as well – we’re now looking at 3 to 6 inches. No problem. Even had I known that before departure, my plan would not have changed. After all, I drive a Ford Escape ….

I wait. I look at the phone again and BOOM, I now see that the flight has been DIVERTED to Dulles International Airport (IAD to we cognoscenti) which is about 27 miles away and road conditions are deteriorating fast.

I depart Roaches Run, drive into DCA, and go around by the arrivals terminal so I’m now driving north on the GW. There are a few options for routes to IAD, but I choose to stay on the GW Parkway. I know the road well and traffic is sparse though road conditions are deteriorating fast. Several of the cars that also chose this route for whatever reasons are regretting the error as they slide around and, in some cases, get stuck in the mounting snow/ice/slush.

Undeterred, and in any case irrevocably committed to my chosen route, I forge ahead. I believe I am racing against a jet airplane that could be in final approach. Road conditions are deteriorating fast, but it could be worse. Only one driver does something really stupid, forcing me to brake suddenly to avoid him. I do. It’s all good.

I reach the Capital Beltway (the ring road around DC known to cognoscenti as 495), which is the link to the Dulles No-Toll superhighway that takes you straight to IAD. Traffic is much heavier on 495. Why? Is it really necessary for all these people to be driving on a Sunday night in a snowstorm when road conditions ….? Dumb question.

Still, I’m making good progress until the exit for the Dulles No-Toll Road. Here the snow has apparently melted near the pavement, the plows have missed the area and several cars are having that uh-oh moment of realization that they are now spinning in one place. Even my chariot is having a lot of trouble maintaining forward momentum.

But I ease around the floundering cars, leaving them in my dust (very figuratively speaking) and make it onto the No-Toll road. I could take the Toll Road that parallels (literally right next to) the No-Toll Road but why pay when you can drive for free (the Devil whispers in my ear)? I think I will make it to IAD in plenty of time because the government usually keeps the No-Toll Road pretty clear, and traffic remains light. I am maintaining a nice steady 20 mph on a road designed for 55 and often driven at 65 to 70 by many (other people).

Once clear of other cars and with open (figuratively speaking) road ahead, I glance at my phone for a time check. WHAT???? The flight has been RE-DIVERTED back to DCA!!!!

Now, for those who don’t know, the thing about the No-Toll Road is that, because it’s free and might be abused by commuters who want to escape the frequent congestion on the parallel Toll Road, once you’re on the No-Toll Road you may not exit until you reach the airport. Aaarghhh!!!

There are, of course, a few “Official Vehicles Only” exits with dire warnings about high penalties, gates, red lights, and other reasons not to use those exits. Once entering one of those lanes, you might not be able to get out and the police are around trying to help motorists when the can.

Soooo, I chicken out and keep driving – allllll the way out to IAD where I circle through the airport. My computer-on-wheels is now flashing all manner of dashboard warnings to the effect that the sensors that tell you when you’re about to crash and burn are blocked. I am a bit concerned that the computers may simply shut the engine off, so I stop in a no-stopping zone at the end of the terminal, exit the car and try, unsuccessfully, to remove the ice caked all around the lower perimeter of the car (where, naturalement, the sensors are located).

To hell with it. I get back in the car and head back onto the No-Toll Road back toward DCA, still 27 miles from where I just came. I can’t be sure, but it appears that my wife’s fight is still circling DCA so I’m still good on arrival time.

Indeed, the snow is turning to rain/sleet (a miracle?) and while it’s cold as hell (world class mixed metaphor), the rain is clearing the road of snow much better than the snowplows could. I am traveling 40 mph at times. I stay on the No-Toll Road until it merges with I-66 (known to cognoscenti as The Road Where Cars Go to Run Out of Gas While Idling in Traffic) and miraculously arrive in Crystal City (don’t ask if you don’t know). The phone rings — my wife is in the terminal with a large group of people awaiting delivery of their luggage, running back and forth from one carousel to another (Guess Which Carousel If You Can – a favorite game of the baggage handlers at DCA). I slow down, arrive in the “road” that serves as the airport pick-up zone for arriving passengers, acquire my wife plus luggage and head back to DC.

She is starving because she believed that having been served a meal traveling west, she would also get one coming east. She had, after all, paid for an upgrade to Premium Economy. In reality, enroute from LAX (Los Angeles for cognoscenti on a flight that exceed five hours, she was served a … cookie. Meanwhile, my total driving time was almost as long as her flight, so there’s that.

All’s well that ends well, of course, and the ride from DCA was uneventful, I didn’t get a ticket for the U-turn I didn’t make on Pennsylvania Avenue to acquire carry-out at the local Thai place, and we settle in to watch a blood-soaked movie starring an aging Pierce Brosnan who, miraculously, fought like a twenty-something.  There is hope.

 

 

Failure to Communicate

What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it.

If you don’t recognize those famous lines, they are from the movie, Cool Hand Luke. A young Paul Newman plays Luke, a prisoner on a chain gang. Luke is unable to submit to the authorities that now control his life, even if the inevitable, foreseeable outcome is his death.

The setting is simple enough: the Captain (the warden) warns Luke:

You gonna get used to wearing them chains after a while, Luke. Don’t you never stop listening to them clinking, ’cause they gonna remind you what I been saying for your own good.

Never one to pass up a chance to resist authority, Luke responds with,

I wish you’d stop being so good to me, Cap’n.

After a moment’s pause, this retort unleashes Captain’s fury – “Don’t you ever talk that way to me,” then lashing Luke with a baton, knocking him into a ditch. Captain then delivers the iconic lines: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach.”

That, it appears, is where this country is with the anti-vaxxer, anti-mask crowd. They have chosen – yes, chosen, because belief is a choice, not a biological imperative – chosen to believe false prophets whose statements are resulting in thousands more avoidable COVID deaths. Arguing with these people about the science, the data, the facts is just like trying to tell Cool Hand Luke that he needs to shape up and make his life easier on himself and those around him. Luke can’t hear it and neither can the anti-vaxxers.

It is, therefore, time to change tactics. Beating the anti-vaxxers, while tempting, is not an acceptable solution. But thus far, with one or two notable exceptions, the government’s health authorities have proceeded by burying everyone in obscure and largely irrelevant information. If you don’t believe me, look at the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker website:  https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#datatracker-home

This information is picked up by media and reported, more or less, in op-eds and other articles in the hope that the anti-vaxxers may read and be persuaded. There are other websites — CDC, New York Times and others – displaying vast quantities of COVID data, often in complex diagrams and charts that are difficult, if not impossible, for ordinary people to digest. The very complexity of the information makes many people leery of what the data says and, more importantly, often leads to inaccurate conclusions. Statistical skills in the general population are not a strong point.

The standard approach is not working, and it’s time for another approach. I recommend what I will call RealCOVID.

Here’s what I think should be done.

  1. COVID data should be reduced to its simplest essence, showing the most important information. At this time that is a comparison of deaths of vaccinated versus unvaccinated patients. Another useful analysis would be to add a simple presentation of the number of COVID infected survivors who continue to suffer adverse health effects and what the top ten or twelve such effects are. Keep it simple.
  2. The government should obtain, by whatever means necessary, prime-time space to display the latest death-data comparisons, as defined above, AND video from hospitals in which real doctors, real nurses, real EMTs briefly state what they have just experienced.
  3. Example: “I’m doctor LifeSaver and I work in the ICU. I just got off for the evening. I was attending to 12 COVID patients. Three, all unvaccinated, died during my shift. No vaccinated patients died. One of the other doctors and two nurses, all near physical and emotional collapse, had to leave the ICU early. That’s where we are.”
  4. The video should show, behind the doctor, a patient being intubated or perhaps even being prepped following death. In other words, show what is happening in the hospitals – give heft and bite to the statistics. Show the reality of COVID as it is happening. RealCOVID.
  5. The government, in cooperation with hospitals and clinics around the country, should have a daily COVID Report on prime-time cable and networks explaining what is happening and what is required to change the course of the pandemic.

I cite as an example the daily briefings that former Governor Cuomo conducted in New York during the peak of the pandemic in 2020. Those reports were seen all over the country. Whatever you may now think of Cuomo as a leader or whatever, the fact is that those briefings were authentic and, I believe, changed for the better the understanding and behavior of many, perhaps millions, of Americans. And they were a source of hope during the worst of the initial pandemic in New York, the then-epicenter.

These reports should not be presented by politicians nor by Dr. Fauci, but by in-the-trenches medical personnel who are qualified to speak in plain terms about the data and the proper defensive tools. We are blessed with many experts in epidemiology and other relevant fields of expertise regarding pandemics. Let’s use them.

No doubt many anti-vaxxers will remain unpersuaded. They have, for whatever reasons, become convinced beyond all reason that vaccines are evil and/or that government attempts to regulate behavior are an assault on freedom. We’re not likely to change their minds but instead of debating them, let’s just show them – every day, in every way. Maybe, just maybe, seeing the devastation will have an effect that complicated multi-page data/charts/diagrams will not.

What do we have to lose?

 

Three-Park Palooza

No, that’s not the name of an obscure card game. The title reflects that over the holidays we visited three local parks expecting to see little wildlife based on recent cold-weather experiences. As is often the case with expectations, ours were defeated, repeatedly, but in a good way. As these photos reveal.

After Christmas, we returned to our familiar haunts at Huntley Meadows Park. We immediately saw that the resident beavers had been hard at work since our last visit:

More familiar residents of the park were seen:

But we were really fortunate to capture this magnificent bird in flight:

in addition to seeing these Northern Shovelers

Numerous Northern Pintails:

and last, but certainly not least, these beautiful Hooded Mergansers:

On December 28, 2021, we returned to Great Falls Park on the Virginia side. We walked all the way along the Potomac River to the dam that is actually below Riverbend Park further north. This is the dam, looking upstream:

We spotted the long-term resident of the Great Falls Park — the  Great Blue Heron — just standing around as he seems usually to do:

D

Geese were plentiful, diving for whatever they find in the river this time of year:

In the trees behind us we spotted one of the park’s treasures, a Bald Eagle in a far tree:

It is not unusual to see an eagle at Great Falls Park, but we were very surprised to see both this woodpecker:

and, even more so, this spectacular Indigo Bunting:

This beautiful creature attracted a bit of a crowd but never budged.

Finally, we visited Great Falls Park on the Maryland side, where I had last been decades ago. The physical side of the park here is alone a remarkable sight. Trees and rocks are covered with green lichen and moss.

The fast-moving water is a playground for adventurous kayakers who sometimes don’t know when to quit:

But, of course, we didn’t come here just to see people in tiny boats trying to overcome the outsized forces of nature. No, this is what we came for:

Heron:

This huge bird extracted something from the water in a narrow channel and struggled to swallow it, but eventually his superior size and power won the day.

Vulture:

Migrating birds:

Hawk:

Vulture (spooky):

and, last but not least, a cute dog that can’t read:

He obviously did not understand why his owner would not let him cross the bridge.

Good, Bad, Ugly and … Bad

My last post at, or as close as my reflexes allowed, the stroke of midnight, when last year became this year, was a record of brevity. Nevertheless, last year had some moments and I am sharing them now. Some are good, some are bad, some are ugly, and some are just plain bad. The narrative will help sort them out, but you will, as always, be the judge.

Looking ahead, and backward as well (2021 will not go away that easily), we have much to look forward to, even as many of us crave the justice that so far has failed to materialize regarding, among many other things, the attempt by Donald Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Trump’s attempt was supported by, and likely planned by, many Republicans in Congress who remain in their positions, enjoying the extraordinary privileges and comforts accorded to nationally elected representatives of the people. The same is true of members of Trump’s Cabinet who, from some compelling indications, were complicit and indeed actively engaged in the coup attempt.

Those of us who retain our rational faculties even after the Trump presidency and a year of non-stop Republican-led terror and fantasizing are not going to be satisfied with letting bygones be. As the clock ticks down toward the 2022 mid-term elections, and many experts predict a traditional outcome in which the “out” party resumes control of Congress, the omens for the future of our democratic republic appear dark indeed. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We outnumber them – our future is in our own hands, not theirs, unless our indifference lets them have the victory they do not deserve.

With that in mind, and given the dual personality of this post, here are some of the planned topics you can look forward to in 2022:

Fahrenheit 2021 – the crypt has opened and the book-burners walk among us

Life Under Republican Rule – do you want leaders who believe in magic?

States – What Good Are They? – how states promote tribalism

Anti-Vaxxers Must Take No Medications – if they read the labels ….

Books, Truth and Elections – truth is not infinitely malleable

Voice Bots – how to remove the human element from humanity

The Fear Equation – what is everyone so afraid of?

Communicating with the Voter – ya think?

Cliches of the Day – substituting slogans for thought

… and others in a seemingly infinite list. Meanwhile, back at the launchpad, here are some things to ponder and, hopefully, enjoy in a perverse 2022 kind of way.

Cloudy skies as seen from the roof:

In the Yikes Department, these cars were, according to reports, parked on leaves that had been deposited in the curb and a hot catalytic converter did its thing. I don’t know whether that’s really what happened, but Yikes.

On Christmas Day, we visited the National Mall to get some fresh air and see what was going on. Generally, it was a normal-looking day, as these photos show. Many visited the military memorials.

Some walked along the Reflecting Pool.

One person visited with himself. We’re pretty sure he enjoyed the experience.

A few days later we drove into the Virginia countryside to introduce my stepdaughter to the wonders of Hill High Orchard and pie place extraordinaire, about which I have previously written. The plan was to eat lunch outside at a restaurant in Bluemont, VA. When we arrived, however, we saw these “signs” hanging from a building on the property:

We returned to the car and went elsewhere. We will NEVER eat at a place owned by people who believe Trump won the election. Not now, NOT EVER.

Which brings us to Meme Time. Someone wise once said that a picture was worth a thousand words. I think that’s mostly true. These memes/photos were copied from tweets and Facebook posts. Where they originated, I have no idea but kudos to the people who created them. They speak volumes about the challenges we face. There is no doubt the country has made many mistakes. In that sense it is “normal.” But we also aspire to higher ideals, and it is those that we say “define America.” So, with a smile on our faces, let us confront our ghosts and move ahead as a people dedicated to the principles stated in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident ….

 

 

A Story for the Season … & All Seasons

Since returning to Washington from a three-year sojourn in New York City, I have tried to include in this blog a variety of topics, including some with photos I have taken on trips/daytrips and just around the city. Most of the posts are more serious. That was not the original idea behind the blog. It was supposed to cover a potpourri of subjects about our country – hence the title, ShiningSeaUSA, borrowed from the song, “America the Beautiful. “

While in New York I started another blog, AutumnInNewYork, that was about our life in the great city, in the autumn of my years. We expected New York to be the last place we would live. It turned out otherwise, thanks largely to the pandemic, and AutumnInNewYork was terminated.

As I was reflecting on our first year back in the DC area, and the holiday season we are all struggling to experience again, I recalled a blog post from December 24, 2018, entitled “A Story for the Season … & All Seasons.” I am reposting it today in continued acknowledgement of both the person whom it concerns and the spirit of the holiday season. I am sure no one alive today expected to still be dealing with COVID-19 and the aftermath of an attempted insurrection but here we are. We must remember in these troubled times there are still moments of beauty and joy. I was fortunate to witness one and I share it with you now.

“A Story for the Season … & All Seasons

I can’t shake this story from my mind and, considering the season and everything that is going on, I must share it.

I recently visited a doctor in New York City for a follow-up to an earlier consultation. Not unexpectedly, there were patients sitting in the waiting room so I knew it might be a while before I was seen. I always have a book with me for such situations.

As I read, I happened to glance up and notice across from me a younger (30-something, I’m guessing) woman slumped sideways in her chair, obviously dozing. I continued reading but my attention turned to the young woman again when my doctor unexpectedly emerged from the back and approached her, quietly calling her name. The young woman did not react; she was “out cold.” The doctor, realizing the woman was deeply asleep, walked over to her, reached down and gently took each of the woman’s hands in her own. She did not pull or poke. She massaged them gently while speaking softly to the woman. This did the job of waking her, and, after a few moments to collect herself, they walked together into the back, the doctor asking her some question I didn’t catch.

I sat there for several minutes, reflecting on what I had seen. I was moved by it in ways I didn’t, and still don’t completely, understand. The power of witnessing the simple gesture of care and sensitivity took me by surprise. Then, my turn came; I went back, visited with a nurse to take the required “vitals” and waited in a room to see the doctor who came in very shortly.

After some small talk, I told her that I had witnessed what she had done, how gently and sweetly she had awakened the young woman. The doctor responded with “I’ve known her for years and she’s very special.” I said, “you are special, doctor. Doctors generally don’t do what you did.” She thanked me, somewhat embarrassed, I suspect, and we moved on.

I still often think about that simple gesture of kindness that, in most other circumstances I have witnessed over the years, would have been treated quite differently. The way my doctor chose to awaken her patient has stayed with me as an extraordinary example of how natural kindness can work with remarkable power. As I reflect on the scene, as vivid to me like it just happened, and as the holidays come on, it stands in vivid contrast to our national political life that is dominated by rancor, conflict and fear. We’re all trying to experience the holidays in a good way, and likely most of us will succeed in the end. And ‘will’ is the right word, because it feels more like an act of will than a natural thing to do at this time of year.

Part of the power of the doctor’s act was, I think, that it was so natural, so spontaneous. I am virtually certain she did not mull it over first; she just naturally reacted to the situation with humanity and compassion. That young lady is lucky, as am I, to have a doctor with such instincts for kindness. It’s a lesson we all need to learn and re-learn, especially when the times we live in are so burdened with acrimony and lack of concern for those in need of a helping hand. I suspect I will always have that image in my mind and hope to remain aware and grateful for its reminder of what is possible.”

Happy Holidays.

An American Team No More

Americans once believed that when push came to shove, we would unite against common adversaries. A generalization, to be sure, but I believe it was accurate overall. It was true despite our ongoing differences about things like balanced budgets, the size and role of government and many others arising from America as the Melting Pot. Differences in the Pot were inevitable and, in some cases, resulted in sharp divisions. But, still, we believed that, faced with an outside adversary, Americans would come together as one nation to fight back.

World War II was a good example in “modern” times. Men and women went to war, more women worked in factories doing the necessary, and often dangerous, work that men had performed before going off to fight the Nazis and the Japanese. It was a terrible time. Many were grievously wounded, physically and mentally, and many died, leaving behind others ill-equipped to go it alone. People did without many luxuries. Ration stamps were used to allocate food, among other things. It was a a terrible time.

The idea of Americans united against outside adversaries found expression in movies involving alien invaders. Some of those movies showed the entire world coming together to fight the aliens. Faced with an outside threat, often with more advanced technologies, “we” prevailed with grit, ingenuity and a sense of common purpose. That was, of course, a fantasy but “we” always won in the end.

No more. We have a new common enemy that is attacking the entire world from within. This enemy is invisible and highly adaptable. We have seen its like before and always, always came together, solved the puzzle and prevailed. And yes, I know there were always outliers, but they were the exceptions. In 1918, the closest modern parallel to COVID-19,

It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States. Mortality was high in people younger than 5 years old, 20-40 years old, and 65 years and older. The high mortality in healthy people, including those in the 20-40 year age group, was a unique feature of this pandemic. [https://bit.ly/3ql2V8v]

You likely know that the United States blew past that 675,000 death figure some time ago. As of two days ago, December 22, U.S. COVID deaths had reached 805,112 and climbing – almost 1,400 deaths on that one day and a 7-day moving average approaching 1,200 and rising.

The numbers are so large that our minds balk at acceptance and comprehension. But the numbers are real. The sickness and death are real. We are not even counting the cases of Long Covid, the condition in which the debilitating effects on the heart, lungs and brain (among others) last beyond the initial illness for … no one knows how long.

Our inability to comprehend is part, but only part, of the reason that so many – in the millions – people deny that COVID is real. Some are so deep in denial that, even when hospitalized in critical or worse condition, they continue to claim their disease is something else, that the doctors and nurses are lying to them when they say, “you have COVID.”

Whatever the roots and reasons that tens of millions refuse to get vaccinated, those people appear to be lost to the team – to Team America. The huge number of unvaccinated Americans – two years into the pandemic – are a breeding ground for the virus to mutate. And mutate it does. All viruses do. The anti-vaxxers are responsible for the prolongation of the pandemic and the personal and economic destruction that the virus has inflicted. Omicron has swept across the globe in weeks, displacing the Delta variant. There is no end in sight. And the next variant may not be as “mild” as Omicron.

The best we can hope for is that, slowly and at huge unnecessary cost, we will reach the point of so-called “herd immunity” when there are an insufficient number of vulnerable hosts that the virus cannot continue its deadly passage through the population. And, of course, medical science is delivering more effective treatments, the latest of which (in pill form) was just announced. Maybe we’ll reach the point where COVID is “just another flu.” Maybe.

Meanwhile, millions more will suffer. According to every credible source, COVID deaths in the United States are expected to exceed 1,000,000 in the near future. Eventually, maybe, we will win again. But it won’t be because of Team America, the coming together of citizens to fight and vanquish a common and deadly enemy. It seems we’re past that. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens are content to have others suffer and die under the name of mindless slogans. Freedom! My body, my choice! Nobody tells me what to put in my body! And on and on.

Instead of a united front against this deadly enemy, we have tens of millions reciting slogans to justify and explain why they are no longer members of the team. The price for their ignorant intransigence has been/will be very steep indeed.

This problem is, of course, only one manifestation of a mental state that afflicts our society. We can conclude that because there is a powerful identity among the anti-vaxxers and the evangelicals/Trumpists/Republicans. Their delusional state of mind regarding the pandemic is closely aligned with their willingness to believe many other unbelievable ideas. Chief among them is the idea that the January 6 assault/attempted coup was not Trump supporters but was engineered, rather like the pandemic, by a global elite of BLM, antifa, liberal/progressive Democrats and others of like mind, aided, if not led, by the federal government (you know, the Deep State lying in wait to destroy the country).

People who hold such beliefs do not comprehend the logical absurdity that those “elites” would have tried to stop the certification of President Biden’s victory (the candidate they favored) in order to continue the presidency of Donald Trump (the candidate they fervently opposed). If they can’t see that, they can’t see the point of joining with other Americans, and other peoples around the world, to stop the pandemic with the only tools that work. They are lost to our team, probably forever. Donald Trump didn’t create these people, but he surely inspired them.

Going forward, then, policy makers must understand the full extent to which our “team” has been broken, perhaps permanently. That means, among other things, that there is no longer anything like “politics as usual.” The aliens have arrived, and they are among us. If we’re not careful, they may kill us all.