Tag Archives: COVID

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.

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?

 

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.

What If There is No End to the Pandemic?

We are all naturally inclined to think about important events as having relatively clear beginnings and ends. Especially when the subject is troublesome, our innate desire for clarity and safety often leads to unrealistic expectations. This is likely part of our psychological conditioning throughout life.

Summer, like the other seasons, starts and ends. Bad weather can be terrible, but it comes and then ends. We get comfort from knowing that it will.

We also know that illnesses “recycle.” We know we can catch colds and the flu. So, most normal people bundle up against the elements, take cold medicines (mostly to relieve symptoms until the body’s systems kill the cold virus), get flu shots. Other illnesses are different. Cancer, emphysema, kidney failure and many others do not just go away after a simple medical intervention. No one is immune to them.

We also know that the weather is changing, driven by climate change. Storms in many places are more frequent and more severe. A few people, some never heard from again, decide to “hunker down” and “ride out” such storms. Most run when told to evacuate and live to run another day. We don’t want the bad weather to return but we know that it will. We want it to go as soon as possible. Many people thus drive their cars immediately after a bad snowstorm, apparently just because they think they can. I suspect it’s their way of reassuring themselves that the bad news ends.

This phenomenon is present in the response to COVID. We desperately want it to “end” and to have life return to “normal.” For most of us, the year 2020 will be the worst in our lives, one we desperately don’t want to repeat. Unfortunately, the evidence indicates that may be an illusion when it comes to the COVID pandemic.

It is now reported, https://n.pr/3c0G5fF, that the COVID virus is present in the nation’s vast and widely dispersed white-tailed deer population (estimated 30 million in US alone, equivalent to about 10 percent of the US human population). The story is getting relatively little attention in mainstream media, compared, for example, to the “gripping” story of NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ lying about his vaccination, then contracting COVID, then being forced to sit out a game that his team lost – oh, yes, the story was extensively reported. Even Forbes covered it. An entranced nation awaits Rodgers’ return.

Meanwhile, back in the world where human lives and the national/global economy is under threat, and as reported by NPR:

A recent survey of white-tailed deer in the Northeast and Midwest found that 40% of them had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. Now veterinarians at The Pennsylvania State University have found active SARS-CoV-2 infections in at least 30% of deer tested across Iowa during 2020. The study, published online last week, suggests that white-tailed deer could become what’s known as a reservoir for SARS-CoV-2. That is, the animals could carry the virus indefinitely and spread it back to humans periodically….

During April to December of last year, about 30% of the deer that they tested were positive for SARS-CoV-2 by a PCR test. And then during the winter surge in Iowa, from Nov. 23, 2020 to Jan. 10, about 80% of the deer that they tested were infected. At the peak of the surge … the prevalence of the virus in deer was effectively about 50 to 100 times the prevalence in Iowa residents at the time.

The COVID variants in the deer matched those in humans.

The deer species in question is native to North American, Central America and the northern part of South America. Their capacity to move into and thrive in new habitats is well known.

The NPR article notes that the important questions raised include whether COVID can be transmitted from the deer back to humans or to other animal categories such as livestock. And, of course, the presence of COVID virus in such a large population creates the conditions for further mutations, as has been found in the Netherlands and Poland.

The article does not mention what seems an equally or more important question. Deer are apparently not sickened and do not die from COVID-19 infection. WHY NOT? That issue surely ranks as a critical subject to study. Is there something unique about the deer immune systems that mutes the devastating effects the virus has had on millions of humans? If so, that understanding could be the source of new vaccines to combat what seems like the inevitable persistence of COVID-19 for the foreseeable and perhaps indefinite future.  No matter how much we may wish it were otherwise.

 

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.

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.

 

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.