No shortcuts to controlling covid-19

Early in the Trump Administration, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway coined the term “alternative facts”. The term that could have come out of George Orwell’s book 1984. By definition a fact is not disputable, but Ms. Conway made them so. Apparently, if actual facts won’t provide the answer you need, you invent another fact instead.

Since then the Trump Administration has been inventing all sorts of alternative facts, otherwise known as lies. And with the exception of a small group of die-hard Never Trumpers, Republicans have embraced Trump’s truthiness. It does solve a lot of messy problems, like having to admit reality is, well, real. Decide on your new reality and move forward. Problem solved!

But their world of alternative facts is crumbling. You can deny reality if you want, but at some point it cannot be denied. In canceling the Republican convention, Trump was acknowledging reality that getting covid-19 is in fact a lot worse than getting the sniffles; in fact it can kill you. Rather than tell Trump he was full of crap, Republicans simply decided they weren’t going to his convention. So to avoid humiliation not to mention all the covid-19 cases that would invariably result, Trump had to cave.

Obviously, most Republicans are perfectly fine with those other people getting covid-19, but not them in particular. After all they can stay in their gated communities and buy their kids private tutoring if needed. That’s true of most Republicans who control the party, but obviously not all of them. Many of them aren’t quite so moneyed.

Here’s a prediction that’s pretty easy to make: virtually no school district in the country will open for in-person classes this fall. All it takes is one kid in a school district to test positive to close the schools. In the unlikely event a school superintendent won’t; parents will make the choice for them. They won’t put their children in jeopardy and will keep them home.

So far, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is continuing to buck the trend, insisting that all Florida schools will reopen on time in a few weeks. But he will buckle like Trump did because actual facts will force him to do so. He looked so popular when the state’s infection rate was relatively low but obviously that has changed. He’s already more unpopular than Trump is in the state. Assuming he wants to win reelection in a couple of years, he’s got to pivot. He will, but it’s unclear whether voters will forgive his insistence that their kids were fair game in Trump’s world of alternative facts.

Like the Wicked Witch of the West, the Republican Party is melting. Reality is catching up with the party. Donald Trump is melting too, and bringing down much of the party with him. In many ways, this is a perfect political storm. As much as Republicans hoped to escape reality by inventing their own facts, reality won’t bend. The coronavirus will keep doing what it is doing and will kill people regardless.

False hopes like herd immunity and throwing caution to the wind won’t do much beside leaving many more of us dead or victims of the disease. Restarting the economy hasn’t saved us. In fact, it’s made things much worse, prolonging the disease, greatly enlarging its impact and slowing our recovery, putting us at a competitive disadvantage to other more enlightened countries.

It’s actually a lot worse than that. Effectively, no Americans can travel internationally until we contain the virus. Even traveling state-to-state is chancy. If you wanted to visit me in Massachusetts, after August 1 in most cases you would have to self quarantine for up to two weeks before or after coming or get a covid-19 test showing no exposure within 72 hours of arrival. If you don’t quarantine before coming, you must also produce a negative exposure test to get out of quarantine. There’s even a form you have to fill out. Violations can cost up to $500 a day.

It appears that the coronavirus won’t listen to all the truthiness out there. Let’s hope one result of all this mess is the end of truthiness and alternative facts, along with the Republican Party.

Marching for reality

So the missus and me drove across the river to participate in the March for Science yesterday. No, not the Potomac River. We don’t live near Washington, D.C. anymore. The river in this case is the Connecticut River and the place was Kendrick Park in the town of Amherst, Massachusetts. You know, where the spinster Emily Dickinson wrote all that love poetry to imaginary lovers.

We weren’t alone. Mostly we sat around with hands in our pockets as other marchers filed into the park. Some had signs. Some were in costume. One young kid was dressed as an astronaut. One man dressed as Ironman. There were some people in uniform. No, not cops. Actual scientists. We also had some medical professionals. Anyhow, they wore white lab coats. Slowly what looked like a couple of hundred people at best grew into a much more sizable crowd. It was hard to count the crowd as they streamed in impressively toward the start of the march at 10 a.m. My guess is that we were at least 600, with as many as a thousand.

The short march to the Amherst Town Commons meant forming a long queue on the sidewalk. It took a good half an hour for all the people in the park to actually start ambling down the sidewalk. So let’s say there were 800 of us marchers. Considering how few people live in the Pioneer Valley, at least north of the Holyoke Range, 800 is quite a crowd. Aside maybe from football games and graduation ceremonies at nearby UMass Amherst (where many are from out of town), it’s rare to see a crowd of this size around here. It’s kind of unnatural.

Amherst MA March for Science marchers
Amherst MA March for Science marchers

Which made this march of among the four hundred or so across six continents pretty impressive in the grand scheme of things, at least in terms of per capita representation. We hardly packed them in like they did on the national mall. We didn’t have Bill Nye the Science Guy as our speaker, just a local neurologist and a few others from the crowd who came forward before we marched. It was all very low-key and had a spontaneous feel to it, organized as a lot of these are in a few weeks using a Facebook group and depending a lot on word of mouth.

Our neurologist spokesman in the lab coat spoke about how ironic it was to have a march for science. No one ever recalled this being done before. That’s because until recently the idea of a march for science seemed absurd. It’s kind of like marching for sunny days. This was of course before our Electoral College unwisely put into office a president who doesn’t believe in climate change, and whose head of the EPA is working to turn it into the Environmental Degradation Administration.

Amherst MA March for Science marchers
Amherst MA March for Science marchers

So the march had a very surreal feel to it, as the virtues of science should be obvious to anyone with at least half a brain. For much of our country’s history, we were proud of our scientific achievements and our scientists. Like Albert Einstein, they showed up on our stamps. Those of us who remembered the space race remember how science was supercool back then. It also brought forth the information age, evidenced by the smartphones most of us carried, each with enough power and circuitry to best the computer that in 1997 beat chess champion Gary Kasparov. Science has also extended human life enormously, helped provide the means to feed our exponentially expanding population, cleaned much of our air, put a man on the moon and has at least one spacecraft actually traveling between stars. Who could possibly be against that?

It turns out plenty of people are against it, at least when it interferes with their agendas. For science whether it likes it or not tends to be a disruptor. It provides incredible advancements and insights but it does so sometimes by offending those who don’t like what it reports. Science discerns what is, but not always perfectly. As science gains better insights into reality, what we thought was reality sometimes gets revised. And that’s also why some people are offended. Science can find no God that matches the one we are told exists in our Bibles or Koran. If it could I’m sure scientists would be first to broadcast the news. Scientists aren’t saying there is no God, but that science doesn’t reveal one. A process that requires peer review and skepticism is of course perceived as a threat to those who depend on ignorance to retain power.

And thus the absurdity of a march for science. But we live in an age of alternative facts, an oxymoron so enormous it’s hard for the rational among us to put our brains around the notion. To say you believe in alternative facts essentially says that you suffer from profound cognitive dissonance. If I arise around 7 a.m. and look to the east I am likely to see the sun rise. In the world of alternative facts, it could be a sun setting, or not a sun at all. Perhaps it is the hand of God, or the hand of Manos.

So perhaps we were not marching for science, but marching for reality. As one of the more popular signs at yesterday’s rally said: “There is no Planet B”. And that pretty much says it all. We march not just for reality, but for our lives and those who come after us. To deny reality means to doom humans as a species on this planet. To deny that pumping more carbon dioxide, methane and greenhouse gases into the air and think it’s not causing the atmosphere to warm is really insane. Your local science teacher can prove it pretty simply in a test tube in the chemistry lab of your local high school. If you are going to dispute that then either you are denying reality or you are doing it to gain short-term advantage and profit for you and people like you. It doesn’t matter which it is, because it is evil.

I am convinced that we are nearing the end of this anti-science age. This cannot stand because to deny reality means death itself. If there is one phobia we all share it’s a fear of death. Which makes science deniers evil and if they actually believe what they preach likely clinically insane too. Marching for science is marching for reality. We all want to live. We will not allow those who lead us to kill us.

Alternative facts and the puerile Trump Administration

I went to bed January 20th having largely succeeded in tuning out Donald Trump’s inauguration. Mission accomplished, at least in preserving my sanity that day. Instead I read brief snippets of online news summaries and went to my comfort zone. My comfort zone is to watch Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings on DVD, but I felt increasingly uneasy every time I saw Sauron’s eye of fire.

“Who knows what you have spoken to the darkness, alone, in the bitter watches of the night, when all your life seems to shrink, the walls of your bower closing in about you, a hutch to trammel some wild thing in?” spake Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) to the lovely Lady Eowyn in The Two Towers which I watched that night. Around 4 a.m. I awoke to distant rumbling sounds that I could not place. In my fevered imagination it was the sound of nuclear weapons exploding and heading my way. Fortunately not even President Trump could act so rashly so quickly. My fears slowly faded, but I staggered through most of Saturday wondering if I was just unusually prescient. Time will tell.

Our newest president had bigger fish to fry on Saturday, mainly solving his huge case of cognitive dissonance. He had the biggest inauguration ever, the best! It was hugely huge but as usual the media were brazenly lying about it. Those must have been doctored photos of the Mall showing underwhelming crowds. Those many empty bleachers along Pennsylvania Avenue, must have been taken some time long before or after the parade:

Trump’s memories were completely different. After all he saw thousands of Muslims cheering as the Twin Towers went down on 9/11. On Saturday when up to a million protestors swarmed the Mall to protest Trump’s agenda, Trump sent out his newly minted press secretary Sean Spicer into the pressroom to tell the media they were lying about the crowd size at the inauguration. Sunday saw Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway telling NBC’s Chuck Todd that Spicer was presenting “alternative facts”, an opening oxymoron from an administration sure to be full of them. Monday found our new president fuming that he won the popular vote somehow because of three to 5 million votes that illegals cast for Hillary got counted, for which of course there is zero evidence.

Thankfully, at least at that moment, the press wasn’t having any of it. The media was rife with reports that this new administration was spewing lies. This of course only got Trump’s dander up more, which may explain why he wants to limit press briefings only to media friendly to him, as well as move the pressroom to the Old Executive Office Building. It’s much easier to believe in alternative facts when the press can’t confront you so easily.

This sure is plenty embarrassing, and it is likely to stay this way for the next four years, not to mention childish in the extreme. This is what happens when you put the crazies in charge, and when you populate your administration with “reporters” from Brietbart.com, that’s what you get. No fact that doesn’t agree with their prejudices needs to be considered. You simply change the facts instead or invent new “facts” that are in fact not even facts. Problem solved!

Except of course this is totally crazy. Imagine going to the dentist to complain about a tooth pain and they decide to amputate a toe instead. That’s his “fact”. It won’t do anything to solve your tooth pain except maybe put you in such agony that you forget about it for a while. But, hey, it fits the narrative! That’s what counts.

I doubt our enemies will be so anti-fact based. Instead they will take action based on observed reality. When the administration takes action based on false information, the results are unlikely to be effective. But perhaps to Trump is doesn’t matter. No failure no matter how objectively provable matters. You just invent some alternative facts. Your supporters will follow like sheep … until possibly they hit that point where actual reality intercedes with these alternative facts and it causes them huge personal pain, such as when they lose their Obamacare for Trump’s new non-existent health plan. Then maybe they will wake the hell up.

Women were certainly awake on Saturday, protesting in the millions nationwide and across the world. As they plot a political comeback, don’t expect them to follow our foolish president. Expect them to use facts and a provable strategy to wrest political power from our anti-fact-based oligarchy and back to the people.