Religion likely killed Jerry

Jerry (not his real name) is dead. Jerry, age about seventy, died recently of covid-19. Jerry could have been vaccinated but chose not to be.

Jerry is also the first person I know personally to die needlessly of covid-19. With 800,000 deaths you would think I would know some others, and perhaps I do. I either don’t know that they died, or that they died of covid-19. In general though, like most people, I tend to associate with others who share my beliefs. I can’t think of one of my friends who doesn’t believe in the efficacy of covid-19 vaccines.

As Jerry is a friend of a friend, I only know about Jerry’s method of demise through my friend. I couldn’t call him a friend as I only met him a few times. But unquestionably he was a decent man, giving by nature and friendly. He had an odd couple relationship with my friend, who’s a flaming liberal. They worked together for many years for a Beltway bandit and stayed friends after she left the company and he retired.

They took many vacations together. My friend has been posting pictures of them from many vacations from exotic locations like Zanzibar and Guatemala. You wanted to be a friend of Jerry’s. He was a reliable guy with a big smile and a hearty handshake.

But after retirement Jerry had plenty of time. Ex-military, he was Christian by inclination. He found himself going one of these mega-churches in the Northern Virginia suburbs overrun with evangelicals and became one himself.

Along the way he also found, voted for and pushed the candidacy of Donald Trump, perhaps America’s most prominent sinner. Trump was a sore spot between my friend and him, but they managed to remain friends in spite of it. I got the feeling they saw less of each other. Anyhow, she moved to Florida and the distance between them made seeing each other a lot more problematic.

Like many of us, Jerry got sucked into an information bubble. He distrusted pretty much any media except those that told him what he wanted to hear. It appears that he grew to believe that covid-19 wasn’t real, but definitely that getting vaccinated for it was against his principles, principles repeated endlessly in his newsfeeds and among his friends. He was also conspiracy minded and became a believer in QAnon, a belief shared by some members of his family. His faith gave him overwhelming confidence that God would protect him. By being a model of that faith and his beliefs, he was confident that he was protected.

I don’t know too much about his death other than he wasn’t vaccinated and covid-19 killed him. Of course, there would have been no guarantee that had he been vaccinated covid would not have killed him, but it would have stacked the odds greatly in his favor. All we can say is that he is dead and if there is a heaven he’s doubtless there right now. St. Peter was probably surprised by his early arrival.

But his death hardly brought peace to his family. He has a pro-Trump daughter, and she is trying to push out the other daughter who stopped talking to Jerry because of his politics. His pro-Trump sister is not talking to anyone. It doesn’t sound like Jerry’s convictions are going to help his family heal from his passing and I suspect his funeral will be lightly attended.

It’s hard to say what flipped Jerry into an anti-vaxxer. But it’s not hard to see contributing factors. Ex-military people are largely conservative types. Evangelicals have extreme faith in God and a predisposition toward absolute certainty that their faith seems to require as a condition of membership. They take comfort in communing largely with each other, which tends to reinforce their shared beliefs. You don’t have to do much research on the internet to find out that there is a huge overlap between conservatives, evangelicals and QAnon supporters. If you are in one of these groups, you’ll probably find yourself in the others too.

If you ask me, Jerry’s death was aided and abetted by his evangelical church. While a few faiths like Unitarian Universalism open minds, most tend to shut them and bar the doors to rational thought. No wonder then that about thirty percent of American are now Nones, i.e. don’t affiliate with any religion. This percentage is going to only increase until we are a majority sectarian nation, as is most of Europe. Dogmatic, close-minded but otherwise really nice people like Jerry who die needlessly from a treatable disease are accelerating the trend.

Jerry did lead an authentic life and stayed true to his principles and faith. But I think it’s fair to say that they also killed him.

Republicans are inadvertently voting themselves off the island

Last I heard, today was revolution day, take two. The insurrection of the Capitol on January 6, 2021 failed but at the cost of a half dozen deaths.

Today is the day Trump is finally supposed to become president again somehow, or maybe it’s king. This appear to be the latest conspiracy theory going around the QAnon channels. This may be a crazy threat, but it was enough for the House of Representatives to decide to cancel its session today. Last I heard, the Senate hadn’t succumbed to fear.

Why March 4th? That’s because it was the date originally set for presidential inaugurations. Set at a time when it could take weeks or months to get across the nation, it made sense. The 20th Amendment though changed the date to January 20th. But I guess that’s not constitutional enough for some of these QAnon-ers. So today must be the day a “real” president would take office and that can’t be Joe Biden because Trump said the election was stolen from him. Case closed, or rather these minds closed.

I don’t expect Congress to be overrun today, unlike on January 6th when I did expect this. In fact, I blogged about it before the event. Unlike on January 6th, this time we now have a Congress that realizes these QAnon-ers may be crazy, but they at least now have a track record. Also, we have a new president. The last one helped foment the insurrection itself.

The Capitol is now something of a fortress. Anyhow it’s hard to get into and out of with all the temporary fencing and razor wire. In addition, there is still a National Guard presence at the Capitol; they never quite left. So there’s no ready soft target anymore. There are rumors that date has been moved to March 6th, presumably because it’s two months to the day since the insurrection. But that’s on a Saturday, so it doesn’t bode well for hanging Mike Pence or Nancy Pelosi.

So I’m not losing sleep over what may happen today. But l am pretty disturbed (but not surprised) about how the post-Trump age is turning out. While insurrection may be out for the moment, it’s time for Republicans to dial it up to eleven on gerrymandering and voter suppression. Over three hundred bills have been introduced in state legislatures to make it harder for people, particularly people of color, to vote. There is good evidence that voter suppression tactics are counterproductive to Republican’s aims. For while it may make it harder for people of color to vote, it also makes it harder for rural Republicans to vote too. Many of them will prefer to sit out the next election, especially those less vested in the cult of Donald Trump. Also, many Republicans are leaving the party because of January 6th.

These Republican moves have a feeling of desperation about them. While covid-19 killed a lot of people of color, it also killed a lot of the Republican voting base: older white people, particularly the obese and non-mask wearing types. The party has become a party of White grievance, which is not a great platform for attracting others necessary to keep the party viable. In addition, the party is taking unpopular stances. Not a single House Republican voted for the latest covid-19 bill, even though a majority of Republicans polled support it.

Still, these efforts are enough to worry that our democracy is slipping away. Recent Supreme Court arguments on a case attacking the 1965 Civil Rights Act suggest a majority of the court is priming to make what’s left of the law unconstitutional.

So there is plenty of onus to enact the For the People Act through Congress. This bill would require congressional districts be drawn impartially, set national voting standards and require universal mail in voting. The Act has passed the House and has now moved to the Senate. Currently it would be subject to filibuster, which has many Democrats arguing it’s time to get rid of the filibuster altogether.

It’s a compelling argument, especially now, because if Democrats don’t then these new voting laws and redistricting would tilt the playing field even more toward the advantage of Republicans. It’s hard to understand the hesitancy of some wavering Democratic senators. The filibuster has been chipped away at for more than twenty years. Republicans have shown no hesitancy to chip away at it when they wielded power. Nor has it proven a method for brokering bipartisan compromise. Rather, it’s done just the opposite. It needs to die.

I often wish there were a way to keep people from believing insane stuff. Americans seem to love conspiracy theories but Donald Trump elevated them and made them mainstream. There doesn’t seem to be a way to put this genie back in its bottle. Because Trump supporters are not reality based, real life is bound to disproportionately impact them, as demonstrated by the many covid-19 victims among staunch Trump supporters. There are plenty of Herman Cains out there to serve as examples, but it doesn’t seem to move them back toward sanity.

We learned during CPAC that Donald Trump got covid-19 shots in January while still president. You would think that might wake up some of them to get the vaccine or at least put on a mask. Instead, we get Texas Governor Greg Abbott ending all masking requirements in the state, a stunningly premature act guaranteed to kill off more of his staunchest supporters. This was done probably to draw attention away from his gross mismanagement of Texas’s electricity infrastructure, which resulted in widespread power and water outages during a recent cold snap.

It increasingly looks to me the best case is actually the worst case: Republicans have voted themselves off the island by becoming victims of their own foolishness. We can only hope that those of us who remain are sensible. I know I am. I don’t want to die. But if I die from covid-19 and it’s because of one of these foolhardy people then I will die deservedly a bitter and angry man.

Running down the QAnon rabbit holes

It sucks to be a QAnon believer right now. Their god, Donald J. Trump, let them down. No message went out the day before Inauguration over the Emergency Broadcast System that their Lord and Savior was going to rescue the country from the peril of democracy and that the army was imposing martial law. Somehow, Joe Biden’s inauguration went off without a hitch. In fact, he was sworn in about ten minutes before he was legally the President of the United States. After four years of chaos, Biden seems to be aggressively focused on working for the American people instead raging, golfing and tweeting all day.

A less biased QAnon devotee might simply decide it was all BS, and at least a few of them seem to have sobered up. For most of course what didn’t happen requires recontextualizing and reinterpretation. So that’s mostly what’s going on in QAnon world at the moment. Some have figured out that Trump was never their savior, but that doesn’t mean someone else isn’t waiting in the wings. Maybe it’s Joe Biden.

Others are suffering from a guilt complex. They didn’t try hard enough on January 6 and that’s why it failed. Here’s one way it probably wouldn’t have failed: had Trump actually marched to the Capitol with them (admittedly, it would probably have severely taxed him as he reportedly only took elevators in the White House), perhaps leading the pack, pushing his way through the doors of the Capitol. Imagine how the Capitol Police would have reacted to that? Do they shoot the president? It would be a Storming of the Bastille, just in reverse. That probably would have been the end of our democracy.

But that would have been scary, and Trump is basically a coward. So instead, Trump went inside the White House to watch it on TV and criticize the insurrectionists he urged on for looking low class. And QAnon-ers and other conspiracy minded folk were forced to try to figure out what went wrong. Now Trump is officially an ex-president, stands some low but measurable probability of actually being convicted of impeachment this time, and still hasn’t found a Twitter alternative. No one knows what he’s doing at Mar-a-Lago, and most of us don’t care. It’s a good bet he’s mostly golfing, ranting at staff and drinking Diet Cokes.

For the moment, the whole QAnon movement looks rudderless, not that there was ever anyone really in charge. Q him(her?)self was always cryptic. Like Batman, he couldn’t give away his secret identity. My theory of the moment is that it was Sheldon Adelson. Like Batman, he has plenty of money and wasn’t afraid to spend it. It’s just that Adelson has been declining for years, like Q, and is now unfortunately deceased.

Or just as likely Q is some troll from the liberal left having some fun. If so, he likely had a drinking problem, as his posts got less frequent and even less coherent with time. Maybe he is the guy that invented BitCoin. At least he knew how to obscure his identity. Or maybe it’s Julian Assange. It was likely someone who knew a thing or two about technology, as it takes a lot of tech smarts to evade detection all this time. Lately though according to reports it seems like Q has gone missing in action, or nearly so.

Wittingly or unwittingly, Q certainly did stir up a crowd, and knew what buttons to press to get his followers riled up. There were probably hundreds of other Qs out there trying something similar, but his was the one to get some traction.

It’s not a hard sell to make. There is always a crowd ready to believe in conspiracy theories, particularly here in the United States. You just don’t expect though that two QAnon supporters would actually get elected to Congress in the last election: Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA) and Laura Boebert (CO). Reportedly, Boebert was giving insurrectionists an inside tour of the Capitol the day before the coup attempt. Followers of Q can develop their own Internet entourage if they can play this crowd. I could be susceptible too, if I started getting thousands of reads and likes per day. Perhaps I could if I could whip up just the right conspiracy meme.

Q though seems to have spawned a lot of hate groups and a lot of organizing on various platforms, most of which are now shutdown. So, Q does seem to be something of a force. President Biden though won’t turn up as Q, as he’s too nice a guy not to mention a technology lightweight. But unlike Trump he’s smart enough to recognize a real national security threat when he sees it. Expect that white nationalist domestic terrorism to be the principle national security threat that he concentrates on during his term. This stuff is wacky and weird, but it’s obviously dangerous enough, as January 6 proved.

Luckily for the FBI, there are plenty of rabbit holes to investigate.

Believe in QAnon? Here’s the reality of government from one who spent 32 years inside it

Who doesn’t like a good conspiracy theory? It used to be that our conspiracy theories had a little bit of plausibility to them. When I was growing up, the big conspiracy theory was that Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t actually kill John F. Kennedy. Hundreds of books were written, each with a different conspiracy theory that its author asserted had to be correct. They covered quite a breadth of theories, but a lot of them were tied somehow to the USSR and/or Cuba. Some of them talked about the Deep State which could not allow a Catholic president, at least not for long. A mysterious entity called The Trilateral Commission seemed to be behind a lot of it.

Today, that particular conspiracy theory looks pretty tame. With the rise of QAnon we get conspiracy theories so outlandish that sane people like me figure no one sane could possibly believe it, not even those who wrote JFK assassination conspiracy books. But of course, you would be wrong. Trump is catering to the QAnon crowd, but really anyone who will vote for him. It’s estimated there are millions of QAnon followers and not just here in the USA. Some are likely to be elected to Congress in the coming election. QAnon-ers believe that someone with the code name Q, who has ties to the deep, deep state knows what’s really going on. He(?) will place his bursts of insight out on the dark web. QAnon wants you to know … oh heck, I’ll just quote from Wikipedia:

QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory. It alleges that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against US President Donald Trump, who is battling against the cabal. The theory also commonly asserts that Trump is planning a day of reckoning known as “The Storm”, when thousands of members of the cabal will be arrested. No part of the theory is based on fact. QAnon has accused many liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic politicians, and high-ranking officials of being members of the cabal. It also claimed that Trump feigned conspiracy with Russians to enlist Robert Mueller to join him in exposing the sex-trafficking ring and preventing a coup d’état by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros.

The most well-known QAnon conspiracy you probably heard about: Pizzagate. Apparently, Comet Ping Pong Pizza in Washington, D.C. was running a pedophilia ring in its basement. The minor fact that Comet Pizza doesn’t even have a basement, of course, was immaterial to those who believed in the theory.

I spent thirty-two years working for Uncle Sam. I held a number of security clearances over those years, including one that gave me access to Sensitive Compartmentalized Information. To this day I still feel I can’t utter two words they told me (except to those with the same clearance) because it was so super-secret, even though I have seen it repeatedly used in public. I’m still afraid if I utter them, some FBI agent will haul me away – they put the fear of the law in me back then. Fifteen of those years were with the U.S. Department of Defense, nine of them in the Pentagon where I worked hand in hand with members of the U.S. Air Force staff, specifically the people that put the budgets together (I helped maintain their information systems.) I also spent a year between jobs working for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and saw lots of politicians, including Ted Kennedy.

My time at the DCCC was illustrative. Rather than learn of any vast conspiracy theories, I discovered the business of political fundraising was sleazy; the more you contributed, the more access you had. For example, contribute a certain amount and you got into the Speaker’s Club (the House was then run by the Democrats), and in theory had the ear of then-Speaker Tip O’Neil at regularly scheduled events that you had access to because you gave them enough money. It was all spelled out in the brochure. That was a depressing lesson about how politics really worked, as it confirmed what I already knew but hoped was wrong. Rather than working on vast conspiracy theories, the people there tried to elect Democrats already compromised by selling their souls to special interests. In their spare time, the staff spent time at their PCs playing Leisure Suit Larry – someone had gotten a bootleg copy and passed it around.

Sadly, to your conspiracy buffs, I saw no evidence of a Deep State. I understand the appeal of conspiracy theories though. We want to find a simple explanation for the mammoth complexity of our government as it actually is. We want to put things in a comfortable frame, and a conspiracy theory as outlandish as it is at least is simpler than and easier to wrap our minds around than the complexity of our government on all levels as it actually is. Our government is no House of Cards, although the show was great entertainment.

But the good news is that 32 years in the system made me appreciate government. It was then a more coherent institution. If you want a disruptor, Donald Trump is doing a good job. He is working hard to get rid of civil service protections for many employees now, the sorts like Dr. Anthony Fauci who work in the public interest. Trump wants them all to be toadies and we can see how well that’s worked out in his first term.

Sadly, some of these institutions have been bent unacceptably, particularly the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). In general, I found my time as a civil servant inspiring in many ways. Trump’s children and in-laws may not follow the Hatch Act, but annually I had to take online training to make sure I remembered the rules, and the consequences of breaking them. There were all sorts of rules which often didn’t make a whole lot of sense. When I worked for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), I was not allowed to own any energy or mining stocks or mutual funds, even though there were relatively few geologists in the agency. But the rules did keep us from using insider knowledge to our own benefit. In general, I deeply respected my chain of command and felt confident that they were doing their best to work in the national interest and according to the law.

But our government’s complexity is mind-numbing. It’s the price we pay because we live in an increasingly complex world. I don’t expect it to get any better because the world is not going to become a simpler place, however we might want it to be. If it was, we could at least understand it. Since we can’t, it’s easier for many of us to imagine there is some secret cabal controlling it all and that Donald Trump of all people is going to expose it. In reality, it’s all a sort of organized chaos overseen by often inept elected politicians who come and go as elections are won and lost. It’s amazing it functions as well as it does.