No shortcuts to controlling covid-19

The Thinker by Rodin

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.

Disney is going to screw the pooch

The Thinker by Rodin

Donald Trump deciding to hold an indoor rally in Tulsa was a bad idea. As I noted in my last post, Herman Cain likely contracted COVID-19 at the event, along with probably many others, which is likely singularly responsible for most of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma.

After Trump’s recent event at Mount Rushmore, the girlfriend of his son Donald Trump Jr. reported testing positive for COVID-19, prompting the couple to drive back to New York.

After six months even Donald Trump is starting to realize the optics look bad. Yesterday, he was seen wearing a mask in his visit to Walter Reed Hospital. The Republican Party is considering moving their convention to an outdoor venue. They would be much wiser to act like the Democratic Party and hold it virtually. If they hold a convention, I bet half the invitees won’t attend.

So why the hell is Disney opening up Disney World on July 11? In the history of bad corporate decisions, if they follow through, this is likely to be seen in retrospect as one of the stupidest corporate decisions of all times. If Trump’s optics look bad, consider what Disney’s short term pursuit of profits is likely to do with their family-friendly, squeaking-wholesome brand. If I had any Disney stock, I’d be putting in a frantic sell order.

Yes, of course Disney is claiming that it’s all quite safe. Attendance will be limited. Everyone will be required to wear masks. There will be social distancing. Doubtless they will be sanitizing surfaces regularly. But this is not just any theme park. This is the biggest theme park in the world. It brings in people from around the world. There are too many people in too confined a space coming from and going to too many places for this not to become a new super spreader event. Unlike a one-time Trump rally in Tulsa this is a super spreader that is likely to keep on spreading, making moot a lot of the efforts elsewhere to control the disease. It is likely to ensure a continuing set of COVID-19 casualties in the months ahead.

Consider what happened in and around New Orleans during Mardi Gras this year. It resulted in a spike of cases in the city and the state, but because people came from all over the world for the event, attendees carried the virus back home. It likely did a lot to spread the disease and likely killed thousands. It’s hard to say for sure.

Who knows what the effect of reopening Disney World will be? Umm, anyone with a brain. This is a state that had over 15,300 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday. In any rational state, the Department of Public Health would lock the gates. It would be a no-brainer.

But Trump apologist “Governor” Ron Desantis, who is having a hard time even shutting the bars down, is running Florida. He wants to open the schools next month too, five days a week, damn the torpedoes, not to mention the students and teachers. St. Donald tells him it will all be fine.

Trump sent in the troops to quell protests in Washington D.C. If he wants to do some good, why not send in the troops to shut down Disney World or any other theme park that thinks it is safe to open up? This is a public health emergency. What Disney is going to do will be Mardi Gras on steroids. It’s going to spread the virus across the country and, if other countries lift their airline restrictions on our country, the rest of the world too.

This is just an appalling lapse of judgment on Disney’s part. Walt would be appalled, but more importantly perhaps its shareholders will be appalled when they discover the value of their brand is going to sink along with its share prices when this thing takes hold and the finger pointing starts.

This should go without saying, but don’t go to Disney World. If you have reservations, cancel them. If you have friends who have been there recently, shun them. Petition your governor to require Disney World attendees to go into a two-week quarantine if they are foolish enough to go there, or really any place in Florida.

This one company is likely to infect millions of us and kill tens of thousands more of us. Shut it down now, Disney, to protect your brand and what’s left of your good name.

Welcome to hell, Republicans

The Thinker by Rodin

Here in Massachusetts, our blue-leaning state has elected a Republican governor twice. His name is Charlie Baker. He’s the kind of Republican I remember from my youth, before most of them went insane. Governor Baker is pragmatic and works across the aisle. In some ways he is more Democratic than Governor Andrew Cuomo next door in New York, supposedly a Democrat. He refused to vote for Trump and his main focus seems to be to just do things sensibly. Baker may be the only pragmatic Republican left in the country.

Baker has been busy with COVID-19 issues, of course, as have most governors. Governors, well, govern. They deal with the world as it is and no matter how messy aim to make it work better for their people. No wonder then that our blue-leaning state has put him twice in the governorship; we appreciate people who have these skills regardless of party. To get things done he has to figure out how to do it adroitly. Right now it’s a combination of bully pulpit, stretching what he can do under the law a bit and hunkering down with aids and our legislature to more intelligently allocate our state’s resources.

Trump though is ruling, not governing. Rulers don’t govern; they just tell other people what to do and don’t care about how if affects people. Trump is tone deaf to the needs of most Americans and listens only to those who give him money or keep him in power. He has no central strategy, no real plans. He ping pongs from moment to moment, hoping to find the words that strokes his ego. He really doesn’t care about governing; he just wants to rule. He’ll do it his way, or not at all.

It never occurs to Trump to try to work together with people unlike him to try to achieve his goals. He never learned the art of flattery; instead he expects everyone to flatter him. He’s quite comfortable short shifting New York state in its supply of ventilators because Governor Cuomo hasn’t flattered him sufficiently. He wants people to grovel and kiss his ring like he’s the pope. And he’s filled his administration with lackeys that know only how to chase after his constantly changing desires, rather than people who try to exercise the levers of government to achieve what people actually need. He not only expects tone deafness; he requires it.

So it’s no surprise that we were caught with our pants down on this COVID-19 crisis. It’s no surprise that it took months to start doing just a few of the things intelligent people do to mitigate these things. He has no experience in governing and has used none of his time in office to try to acquire these skills. Bullies never learn the art of negotiation. They just practice fear and intimidation because it’s all they know how to do.

With the exception of a few Republican governors like Charlie Baker, most Republican governors out there seemed more enamored with ruling rather than governing too. Take Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor, who only recently decided to keep people home, allowing his state to contribute disproportionately to the spread of COVID-19. Now his solution seems to be to not allow New Yorkers to drive into the state. He is also bizarrely exempting churches from his social distancing rules, arguing that religious services are essential services.

By ruling rather than governing, he’s going to kill a lot more citizens of his state proportionately than most other states. By following the Republican Party playbook rather than by applying the resources of government to meet the needs of the moment, like Trump, he is seeking short term popularity and adherence to party dogma against the needs of his state.

It’s not a stretch to say that Republicanism is killing people in these states and all over our country. It’s a philosophy that says business is always right, and that government has no legitimate role to play beyond enabling extreme capitalism and promoting cronyism. Unsurprisingly, this is leaving states and the federal government without the tools and the institutional memory to adroitly handle the challenges we all face. It may kill millions of us.

Governing requires pragmatic people with a long term vision who not only need to adroitly shift resources to meet the challenges of the moment, but to imagine beyond their term of office and leave their jurisdictions better prepared for these events than when they have arrived. It’s called being a fiduciary. With the exception of a few Republican governors, they, our president and the Republican parts of our Congress have only proved to be miserable failures.

They swallowed Reagan’s KoolAid: that government is the problem. A government though that governs in response to the needs of the people is exactly what government is supposed to do. What we have now is a largely wholesale lack of governing.

Welcome to hell, Republicans. And if looking for someone to blame, look in the mirror.

God won’t save you from COVID-19, but science might

The Thinker by Rodin

Everyone’s feeling out of kilter these days. Most of us are feeling somewhat scared too.

It’s reasonable to expect that in the weeks ahead we will feel more scared, as the COVID-19 crisis gets much, much worse. When people we know, particularly family and celebrities, are felled by the disease we’re going to be looking for escape from this hell. For some it will be from a bottle of booze. For many perhaps it will come by praying to God that you or people you know will be spared.

There is nothing wrong with either prayer or meditation. Both have proven mental health benefits. It helps us feel connected to the larger world and helps many find solace in difficult times. Whether God saves you or not you’ll never know for sure, but science can probably save you, if you pay attention to what scientists and medical professionals are telling you to do and follow their advice. If God has a higher power at work, it’s the power of science.

What we are experiencing in 2020 is hardly new to mankind. Aside from the many wars mankind has endured over the years, natural disasters and pestilence have been periodic killers too. It’s been a while though since we’ve seen a pandemic, so it’s new and very frightening. In my 63 years, I don’t think we’ve had a proper pandemic here in the United States. Still, what we are going through now is hardly unplowed territory. Since the early 1980s we have been dealing with HIV and its AIDS disease. We’ve made progress but most of the progress has come through boring things like monogamy and practicing safe sex.

The religious among us seem to be in two camps on COVID-19. Some see it with the frame they gave to AIDS and HIV: God is punishing us for all our rampant sinning. Then there are others, like Jerry Falwell Jr., who swallowed the Republican KoolAid and reopened Liberty University after Spring Break. I’m guessing he figured his students were too godly to get COVID-19.

Falwell should be practicing penance at the moment, but if he’s not his students are. Some are likely to pay with their lives. For many younger people, catching the disease is no walk in the park. It will kill them. Heck, it killed the guy who first discovered the disease and tried to get the Chinese government to do something about it. Instead, he was punished. He was 33 years old.

I was on a cruise this month. Fortunately, no one was infected on the cruise. Two weeks later we show no signs of the disease, but while on the cruise we were meticulous about regularly washing our hands. The cruise line was meticulous about squirting our hands with sanitizer when we went to eat too. Before the cruise we spent a night at a Rodeway Inn in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Eating their free breakfast in the morning, someone on the P.A. system was saying the way to fight the disease was to stop listening to the liberal news media.

He should have listened. There’s no more cruising going in and out of Fort Lauderdale and won’t be for a long time. He’s probably one of much of the hotel staff that’s been laid off because of the disease, made much worse because their Republican governor Ron DeSantis put profits over public health, doing much to spread the disease as spring breakers brought it back home. Florida still lags other states in keeping its populace at home. Maybe he’s figuring that God will save them.

God’s not coming to his rescue. He didn’t come to Jerry Falwell Jr.’s rescue and he won’t be coming to your rescue either. I can say it’s because God doesn’t exist, which is likely, but I can’t prove it. What I can say is that with if God exists, its a removed and impersonal god, that shows no interest in your life in particular. It didn’t keep people from getting the plague either. Even back then though the smarter ones inferred that it had a lot to do with people being clustered closely together. Today, others like my friend Tom are using the same strategy: flee to the country and hope to ride it out there. You can also do what health care professionals are telling us to do. That’s what we’re doing.

It’s human to be scared by all of this. For most of us it will be one of the major events in our lives, and a shared world trauma. Some of us cope with stress better than others. Religion is supposed to give us ways of coping with this kind of stress in particular. If so, I don’t see much evidence that it’s working. Part of the stress of the religious is their cognitive dissonance. They know what their religion is telling them is crap, but they can’t admit it to themselves.

The successful people are going to acknowledge that it is crap and move on. This is not to say that religion is necessarily bad, but certain flavors of it can be quite toxic, and a lot of religious Americans are in this camp. Most are evangelicals. If we are at the first stages of Armageddon, it’s going to be sending many more of these Christians to early graves. Of course, a lot of us less religious folk will be felled by it too. But fewer of us will because we will largely heed the advice scientists like Dr. Fauci are giving us.

To me, following their advice is something of a balm because it’s likely to actually work. It may also be my nature, but although concerned I am markedly happier than most of the people around me. It comes not through choosing ignorance, but learning what works to keep from getting infected and then doing it scrupulously. I’ve learned there are ways to be less afraid of COVID-19 and things you can still do an enjoy to give you pleasure and meaning.

Here’s some of what I’m doing. You might want to see if these strategies work for you too:

  • I stay mostly indoors
  • I keep surfaces I touch clean with appropriate disinfectants
  • When I go out shopping, I am careful. I bring sanitary wipes, stay calm, and keep a social distance. Since I am age 60+, I take advantage of special shopping hours for us more at-risk people.
  • I mostly succeed in not touching my face
  • Some face touching will happen anyhow. So I try to wash my face with soap and water once a day too. Keeping it clean means if I touch it I probably won’t get infected if I then touch my mouth or a mucus membrane.
  • I wash my hands periodically throughout the day, with soap and water, at least for twenty seconds, being very thorough to clean all surfaces
  • I try to get outside once a day and take a walk. Walking is quite safe if you maintain a social distance. There are parks and trails nearby. Seeing people makes me feel connected to them. The fresh air and sunshine feels good too. Hearing the birds and feeling wind on my face makes me feel alive.
  • When the weather permits, I open up the windows and enjoy the fresh air. There’s no coronavirus in the air unless someone coughs on you. Outdoor air is likely healthier than indoor air anyhow.
  • I keep busy doing stuff: consulting when it is available, indulge in my hobbies and try not to obsessively watch the news. Watching Star Trek Picard was a great distraction.
  • After going shopping, I wipe surfaces and things I touched, including groceries I brought in if possible. I leave stuff that’s not too perishable in the garage for a few days. And I wash my hands.
  • I count on layers of protection. The most likely way of acquiring the disease is from touching your face and then touching your mouth or nose. I keep both hands and face clean.
  • Realize this is not forever.
  • Chat with friends and family virtually. Be positive but realistic. Encourage them that by doing sensible things they are likely to be survivors.

In one way we are lucky: our finances won’t be stretched by this crisis, so that’s a huge relief. Most of you won’t be so lucky, but you will get some relief from the government. Hopefully it will let you ride the financial impacts for a while without feeling like you are in a financial crisis too.

By doing these things, you are also being virtuous. In addition to hopefully putting yourself in a healthier space, you are also helping society. You are helping to cut the transmission of the disease so others can survive it. You are making things less stressed for our overtaxed healthcare workers. Your actions may be boring, and make you feel lonely, but it’s vital. Staying at home helps not only you, but everyone.

Keep praying to God if that gives you comfort. We know what kills people now when pandemics occur. In the past, we didn’t know so we attributed it to the supernatural. Trust that God revealed science for a reason, and that it wants you to place your trust in our scientists. One to 3 percent of us who get the disease won’t survive it, but most of us will, but only if we stop doing the stupid stuff.

Stay safe and stay positive. This won’t last forever.