There was actually a time where I assumed that sports, and football in particular, would put a dent in all this fear that’s permeated throughout our society. I really thought that as we approached football season, COVID panic would be no match for people’s desire to tailgate, get together on the weekend, head out to the bars etc. etc..
Man, was I wrong.
At the risk of sounding (or even being) patronizing, group narratives can overpower those who don’t think critically. For well longer than any of us have been alive, athletes have literally worked their asses off, to achieve their collegiate and professional dreams. Being afraid of the consequences was seen as a weakness- a sign that someone “just doesn’t want it enough.” ESPECIALLY in football, players are taking all KINDS of health risks- injuries and damage that can be with them for the rest of their lives. That’s never stopped them before, because they do it for the love of the game.
Effective this summer, that’s no longer the case. COVID-19, a virus whose main impacts are suffered primarily by unhealthy and/or elderly people- the exact OPPOSITE of an athlete’s profile- comes along, and what happens? These athletes, who have been training their entire lives for the opportunity to play at a national level, are being praised for NOT suiting up, thanks to the months of endless fear-peddling that has gripped America- a fear that has had far more of an effect on us collectively than the virus itself.
As someone who’s been far better in life at watching sports than playing them, one of the reasons I’ve been such a huge fan is because it provides an escape from the more troubling aspects of real life. Now? It’s become a reminder of them.
So here’s an interesting one. John Lewis, a Civil Rights hero in the 1960’s and a fairly generic liberal politician ever since- he boycotted Dubya’s inauguration in 2000- died earlier this month. The double standard of celebrating his life in full, as though COVID-lockdown culture didn’t exist, comes as no surprise by now.
Very revealing, though, was this exchange on Twitter, between a man who’s father had recently died, and a news anchor defending the double standard. The news anchor explains to the feudal serf that since his father “was not John Lewis”, he did not deserve the lockdown exemption, like Lewis did.
This exchange angered a lot of people, but not me. Almost since the beginning of this whole thing, I’ve said that this “New (Ab)normal” was largely, if not exclusively, an excuse for those in power to grab more of it. The problem is, when a rightwing nutjob like myself says it, I’m just reading from my script. When those who do the elites’ bidding say it, however, their words carries a lot more weight. So thank you, Mr. Newsman, for proving my point!
In plain English, either…
A) We’re dealing with a horrible plague, and we ALL need to dramatically alter life to do our part, no exceptions.
B) We’re NOT dealing with a horrible plague, and after making a few minor adjustments, we ALL need to go back to living our lives.
The bottom line is that the sooner more people see through all of this, the better off all of us will be. Well…ALMOST all of us….
Very rarely do I sign on to Twitter and find myself encouraged when I see a trending topic, so it was quite a pleasant surprise when I saw that “George Carlin” was at the top of their list. My enthusiasm didn’t last though, and quite honestly, I should have known better to begin with.
The trending topic of the late, great philosopher-comedian (or comedian-philosopher) was the work of an out-of-context video, created by “Pattern Integrity Films” and boosted by the unintentionally ironic website “Crooks and Liars”, designed to take down conservatives at all costs. The video cleverly but disingenuously overlays a montage over Carlin’s words, with accompanying sad piano music. (Is there any other kind of montage music these days?) In it, we see the usual boogeymen- Donald Trump, conservative politicians, Donald Trump, Fox News, Donald Trump, the Confederate Flag, Donald Trump, ultra-wealthy Internet tycoons, Donald Trump, “mostly peaceful protesters” being arrested, and of course, Donald Trump. The liberal alternate reality of the COVID crisis was particularly innovative, highlighting problems in Texas and Florida, without any (contact) trace of the far greater crisis that unraveled in Andrew Cuomo’s New York this past spring. Also curiously absent, among so many other things, was the video producers’ feelings about Cuomo’s younger brother, Chris, having a prime-time show on CNN to cover the news of the day, including what unraveled in New York. (Talk about manipulation, eh?)
While nobody can, nor should, try to speak for anyone who is no longer alive, the blatantly partisan use of a man who despised the entire ruling political class goes against the very thing that he preached against. At the risk of being guilty of the very thing I’m criticizing, there are two video clips of Carlin, which surely Crooks and Liars, as well as other crooks and liars, won’t dare touch.
The first, which deals with the decadence and hypocrisy of the modern environmental movement, was discussed on this site a few years ago. It’s only gotten worse since the routine first came out. And hey, speaking of things that have only gotten worse…
The second clip is particularly relevant to what’s going on now, and no accompanying montage is needed to get the point across, either. Just click on this link to watch Carlin’s scathing critique of how government exploits germaphobia to take away our freedom. Decide for yourself how a man, advocating for individual liberty against government manipulation, would feel about those who constantly shout to “just wear the damn mask” and “stay the fuck at home”.
To be fair, the cynical practice of using a fallen icon’s words to further one’s own agenda is not specific to liberals. Conservatives frequently invoke Martin Luther King’s “content of character” quote for their own “color blind agenda”. Few, if any, outside of their bubble go for it. By contrast, however, The Left has far more success with this tactic, as they own most of our culture now. But really, although Carlin would undoubtedly have plenty to say about ALL sides on what’s going on now, his thoughts shouldn’t be the deciding factor on what the rest of us think. If anything, we “commoners” need to be LESS concerned with the opinions of those in the public sphere- yes, even the “good” ones- and try to express personal beliefs on our own. So, with that in mind, here are mine…
To all those bad-faithed political operatives, using and exploiting people’s fears and misfortune for your personal gain-
-You are a far greater long term threat to our troubled society, than anything shown in that video montage- including Donald Trump.
To all the followers out there- the ones who disregard ACTUAL problems within our society, while going along with government-induced ones by shouting at your fellow citizens to “wake up”? -Okay, but you first.
Even with no games- ESPECIALLY with no games- Major League Baseball reflects what is happening across America.
To see just how insanely tough a professional athlete can be- emphasis on “insane”- there’s no need to go back to The Good Ol’ Days. Not even three weeks ago, NFL linebacker Ryan Anderson declared that if he will be able to remember his grandkids names someday, that would be an indication that he didn’t play his hardest. As foolhardy as Anderson might sound to us mere mortals, many (most?) guys in the NFL would gladly sacrifice their later years, at a chance to be the greatest right now. There are even more extreme examples than football, found in sports that are literally labeled as “extreme”, such as ultimate fighting. And even among “softer” sports, such as baseball or tennis, all professional athletes worth their salt go through rigorous, occasionally risky training, to achieve their goals.
This intense backdrop gives us some perspective as how deep the fear of COVID-19 has now become ingrained into all walks of our society. Some examples over the past week give us more insight into just how misguided it all is.
It is worth repeating that COVID-19- the virus formerly known as “The Wuhan Virus”, prior to Communist Chinese government objections- can be a dangerous and deadly disease, particularly across certain segments of that population. Equally conclusive is the fact that for all intents and purposes, professional athletes are just about THE LEAST susceptible people to this virus, as are their young families. For all the ridicule and scorn endured by those who have compared COVID to the flu, the fact is that for young and healthy people, COVID is actually less deadly than the flu. Admittedly, there’s not as much conclusive data on potential long-term damage inflicted by COVID, but there’s little evidence to suggest anything but an extremely remote chance of it, for those outside of the at-risk population.
Unfortunately, outside of relatively small groups that are highly suspicious of the official narrative- “COVIDIOTS”, as the majority have labeled us- none of this matters. What was initially sold as a half-month effort to “stop the spread” has turned into a nearly half-year effort (and counting) to stop the virus altogether, stopping our way of life and freedoms right along with it. Major League Baseball, not long ago thought of as an escape from the troubles of the world, has become fully engulfed in this draconian mentality.
The first big name to opt out is David Price, the former All Star pitcher. A highly educated Vanderbilt man, Price has adapted the intelligentsia’s mantra that it’s just too risky to keep living life- never mind the microscopic risk to himself and his family. The majority are applauding his ultra-risk adverse decision, while predictably wagging their fingers at those who take issue with this decision. (Keep in mind that “essential workers”, with so much more on the line, have no such luxury in being given an option.)
Personally, I can’t get too worked up about Mr. Price’s choice, as misguided as I believe it to be. For one thing, he is losing out on millions of dollars. For another, Price is making the incredibly classy and generous move of paying minor leagues $1,000 each, during this harrowing time. All this would indicate that David Price is the real deal. Nevertheless, this kind of mentality is destroying our society. At the beginning of 2020, comedian Howie Mandel was looked at with a certain level of pity, for his lifelong battle with OCD. Now, everyone’s afraid to touch the doorknob, or lean on a counter that hasn’t been lysoled in the past half hour!
Where is all this leading us to? Remember when Mike Piazza hit a home run in the first game back after 9-11? The sports world fawned at how it reminded us that life, as well as our society, can continue forward. Heck, Mets fans STILL bring that up! Well…at least they did bring it up, prior to this abrupt change in our culture. How can we continue reminiscing about such a moment, if the new lesson is, “Let’s package ourselves in bubble wrap as long as possible, and hope the scary thing doesn’t come for us.” Truth be told, in a time where people scream “SCIENCE!” as a defense of their fears, this Howard Hughes-like obsession with germs couldn’t be less scientific, if we painted blood on our doors to stop the Angel Of Death from taking us. (Go rent “The Ten Commandments” if that reference didn’t make sense.)
There are other big name examples besides David Price, and there’s no need to go into much detail about any others- they’re all pretty much the same, minus his incredible generosity. There is one other example worth taking a look at, however, due more to the reaction than the decision itself.
Buster Posey, one of the greatest San Francisco Giants of all time, has also decided not to play this year- assuming baseball even HAS a season, of course. Posey’s decision actually does have pretty strong merit, even by “COVIDIOT” standards. He and his wife just adopted newborn twins, and as a 3x World Champion and multi-multi-millionaire, there really is no good reason for him to even take the slightest risk that COVID might present to his family.
Overwhelmingly, people supported Posey’s decision, but that wasn’t enough for San Francisco sports columnist Ray Ratto, who wrote on Twitter, “Buster Posey’s decision to put his family’s health and safety ahead of baseball’s half-assed masterplan is a dangerous precedent that will only provide support and satisfaction to sensible people.” Why take such a snarky potshot at an almost non-existent group of critics? Quite simple- in this dystopian society being created in real time, showing contempt for those who are suspicious of it is seen as the ultimate virtue. (Note what’s going on with masks now, which deserves a whole entire post of its own.)
Speaking of showing contempt…
Generally speaking, I rarely pay attention to the political or ideological beliefs of an athlete or entertainer. There are exceptions though, particularly when they use their celebrity platform, along with the ego which accompanies it, to pretend that they are experts on topics outside of their domain. Enter Sean Doolittle.
Though not quite the household name that either David Price or Buster Posey are, Doolittle is a very established pitcher in his own right. An outspoken liberal and media darling (though I repeat myself), Doolittle scored some press for himself outside the sports world last year, refusing to visit The White House with the rest of his World Series winning teammates on the Washington Nationals.
The fawning press he received for “taking a stand” must have really gotten to his head, because he’s now speaking with more unearned confidence about COVID-19 than Dr. Fauci. At the podium for a press conference hosted by the Nationals, Doolittle pulled off a cute little stunt, staring at his phone as he feigned curiosity over whether he received his COVID results yet. (Doolittle was annoyed that it had been two days and he still didn’t have them. Apparently, he’s unaware that thousands of other tests need to be analyzed, as well.)
It gets better/worse. Doolittle lectured America for being “complacent” about the virus, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the majority of the population has been scared senseless into stopping their lives and livelihoods because of it. Doolittle’s evidence that America had tired of doing what “they were supposed to be” stems from businesses opening up during Memorial Day weekend- in other words, “too early”. Never mind that Memorial Day was a full two months after the initial date that we were supposedly moving back towards normal life again (“15 days to flatten the curve!”, remember?) It was curious that Doolittle blamed the opening of a few businesses for spreading the virus further, instead of…you know…that “other thing”. (Being a staunch liberal, we know he is under obligation to make no mention of that, of course.)
But wait- there’s more! While Doolittle was saying all of these things, we literally couldn’t see the words coming out of his mouth. He was wearing a mask that had enough cloth to be converted into a small shirt, seemingly designed to create a “LOOK AT ME, EVERYBODY!” moment, louder than even his audacious haircut was signaling. In fact, he looked more like a bank robber from The Old West, than a guy trying to stop the spread of a virus. Add in that nobody was sitting or standing anywhere near him, and even the most ardent mask advocate would have recognized that such action was designed for visual impact, not virus containment. In spite of all this, he had the nerve to blame OTHERS for “politicizing” the issues of masks.
The final point is also the most galling. Not unlike an elementary school teacher, lecturing students on the privilege of awarding recess in exchange for good behavior, Doolittle describes sports as “a reward for a functional society”. There have been plenty of decrees, statements, and soundbites that have gotten under my skin over the past four months, but this was one of the worst. Personally, I would love to see Doolittle give that press conference again about Americans not “earning the reward” of his presence on a baseball field- only this time to essential workers, making less than 1% of his salary. (Links to Doolittle’s video clips- https://twitter.com/FanSided/status/1279837698941956096https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6lTJx5kVuY )
Moving on from Sean Doolittle’s arrogance by taking a few deep breaths, it’s worth remembering the goal of this post is to point out the corrosive mentality of hiding from a virus that is not only far less scary overall than what is being sold to us, but one which, quite honestly, many of us will catch regardless of how much we hide. Athletes, like the rest of us, will never see the reality of this, unless they go outside their box to see it.
Before wrapping this up, there’s one more incident, with almost perfectly symbolic timing, that’s worth mentioning. The same day that David Price announced that he was not going to pitch this season, Yankee pitcher Masahiro Tanaka was struck in the head with a 112 line drive. As a brain injury survivor myself, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tanaka had to live with the effects of that injury for the rest of his life, to one extent or another. With that in mind, consider this question- what would society think of Tanaka, if he were to retire because he didn’t want to take any more chances getting hurt like that again? What would society have thought of David Wright, Hiroki Kuroda, Giancarlo Stanton, or countless other players who have gotten hit in the head with a baseball? What about Buster Posey’s injury? It never seems to occur to these guys for a minute that they should retire, and we applaud them for “brushing it off” and continuing on with their career. I ask, semi-rhetorically, why we don’t have the same attitude about COVID-19?
Throughout the history of professional sports, one of the trademarks of professional athletes is to be tough. There is no exception to this rule- not in baseball, not in tennis, not even in golf. Athletes are expected to endure through all kinds of brutal physical training, at the mere chance of glory few of us can even dream of- the phrase, “No guts, no glory!” is a continuous reminder of that. Seeing how abandoning this trademark toughness in the face of is not only tolerated, but actively encouraged in the age of COVID-19, it is a wakeup call on just how deep Their hooks have taken over our society with their psychological operations, conducted on the entire population of America. It is up to those among us who can see what’s going on to take it back.
There are so many platitudes and cliches out there these days, it’s hard to remember that at one point, the words behind them actually had meaning. Since the protests/riots/looting broke out, many on social media- particularly journalists- have been fond of telling us that we need to listen to what’s being said on the streets. (Sometimes, they try to soften the sanctimony in their tones by including themselves- as in, “we need to listen”- but we know who they are referring to.) My initial reaction was to just roll my eyes at the suggestion, but truth be told, it’s not a bad one. I have spent my entire adult life criticizing the media’s disingenuous coverage of events. For once, I was being given an opportunity to see what was going on for myself, as these Black Lives Matters protests are everywhere- and I do mean everywhere!
So this past Sunday, I headed over to downtown Somerville, where the event was being held. I was relieved to see the crowd was relatively small- it was only 11 AM on a Sunday, so presumably, most people were still heading over. The media has bent over backwards to refer to these as “peaceful protests”- regardless of the reality- and fortunately, this one actually was. That’s not to say it made the experience a positive one overall, though.
Most of the crowd had signs, be it homemade or provided by the organizers. Even though there was plenty of room to practice “social distancing”, nearly everyone in the crowd had masks on, as instructed by the event poster. When one of the organizers politely asked if I needed a mask, I responded that I didn’t. Rightly or wrongly, I interpreted his question as a loaded one- it wasn’t like I was standing that close to anybody else, let alone breathing on them- so I took a few steps back, to ensure I wasn’t offending anyone with my uncovered face.
The speaker was very energetic and impassioned. She had excellent public speaking skills, and often commanded the crowd in chants and fist pumps, as if leading a pep rally, or a rock concert. The suburban appearance of the crowd- diverse in age and ethnicity, filled with families and groups of young friends- starkly contrasted with the messages on the sign. One young boy, probably no older than ten and definitely no older than twelve, held up a sign that said, “No justice, no peace!” A middle-aged woman had a sign that said, “Silence is compliance!” (With that kind of attitude, one can only imagine what the sign would think of someone who isn’t silent, but has a difference of opinion.)
Back to the speaker– she told the crowd that she was tired of “her people” being killed on the streets, presumably by police officers. (A cursory background check strongly indicates a suburban background. By her own account, she is half-Italian, half-Jamaican.) She then rattled off the same names we have been hearing in the news for several years- most notably, she included Michael Brown’s name in the group. Now, as a suburbanite myself who has lived a somewhat sheltered life in many respects, I fully acknowledge that I do not know how big of a problem police brutality actually is. However, for those trying to convince the rest of us that it is a huge problem, Brown is a terrible example of doing so. Continuously invoking the name of a criminal, who assaulted a clerk that Brown had just robbed, and whose death was cleared of wrongdoing by the Obama Justice Department, seems like a bad-faith effort in trying to get those ill-informed to join their side. (An effective tactic, but a disingenuous one nevertheless.)
The speaker than went on to say what needed to happen- namely, police needed to be held accountable for their wrongdoings (perfectly reasonable), and given additional education, potentially including…*record skip*…a bachelor’s degree. At a time when society is (correctly) questioning the usefulness of college on the whole, adding this incredible criteria- complete with all the debt it would incur- seems ill-advised, to say the least.
As the crowd got larger and the events of the day were just getting started, mine was about to end. The speaker admonished that while the protest would remain peaceful (drink!), the movement as a whole, in time, would resort to other methods, “if necessary”. Did she say what those methods were? I doubt it, but I can’t verify for sure. I was done listening.
As I’m typing this, another Black Lives Matter is scheduled to begin a few hours from now. With New Jersey still officially on lockdown (no, really!), I suppose this is the best entertainment that Somerville has to currently offer. The problems out there range far and wide, and whatever is happening out there will likely be a major turning point in our society that many of us suspected- incorrectly, as it turned out- would occur after 9/11. What kind of solutions are being offered out there? Hopefully, better ones than than what was being suggested at this particular rally.
About thirty years ago, I saw the film “Malcolm X”, starring Denzel Washington in the lead role. Something that always stuck with me was how differently the protagonist was portrayed to have spoken to audiences of different races. When talking to white people, he was calm, measured, even empathetic sounding. With black audiences, he was fiery and combative, successfully riling up the crowd to his cause. While I don’t pretend to be an expert on the man himself, and biopics are infamous with playing fast and loose with facts, it seems highly plausible that this particular aspect of his speeches was portrayed accurately.
I bring this up because I think about the best way to discuss my core beliefs, many of which do not conform to polite society. With like-minded folks, I speak more openly and freely, but somewhat by definition, these people are few and far between. (In other words, if there WERE more people who thought this way, I wouldn’t need to be so careful in the first place!) But as we go deeper and deeper into this new (sur)reality, it is becoming more and more difficult to keep quiet about my thoughts on what is happening to our society.
What Is Happening To Our Society?
Before addressing anything else, dear reader, you first need to recognize two basic truths-
1) The 2020 coronavirus pandemic, now referred to commonly as “COVID”, was (thankfully) not nearly as deadly as initially forecast.
2) Since the initial “flatten the curve” decree in mid-March, the goalpost on getting society “back to normal” has been moved dramatically.
(If you finding yourself shaking your head in disagreement at either of these, you might as well not read the rest of this post, because everything from this point forward is derived from those two statements. Otherwise? Keep going.)
When news of COVID spread throughout the Western world, the Trump administration, and President Trump in particular, did not appear to take the threat especially seriously. While shutting down travel from China- a move that was largely criticized at the time, but turned out to be prudent- little else was done, until early March. In fact, up until that point, President Trump made bold statements (is there any other kind for him?) that the virus would be a non-factor, with all his usual media allies falling in line. Once the first noticeable outbreak occurred in Washington state, the administration reversed course (along with those same media allies), declaring a state of emergency, and effectively putting the country on lockdown. In order to stop spread of the virus and ensure that the healthcare system was not overrun, we would need to do this for fifteen days, and see what would happen. Or so we were told.
While there is plenty of heated debate on the proper way to analyze the data we’ve collected over the past two months, there’s zero doubt that the curve has been flattened. Most of the resources for coronavirus throughout the country went unused. Even in the hottest of hotspots- namely New York City and its surrounding areas- the healthcare system (luckily) did not break. There were certainly a fair number of hospitals dealing with severe conditions for a period of time, and bless every single person who fought through- both patients and professionals alike. But at this point, the worst of it occurred more than a month before this blog post was written. Outside of the Northeast Megalopolis and a few inner city areas- most notably Detroit and New Orleans- there never even was a pandemic.
This is where the real trouble begins. Rather than thank our lucky stars that COVID wasn’t nearly as devastating as predicted on the whole, solely concentrating on the few localized places that do need restrictions, most politicians and high-ranking government officials doubled down, calling for statewide lockdown extensions, restrictions to public land, and suspension of all kinds of activities that we previously took for granted in a free and prosperous country. Even more jaw-dropping, the governors along the West Coast, widely praised by most for their handling of the crisis, have enacted some of the most restrictive lockdown rules in the United States. At least back in the mid-Atlantic, an argument can be made for supporting restrictions, since that’s where the greatest impact of the virus took place. (The success of the strategy itself is another matter, but we’ll get to that later.) As of May 9th, there were less than 4,000 total deaths on the West Coast from COVID. While every individual death is a tragedy, our entire society is being transformed based on the presumptions of how deadly this virus is. To put this in perspective, 4,000 people is a smaller number than a typical crowd for a Mariners afternoon game in Seattle- you now, back when we actually HAD baseball.
On the flip side, there have been a few governors that have been brave- or foolhardy, depending on your point of view (not mine, though)- going against conventional wisdom and slowly opening up their states, at great political risk. Outrage and predictions of mass death were aimed in their direction. Nothing even close has come to pass as of yet, but rather than reconsider their hostility and predictions of impending doom, the lockdown advocates simply move on to their next target, usually in the form of their fellow citizens, most of whom are just looking to get fresh air or make a living, without having to worry about being taken to jail for it.
And where is public opinion on this? Well, from the point of view of “COVIDIOTS” like myself, the signs are not encouraging. While those skeptical from the start of this have been galvanized, so has the pro-lockdown crowd- and the numbers are not in the skeptics’ favor. Most polls seem to show American support of the lockdown outnumber those against it by nearly 2-to-1. Considering the virus wasn’t nearly as dangerous as advertised, this is very alarming, if not surprising.
Although the media’s reputation has taken a well-deserved and long overdue hit during the Trump years, the sad truth is that they still control the narrative. At times, social media works as a much needed check on the old monopoly, often challenging and occasionally overpowering what gets spoon fed to the masses. But when this pushback works properly, it only works for a segment of the population. Even more challenging is when the media engages in a certain subtlety that can be hard to detect. Such is the case with all the fallout from the lockdown. The damage to employment, small businesses, the food supply, mental health, and various other aspects of society, has gotten far too big to ignore. If we had an honest press, this would presented in a straightforward manner, and some people, perhaps many, would certainly reconsider their support of the lockdown. Unfortunately, the media seem to be aware of this, and adjust their game accordingly.
“He who controls the language controls the masses”. –Saul Alinsky
A recent article in CNN broke open the news of catastrophic hunger that awaits many with the following sentence- “The world is facing multiple famines of “biblical proportions” in just a matter of months, the UN has said, warning that the coronavirus pandemic will push an additional 130 million people to the brink of starvation.”
See that? It’s subtle, yet unmistakable. By implicating the virus as a cause of these severe problems instead of the lockdown, the story manages to turn factors against the lockdown, and puts them in its favor. (In other words, “Wow- the coronavirus is causing hunger? It’s even more dangerous than we thought!”) Kent Brockman would be proud of such deception.
And how about all those politicians, who get to continue the lockdown without significant repercussions for their harmful policies? Oh sure, a few protesters will yell and howl, but that has only produced limited results so far. Occasionally, these protests even work in the lockdown’s favor, when the protesters live up to their crude stereotype, imagined by the crowd that has aligned with police state. (I’m talking to YOU, Michigan yokels! What was the point of going into a federal building, ARMED WITH WEAPONS?!) Of course, protesting SHOULD be encouraged in general, as well as more understated actions, such as sitting outside on the grass during a warm day. But these actions won’t be enough, if governors and other local politicians don’t share responsibility for the economic damage they are responsible for. Historically, economic damage falls in the lap of the President, and that’s during a “normal” election cycle, let alone one that involves a lightning rod like Donald Trump. So far blue state authoritarians to truly feel the pressure to do what’s right, they need to have their actions to be tied with the consequences.
There’s so much other ground to cover with everything that’s happened- particularly with the jaw dropping manipulation of the stock market- but this is plenty for now. Hopefully in the days to come, the lockdown extremists will be increasingly exposed for their ignorance, and those with an open mind will start to open their eyes to what’s really going on. As for those blue state governors, determined to keep us cramped up inside with our masks, Netflix, fast food and alcohol? (You know the ones!) They are free to lecture us about the value of saving every life, once they get a better handle on their nursing homes.
For my part, I’ll continue to adhere to any guidelines that keeps the authorities out of my way, while not forcing myself to the point of being miserable. In other words, I’ll wear a mask where they’re required, but don’t expect me to fear the inhalation or exhalation of a dangerous germs. For anyone who has been paralyzed be fear, take comfort in knowing that we’ve coexisted with these microscopic menaces throughout our entire existence, even if not always peacefully, and there’s no reason to make such extreme changes to the way we live our lives now. And even if it’s eventually proven that perhaps we should, I’m no more inclined to accept a fast tracked vaccine from the Microsoft guy, than I am willing to accept an explanation that God’s existence can be mathmatically proven by the MyPillow guy.
Since it’s official founding nearly two and half centuries ago, the United States of America has led a charmed life. Every potential threat, regardless of size, seems to just come and go. Even more amazing is how quickly the country emerges from each crisis, becoming stronger than ever! Whether the coronavirus can be added to that list remains to be seen, but early indications are alarming, with stunning, unprecedented economic damage in particular. But it’s not the disease itself that has ravaged American life overall, tragic as the loss of life has been in certain areas. Instead, it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as big as our lawmakers, media, and selves have treated the virus with the seriousness of a new plague. While remodeling society based on the worst case scenarios, we are living in a reality that would have been unthinkable as recently as the beginning of this year- and as this blog post is being typed, this year is still not even half over!
The very fortunate truth is that so far, the disease now known as COVID-19 (after the Chinese government expressed displeasure to The Powers That Be at the term “Wuhan Virus”) has not been nearly as bad as we were told it would be. And just to be clear, this is not to say that it hasn’t been awful. In a few select pockets across the eastern half of the United States, it surely FEELS like a worst case scenario, for those who have to deal with it upfront. But the fact is that as of now, COVID-19 has been far closer to the other deadly viruses of the early 21st century, such as SARS, Ebola and H1N1, than it has been like the Spanish Flu, the deadly disease of the early 20th century. But that hasn’t stopped the comparisons, no matter how increasingly misplaced they appear to be.
HOW WE GOT HERE
As the Federal Government (aka “The Trump Administration”, although this post is trying to stay away from specific partisan politics as much as possible) did not initially take the threat posed by coronavirus seriously- China travel ban notwithstanding- the reaction had to be that much stronger, once it was undeniable that the virus was about to hit our shores. In mid-March, led by Dr. Anthony Fauci, we were told that we needed to enact the policy of “social distancing” to “flatten the curve”. Two phrases that had no meaning in American life were about to become more popular than “We The People,” in more ways than one.
In my first blog post on the subject slightly over a month ago, I openly admitted to having no idea how much damage the virus would cause, but was very quick to criticize the measures taken to allegedly slow it down. It seemed like no matter how much damage the virus was about to do, the (from my point of view) overreaction was about to do more lasting damage to our way of life than the virus ever could, particularly with our economy. It just didn’t seem like such extreme measures could save many lives, without wrecking so many more- and that’s assuming that these measure COULD save as many people as they were claiming to begin with!
No matter how strongly I felt early on, though, I literally lived and breathed the events as they unfolded, doing my best to keep an open mind that maybe there was something that I didn’t understand about what was happening. More than a month later now, I feel even MORE justified in my early warnings and misgivings, than I did when I made them in the first place. In all honestly, though, I do recognize how out of hand the situation could have gotten, had an overwhelming number of people needed critical care, overwhelming hospitals past their breaking point. Initially, I underestimated this. But here’s the thing- for the most part, that’s not what happened.
While there were a few dire areas, most noticeably New York City- and, to a lesser extent, New Orleans and Detroit- these have been the exception, not the rule. The doctors and nurses who heroically worked- and are STILL working- through these conditions, putting themselves at risk in the process, truly are heroes, no less than the firefighters of 9-11. But throughout the country- and this is beyond dispute, by all accounts- the enormous number of hospital beds readily available all across the country have not been needed. Many so-called “elective surgeries” have been put on hold to direct resources to handle the coronavirus, causing stress for the medical practitioners who perform them, as well as the patients who need them.
But while the highly contagious virus itself created far less devastation than expected in the United States, the countermeasures created quite a bit more. Rather than start to relax some of the unprecedented restrictions on the American economy- not to mention life itself- some governors doubled down. In Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer banned home gardening supplies from many stores, as well as various other goods, deeming them “not necessary”. Hunting and fishing were also banned as non-essential activities in some places throughout the United States, apparently stemming from the urban mentality that food comes from restaurants. And in Los Angeles, with a very strained budget, expensive bulldozers were sent in to fill a skating park with sand, just in case a rogue skater or two wanted to get some exercise. As all this happened, many Americans- although not ENOUGH Americans, in my view- became restless. As some of us suspected, the two or three weeks that we were initially told would flatten the curve was little more than a trial run. As the curve was flattened and the death toll predictions were decreased daily, the return to normal life was postponed, regardless of how flattened the curve became. Very quickly, the time frame changed from weeks to months.
DOWN THE WATER SLIDE
Now, I can’t speak for anyone else, but this was the last straw for me. I have openly admitted to not being on board with the plan from the beginning- this blog’s archives confirm that– but I was at least willing to recognize that it would take some time to see how this played out. Since we now have a sample size well over a month on this pandemic now, we have seen the initial projections become meaningless. Yes, it’s entirely possible that the social distancing- which Americans were astonishingly cooperative on, no matter how much griping there is that “people aren’t listening!”- may have played an enormous part in this. But even with that in mind, the BEST case scenario projections, which INCLUDED social distancing, were far worse than what we’re seeing play out. On top of that, thanks to the Trump Administration’s early disregard for ANY chance that the virus would be a threat, we got a late start on the practicing of social distancing. Had the coronavirus been as deadly as first thought, it would have been too late to stop the overwhelming carnage. But as of now, we’re nowhere near that.
So why the change in objective? If this wasn’t the plan all along, why did the shutting down of America go from weeks to months, without any new evidence? Why have we gone from “flattening the curve” to “crushing the curve”? Why have we gone from making sure our healthcare system didn’t get overwhelmed, to getting the number of deaths as close to zero as possible, regardless of any other factors to consider? And most troubling of all, why are we hearing about needing a vaccine to get back to normal (?!) only AFTER the disease turned out to be less of a threat? These are questions nobody of prominence is asking. The mainstream media is consumed with reminding everyone of how flat-footed Donald Trump and his allies were in the beginning, while the conservatives are fixated on putting all the blame on China and the World Health Organization.
But that’s only part of the story. The media will do what the media always does- peddle fear, sensationalism, and political bias- but the complete change to American life would not be successful, without a public so willing to go along with it. Instead of asking questions about the change in objectives, the media have managed to paint the protesters and their allies as selfish “covidiots”. Recruiting beloved celebrities, such as Larry David and Samuel L Jackson, the “Stay at home!” message has become deeply ingrained into American culture now. With the initial misstep of the ridiculous “Imagine” video, Hollywood retooled their strategy to get America onboard with the quarantists’ plan, with overwhelmingly successful results.
But the entertainment industry sending out a message doesn’t automatically make it a bad thing. What DOES, however, is the scapegoating that has emerged. Instead of blaming the government for misleading us on the plan going forward, as well as the lies told early on (ie. “masks don’t work!” to “masks are mandatory!”), the fingers are pointed directly at Florida beach-goers and the protesters of the freedom-restricting laws, none who can be found in areas that have been largely effected by coronavirus. Give credit where credit is due, though- this was likely the quarantists’ plan all along. Knowing that the public would never knowingly scrap their way of life in an instant, they were told to “rough it out” for a few weeks. Once the time went by, a small but vocal minority of people would start defying the rules, at which point THEY could be blamed for the extension of the lockdown.
Okay, that might be too cynical for some people to digest, and as someone with no inside knowledge besides what exists within my own head, it’s unfair to definitively assume such nefarious intentions in others. What is NOT unreasonable, though, is to point out that this is exactly how the situation has unfolded, and many politicians (not least of all Dr. Fauci himself) have seized on the opportunity. Yes, many people are increasingly alarmed at the direction of the country, but nearly all of them are the same ones who were dissatisfied to begin with. For the overwhelming majority who bought into Dr. Fauci’s plan, the protesters and beach-goers are public enemy #1, selfishly making life more difficult for the First Responders. Some even accuse them of causingdeath! This is why the image of a racist moron, screaming at someone who appeared to be a health worker of Asian descent blocking traffic, to “go to China” has resonated. This is exactly what the mainstream media had been looking for, as it encapsulated their worldview so perfectly. (As a side-note, though, for those who compare it Tienanmen Square- seriously, just stop.)
But the personal animus goes even further. Politicians have been relying on informants to snitch on neighbors, businesses, and even just random citizens, who are not following the quarantine guidelines. (As Randy Marsh might say, “I’m sorry, I thought this was America!”) And, perhaps most repugnant of all, some people have openly called for the “covidiots” to actually be denied medical care. Just imagine doing this for other people who are “asking for it”- motorcyclists, drivers who were speeding- you name it. Hell, MURDERERS get medical treatment! What is going ON here?? Regrettably, not enough people are interested in finding out.
The final issue worth dealing with here, because this blog post can probably go on forever at this point (much like the quarantine- hey yo!), is who really need to be pushed back. Before the pandemic hit, America’s culture war already seemed close to a boiling point. Although most everyone did cooperate for a few weeks at first, it now looks like everything is boiling over, and it’s a zero sum game. That doesn’t mean that one side needs TOTAL victory, and the nice thing about a two party system- crooked and dysfunctional as it has become- is that both sides have enough of a say within certain regions of the country to try it out their way. At the very least, everyone is starting to acknowledge that one size does not fit all, but with a situation that is life and death, we are nowhere near agreeing to what those different sizes actually might be.
So we’re well into a month of the coronavirus crisis/meltdown/lockdown/quarantine. (Use whatever word suits you best.) There are so many discussions and debates are going on- many of them less than civil, unfortunately- it is literally impossible to keep up with all of them. And yet, there is one astonishing, potentially critical development that literally no one predicted, nor is anyone talking about now- not the medical professionals, not the pundits, not the skeptics, not the doomsayers, nobody. To the extent that it gets mentioned- which is almost never- it gets shrugged off, with meek references to “social distancing” and “population density”, before the conversation moves back into the more familiar directions. It’s a very concrete explanation, that cannot be explained by any one factor, but maybe- just maybe- it can give us a better clue as to what we’re up against here, and how we can handle the pandemic…
WHY IS THE EAST COAST GETTING HIT SO MUCH HARDER THAN THE WEST COAST?
We are far past the point where this data is a small sample size. The greater New York metropolitan area is taking the brunt of the hit, with nearby states like Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and especially New Jersey dealing with alarming increases. There are plenty of topics to discuss about this disease, and all that surrounds it- the fatality rate, who is most vulnerable, which measures are reasonable, what the fallout will look like, and plenty of other hot button issues. All of these have been literally discussed to death, and see no signs of letting up, presumably, (hopefully) long after the coronavirus itself does. Yet nobody seems to want to address this peculiar development, to the extent they even acknowledge it. I’ll leave an in-depth analysis of it for those who get paid, but here are some very basic concrete numbers, as of April 12th, that should blow your mind. If it doesn’t, then I will respectfully ask you to put your Common Core math book down, and learn arithmetic the old fashioned way…
With a population of less than 3,000,000 people, the New York suburb of Long Island (Nassau and Suffolk county) has seen 1478 fatalities from coronavirus.
With a population of roughly 40,000,000 people the entire state of California has seen 687 fatalities from coronavirus.
In other words- with thirteen times as many people, the entire state of California has half as many deaths from coronavirus as Long Island!!!
Consider the fact that this isn’t even including New York City itself; We’re comparing the entire state of California to a mere suburb! I ask, as non-rhetorically as I can, how is this even possible?? The closest thing to an educated guess that I can come up with, as a longtime resident of both places- or, as some guy who Googles a lot of stuff on the internet- mass transit is used far more in the New York area than anywhere in California, even including San Francisco. Given how important we keep being told that social distancing is critical in stopping (or at least slowing) the spread, it’s at least plausible that with more de facto social distancing built into the California lifestyle, we’d see less spread of a contagious disease.
Nevertheless, this explanation seems kind of flimsy. Plenty of large gatherings in California happen at beaches, concerts, sporting events, and so forth. Would that make up for so much less spreading of this disease, one month into the pandemic? It seems pretty unlikely. And keep in mind it was Washington state where the first concentration of coronavirus showed up in America. I’m not going to comment on the effectiveness of social distancing here, as I honestly have no idea. But I will say, fairly definitively, that it is almost statistically impossible to account for such a distinction between two heavily populated, coastal destinations in the same country. (It’s also worth noting that both governors are activist Democrats, receiving high grades from their citizen.)
So in conclusion, I have no conclusion. But it would be nice if we could take a few minutes away from our endless arguments about Trump, China, Fauci, The WHO, civil liberties, the preparedness (or lack thereof), and even the coronavirus disease itself, to try answering one question that could provide information to some of the other ones we’ve been asking.
I always think it’s interesting when people look back in wonder at “The Beatles” as this amazing supernova, when the “supernova” part of it actually ended long before they did. By the summer of 1966, they were annoyed by the whole thing, took a vacation, came back, and were never really the same. No more touring, hardly even any live appearances, started taking themselves WAY too seriously, and just got…kind of weird. Even if they were as commercially successful as ever- someday, maybe I’ll “get” why Sergeant Pepper was this otherworldly masterpiece, outside of producer George Martin doing most of the hard work– the nostalgia that Boomers reference almost all took place between 1963 and 1966. By 1970, it already seemed like they had been separate entities for a while, and had they “stayed together”, it probably would have been mostly in name, anyway. Also, the whole notion that Phil Spector “ruined” Let It Be only became conventional wisdom, once it was revealed that he was a psychopathic nutcase.
Putting all that aside, the details were still interesting, how the breakup unraveled and caught everyone off guard. Another interesting sidenote is they did collaborate from time to time with each other (ie. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZ4EmA5X-PQ). It rarely gets mentioned because none of it was very inspired, probably a good indication that breaking up was for the best.
Fifteen days. That’s how long we were told to stay at home- excuse me, I mean #StayAtHome- before the situation would be reassessed, wasn’t it? My memory is sort of hazy, as traditional time keeping has lost all meaning. But according to the Gregorian Calendar from days of yore, that seems to be where we’re at now. So, what’s the story?
Although this new and shockingly different phase of American life is so unpredictable, nothing could be more predictable than the idea that the quarantine would last longer than fifteen days- MUCH longer, in fact. Regardless of whether or not the pandemic will be as bad as the experts claim- and the jury is still very much out on THAT point, at least- nothing could stop the death toll from rising well into the Spring of 2020, if not longer. The idea that we could just turn everything back on after two short weeks, as the hospital beds and body bags started piling up- literally- was always absurd. But give the politicians credit, however reluctantly, for realizing that it would be much easier to sell the public on this idea in short phases, as opposed to telling us how long it would really take. America has had endless nostalgia for World War II for longer than most of us have been alive, so it’s no surprise that in mobilizing the public- or demobilizing, in this case- we hear all about the sacrifices our grandparents and great grandparents made for their country. But the harsh reality is that this whole thing looks far closer to a different war- Vietnam.
THE RISE OF INCREMENTALISM
Unlike World War II, Vietnam never had a defining Pearl Harbor style point of entry. America got involved very slowly, first assisting the French, followed by the South Vietnamese. Before we knew it, we’d taken over the whole operation, without any definitive goals or exit strategy. All we knew was we wanted to slow the spread of Communism, even though we didn’t know by how much or by which measures. Sound familiar?
Of course, this is not a perfect analogy- very few analogies are. Unfortunately, the analogy breaks down largely because there are far greater consequences to the “war” we are currently fighting. For one thing, it’s already a distinct possibility that we could lose more people to COVID-19 this year, than we did in the entire Vietnam War combined. But on an even larger scale, Vietnam did not have a direct effect on the majority of the population. Oh sure, people grew their hair longer and came up with some slogans to yell in the street, but for the most part, American life continued on uninterrupted. The coronavirus gives us no chance to avoid the fight, to enroll in a university (most of them are closed down, anyway), or have well-connected parents keep us safe. These days, we are all growing our hair longer, because hair salons have been forced to close, much like most American businesses. Even more disturbingly, at least to some of us, is the government is giving us even less of a chance than the virus itself, as they clamp down on more and more of our freedoms, in the name of “keeping us safe”. But the government can’t do this alone. Fortunately for them, they haven’t had to.
Thanks to some well-crafted propaganda, restrictions are getting tighter, while deadlines for *ahem*“returning to normal” are getting longer. Although the liberal side of the aisle are more enthusiastic about embracing these measures in the name of “the greater good”, no one in power- not at the state level, not at the federal level, nor anywhere else of significance- gets a pass here. If anything, conservative politicians should be more criticized for this, because it’s their responsibility (at least in theory) to take unpopular positions that protect individual liberty over what the public might be clamoring for. Instead, we have the Republican governor of Maryland, taking some of the most draconian measures of all, to attempt combating the pandemic.
Whether or not these methods are the right thing to do or not (you’ve probably figured out what I think by now), it’s hard to remember a time that political spin in implementing them has been so successfully used on the public. Rather than admit the error of underestimating the virus’s spread before it hit our shores, the government turned to medical experts on what we need to do now. That’s all well and good, except for the fact that at least as of now, there isn’t much that can be done to change the course right now, given how quickly the virus spreads and how interconnected our society is. But, since we need to do something, the good doctors (we HOPE they’re good doctors, anyway) have sold us all on “social distancing” to “flatten the curve“- two concepts that did not even exist in American life at the beginning of this month, yet somehow BECAME American life by the end of this month. How effective are these methods? What is the cost? What is the trade-off in using them? None of these questions were asked in a thoughtful manner. We were just told that this was the way through, and seeing how frightened the American public became, it became accepted as gospel.
So this is where the propaganda machine really goes into high gear. Even believing the most infallible projections of social distancing’s effectiveness in flattening the curve, there was no way it would show strongly measurable results after a few weeks. Seeing how impatient our society is, that part was significantly downplayed, as Americans were told to wait it out for 15 days, then see what happens. So 15 days came and went, the death tolls (predictably) started rising, and what did happen? We were told that, “Gosh, the quarantine just didn’t work- not because we were given a false timeline, but because of those rotten Spring Breakers! And how about those people happily jogging around the block, or…gasp…flying kites in a public park?? THEY’RE the reason we need to lock-down longer!”
An angry public was all too happy to grab onto this myth, because like the climate change debate (remember that?) and many other complex problems, it’s more comforting to find a scapegoat, than to admit a problem is largely out of our control. The reality is, though, the American public adhered to these guidelines in astonishing numbers. Somewhere between 80% and 90%- and probably a lot closer to 90%- of the public willingly took themselves out of the daily grind, in the name of “stopping the spread”. (Another nifty phrase that has entered our lexicon.) In fact, most people were so willing to take this to an extreme even beyond what was recommended, those who wanted to continue going about their business outside, to the extent it was even allowed, could easily do so and STILL followed social distancing guidelines! The country is more unified in taking action (or inaction) than it was after 9-11.
Unfortunately, the divide-and-conquer strategy of pitting the majority living in extreme caution (if not outright fear), with the minority taking a more moderate approach, is working. This ultimately will not help anything get better. It will, however, give those already in power a reason to grab more, which they surely will.
None of this really answers the question of whether the virus will live up to the hype, nor does this blog post dare to even attempt answering that question. It is worth acknowledging that in New York City, New Orleans, and a few other spots across the country, there already seems to be a highly troubling strain on hospitals. But even with that in mind, tragic as it is, we are still nowhere near the kind of plague-like warnings that would justify shutting the economy down, assuming that would even be an effective countermeasure to begin with.
Unfortunately, one thing that already has been established, is that the rate of damage we are seeing done to the economy in real-time is without precedent in American history. Whether the damage itself will be unrivaled has yet to be seen, but after a mere three weeks, the signs are not looking good, particularly with the astonishing number of those filing for unemployment. Given that this shutdown will continue for AT LEAST another four weeks from this blog post, there’s no telling how much destruction will be done to our financial system and previous way of life. But at the current rate, it will certainly be far greater than the damage done by the virus itself.
(Next blog post will address the people that seem to be most vulnerable to the coronavirus, and the questions necessary to best deal with the surrounding facts.)