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.)
In these trying times, it’s nice that we can still take a short break from harrowing events, to fight online about things that are absolutely meaningless. At yesterday’s press conference, Mike Lindell, better known as “The MyPillow Guy”, was given a high profile opportunity to address the nation from The White House. Normally, this sentence might seem absolutely surreal, if not for the fact that Donald Trump- DONALD TRUMP- is The President of The United States! Anyway, at a White House press conference with millions and millions of viewers, Mr. Lindell announced that his company was making 50,000 masks, a very necessary step in the fight against the coronavirus. In addition to this announcement, he threw in some very nice words about God and Donald Trump himself, although it’s unclear if the President was able to make the distinction. But I digress.
Anyone who spends too much time online could see what was coming a mile away. On one side, there would be snickering about the spectacle of watching a guy from late night infomercials, addressing the nation during a very serious crisis. On the other side, there would be people countering against these “elites”, daring to mock a man for showing his faith, while contributing his company’s services to the only cause that seems to matter these days. Of course, very little of this was actually about Mike Lindell at all. He was merely a proxy for the ideological battle that has been going on in this country for decades now, and particularly since Donald Trump was elected. Throw in the fact that our sports leagues have been taken away from us- hopefully not for too much longer- and THIS has become the nation’s pastime.
Without diving further into this issue- I mean, seriously, there are far bigger things to worry about- what Mr. Lindell is doing is a net positive for the country, and we need industry to step up with these types of efforts as much as possible. But for those who are not MAGA types, let alone those who identify with “The Resistance”, the presentation seemed tacky. We’re in the middle of a life or death situation, and this guy is giving a speech that could could have easily been saved for the Republican National Convention! Surely there are other companies out there who have also reallocated their resources to “fight the good fight”, but those companies are not headed by big-time Trump supporters, so they won’t be getting valuable prime airtime that could have been put to much better use. Some liberals even suggested that Lindell used his time in the spotlight to cynically promote his company, to which conservatives defiantly responded by saying they would be sure to make purchases from MyPillow. None of this resolves anything, of course, other than confirming that Mike Lindell really does know how to advertise.
All in all, though, the whole thing provided a somewhat entertaining, if unintentional, distraction for us. And regardless of what you think of Donald Trump, Mike Lindell, or the MyPillow product itself, we could all use a little bit of entertainment these days, whenever and wherever we can find it.
It seems surreal to think that not even two months ago, we were treating the tragic death of Kobe Bryant as the defining moment of a generation. Indeed, the events around it were extraordinary, and in terms of public figures, his death alone was AT LEAST on par with that of Princess Diana and John Lennon. Factor in that his daughter and seven others were in the private helicopter with him, and it made the whole event even more painful to think about. Nevertheless, Kobe Bryant was still just one man, and outside of the few individuals close to him, his daughter, and the others lost in the accident, life would go on the same for all the rest of us.
But here we are, barely on the other side of an event that apparently changed American life more than anything since December 7th, 1941. (Yes, including 9-11.) The Coronavirus, something that entered our lexicon at the end of 2019, has fully taken over our society, days before the Spring of 2020 commences. Indeed, its spread has taken on a life of its own, like the deadly virus that is, but at least so far, in a very unexpected, ironic way. Rather than infecting our immune systems at the exponential rate that has been predicted, it has infected our society and way of life, in a way that we will likely not recover from any time soon. By trying to preemptively stop the virus from harming us in mass numbers, we have ended up harming ourselves. The whole thing kind of feels like the episode of South Park, where the parents banished the children from the town, in the hopes that they wouldn’t be kidnapped.
None of this is to make light of the Coronavirus itself. It has created chaos in the health industry across the rather motley crew of Iran, Italy, and especially China, where the virus started. It is far deadlier than the “common” flu, and more contagious than other diseases that have made their way to the headlines in the early 21st century, such as Ebola, SARS, and H1N1. But in a highly interconnected world of 7+ billion people, these types of disease are, unfortunately, inevitable. While the worse case scenario projections are terrifying, the reality so far is nowhere near a fraction of that. Nothing in our lifetimes- at least for those of us under 80 years old- has ever altered the course of our collective lives so dramatically as this. We still do not know if these draconian actions are justified, as only time will tell. But what we DO know is that there is no turning back.
But what exactly caused this event to “succeed”, in a way that The Cold War, Radical Islamic Jihad, the aforementioned diseases (H1N1 killed over 10,000 Americans), climate change, and various other scares did not? Part of it is the spread of social media, which in some ways, behaves in a virus-like way itself. As news permeates through the internet, stories that have “sizzle” manage to grow exponentially. We watched through the news what was happening in China, and knew that it was only a matter of time before SOME variation hit home. Then in early March, Rudy Gobert, a star player in the NBA who had mocked the Coronavirus with a crude “prank” just days earlier, was diagnosed with the disease. Within two days, professional sports leagues were shut down, creating shock not experienced in generations throughout society. Sure, this happened for a very brief time during 9-11, but that was because the country was in mourning. This time around, sports leagues, along with all the industries that followed, were shut down as a preventative measure for a microscopic menace, fearing that those in crowded spaces could catch the virus very easily. It also didn’t help matters when Tom Hanks, a larger-than-life figure in a similar vein to Kobe Bryant, turned out to be mortal as well. People don’t like to say it out loud, but when bad things happen to these “invincible” celebrities, we wonder what kind of chance the rest of us have.
So now, we have toilet paper shortages- another irony, seeing how Coronavirus is not THAT kind of disease- as well as soap, hand sanitizer, and other products that are running low on the shelves. But all that is merely a warmup act for the TRUE damage we are just beginning to experience- the shutting down of the global economy, “led” by the American consumer. For a small, vocal minority that included yours truly, this has been in the pipeline for decades, as financial institutions and their willing-if-unknowing accomplices have been kicking the can down the curb, hoping to put off the inevitable juuuuuuuust a little longer. It was always heading for disaster- glimpses of that could be seen after the DotCom bust, followed by the one in real estate a half decade later. What’s so surprising is that it is not an external event that likely took the whole thing down, but that it was dismantled willingly by a society fearful of what MIGHT be. And make no mistake- even if the shutting down of commerce “only” lasts for two weeks, as unlikely as that seems, it will cause catastrophic waves that will be felt for years to come. The global economy was set up with an appetite similar to the hummingbird- it needs to be fed constantly, or it will die. Whatever unprecedented measures await us to keep it afloat, on top of the unprecedented measures that DID keep it afloat up until this point, they will have unintended consequences that will likely change the way business is done forever.
And what of this soon-to-be defunct economy, that is all most of us have ever known? If we’re looking for silver linings- and if we ever needed silver linings it would be now- one might be that the power will be shifted away from industries that have done more long term harm than good. Around the same time that the current President made his infamous comment about Mexican immigrants in 2016, Michael Bloomberg, the wealthy tycoon and former New York City mayor who ran a disastrous Presidential campaign, said something arguably as offensive and ignorant. Trying to make a point about the superiority of the Information Age businessman over the seemingly-archaic blue collar farmer, Bloomberg implied that those who succeeded in the Information Age (eg. people like him) did so because of superior intellect, whereas “anybody” could learn how to farm. Bloomberg, who apparently thinks his food is grown in a Sparrow’s pizza chain restaurant, completely disregarded the critical importance of the farmers that allow us Americans to take for granted just how easy it is to fill our bellies whenever we feel like it. As the financial system that helped Bloomberg become one of the world’s wealthiest men crumbles in real time, while our digestive systems still demand three meals a day, it will be interesting to see whose skills are really necessary to keep the world going.
Finally, a cold, perhaps even cruel question that needs to be asked- how many deaths will justify the dismantling our way of life? Until the last few weeks, we were told that the largest threat to our society was climate change, although very few practical changes were made, even by those who claimed to be most concerned. If the Coronavirus has taught us anything, even in its early stages, it’s that our fragile society can be hit by any threat at any time, without any time to prepare. Now that we have been caught flat-footed, our leaders are trying to make up for it by overcompensating. When we look back at the actions that are being taken as this blog post is being written, will we be able to say it was worth it? More than half a generation ago, George W Bush got lukewarm support for the invasion of Iraq, on the grounds that Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction. A few empty canisters later, the whole thing appeared to be a catastrophic miscalculation at best, a deadly set of lies at worse. This is obviously a different threat, in that we KNOW it’s real. But justifying our countermeasures will be a Catch-22. If the number is too low- let’s say, below the number of people killed by H1N1- the whole thing will be seen as a supersized, overly sensationalized media news cycle. If the number is too large- let’s say, approaching or, heaven forbid, EXCEEDING the Spanish flu of 1918, the last TRUE American plague- we’ll say that the social distancing movement was a giant failure. So, the number probably be somewhere well above H1N1, but well below the Spanish flu, to even TRY to justify the current actions being taken.
If I may emphasize the point, I know how heartless this sounds, and it’s not to minimize the tragedy that we have already seen, nor the tragedy that still lies ahead of us. But sometimes, overreaction can be as bad or WORSE than doing nothing at all. (Keep in mind Saddam Hussein was, after all, a mass murdering tyrant.) For those who think that these actions are justified, even if they only end up saving a relatively small number of lives, consider this- is bringing the national speed limit down to 25 miles per hour worth the tens of thousands of lives that would be saved on the road? Remember- throughout most of civilization, the only time anyone traveled more than 25 miles per hour was when they lost control of their chariot.
Anyway, best of health to anyone reading this. Let’s hope that when it’s time to look back to see how well this blog post held up, we’re all around to do so.
No, sports guys and gals, you don’t have to stick to what you’re paid for- but the NBA’s kowtowing to China shows why you should.
For at least a quarter century now- and arguably going as far back as the Nixon administration- the country that currently deems itself “the world’s only superpower” has bent over backwards for a vicious regime that has brutalized many of its people since the middle of the 20th century. (This blog post isn’t really about that, but for just a few examples, click here, here, and here.) As challenging as life may be for some Americans, none of us can comprehend what it’s like to live under a dictatorship like China, other than the ones who have had to escape from one. This is especially true for those who believe Donald J. Trump’s presidency is the worse thing imaginable. But again, this post isn’t about that- not primarily anyway.
People go to Twitter to take all kinds of stands on various issues- politics, sports, ice cream toppings. But those in the public sphere who do so often create more of a stir than intended. Such was the case with Daryl Morey, the General Manager of the Houston Rockets. With Hong Kong rising up against the Chinese regime for months now, Morey expressed support for the protesters with a seemingly simple tweet. But in today’s hyper-polarized social climate, very few things are simple, particularly with one of the NBA’s biggest international customers.
The NBA, usually lauded by the virtue signalers for speaking out “courageously” on social issues, was not silent on the issue, although they probably should have been. They took the extraordinary step of criticizing Morey for supporting the protesters. But it didn’t stop there. In fact, they were just getting started. Paying fans who held a banner that said “Free Hong Kong!” were removed from a game…in Philadelphia, no less. Is there a more pathetic symbol of what’s happening with this country, when the city that once hosted the Declaration of Independence signing doesn’t allow fans to support freedom for others? What does that say about our freedom?
Getting back to the NBA, though, the story reached a crescendo when LeBron James, who has bounced between the spectrum of sports hero and villain more times than we can count, had the nerve to criticize Morey for commenting about a subject that he (Morey) “wasn’t educated” on. That’s right- the same man who was once infamously told to “shut up and dribble” by a conservative gadfly was now doing the same thing to a highly esteemed general manager, for speaking out on a worthy cause.
Ultimately, this issue is not solely about LeBron James- or Warrior’s coach Steve Kerr, who disgracefully invoked sporadic mass shootings in America as a shield to widespread Chinese oppression. It’s about the culture of expecting athletes to be more than athletes. Starting with Babe Ruth and leading up to Michael Jordan, superstar athletes were thought to be more like real life superheroes, long before “MCU” became part of our lexicon. Partially overlapping that period has been the socially conscious athlete- or what is sometimes derisively referred to as “woke athlete”, derived from the idea that someone is awake to the problems our society is facing. This can be traced back at least to Muhammad Ali, a very controversial figure in his own time, who took on the establishment in protesting the Vietnam War, at considerable personal cost. Whatever shortcomings Ali had as a human being, this act of bravery has been lauded, at least in hindsight, as a positive example of an athlete being more than just an athlete.
Unfortunately, many poor imitations have been attempted since then. When addressing issues in today’s society, athletes and their backers (click here for the original “stick to sports” blog post) will predictably invoke Ali, in a nauseating self-congratulatory circle-jerk. We have freedom of speech in this country- Philadelphia 76ers pregame debacle notwithstanding- so it’s fine when a future Hall of Famer wants to speak his or her mind about topics beyond what their famous for. But they should not automatically expect to be congratulated for “bravery”, particularly when the endgame of what passes as “sacrifice” turns out to be signing a lucrative dollar contract with Nike, a multi-billion dollar company that has cynically and successfully turned “woke culture” into an even bigger cash cow than the one that they’ve been milking for decades.
So the next time LeBron James, Steve Kerr or anyone else want to speak out on an issue, it’s worth remembering that it’s their right to do so. It’s also worth remembering that when real sacrifice was on the line, they refused to remain silent. They took sides with the oppressors.
(Meanwhile on the court, opening night for the Lakers is on Tuesday, as they face off against the new look Clippers. And if I may exercise my free speech, by the time the circus at Staples Center gets going, aging LeBron’s off-court debacle will be the least of his worries…)
Sixty-three degrees and an astonishing thirty-three percent humidity are producing some of the bluest skies I can recall seeing in quite a while. I wouldn’t even believe the pictures below were of central New Jersey, if not for the powerlines in the background!