Masking

To mask or not to mask, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged Karens, or to use research against a sea of shaming and by opposing end it? With profuse apologies to Shakespeare, this is where I find my brain wandering off to these days. I’ve had conversations and read numerous comments regarding the wearing of masks. I fall on the side of masks have become a symbol of compliance rather than a useful tool in the (endless and perhaps foolish) fight to stop the spread of COVID-19 or the Wuhan flu or CCP flu (pick your favorite name). I do not wear a mask when I’m out for a walk or otherwise simply mucking about. I will put it on in stores that require one as I don’t want to get them in trouble, but otherwise no.

Here’s the thing. The stated reason behind the wearing of masks is for the greater good. That greater good is based on the assumption that everybody is a potential carrier of Wuhan flu and everybody is a spreader as well. I have said for a long time now that the more realistic response to this virus was to isolate the sick and protect the vulnerable (elderly, immuno-compromised) people. People who show no symptoms should not have to curtail or end their daily lives. Yes, but, I’m told, you are contagious before you show symptoms. Yes, this is true. It is also true for a number of other viruses, including the corona viruses we know as the common cold and other strains of the flu. So why do we treat this thing so differently?

For one, the world received bad information from the Chinese government. They had their own reasons for not being upfront about things, primary among those was the desire to maintain the facade that the CCP is totally in control and does not make mistakes. This attitude has cost millions upon millions of lives throughout history. I also think that there were those in Europe and the US who saw this as a political opportunity. It is not an exaggeration to say that there are those who despise Trump so deeply that there are few if any limits to the depths to which they will go to ensure he is not re-elected in the fall.

But, beyond the geopolitical implications, fear is playing the largest role in keeping people from going outside and when they do venture out, fear makes them wear a mask. Also, and this is a strong reason as well, they don’t want people to think they don’t care, and wearing a mask, in their minds, shows they care. Right now, as states reopen, cases are rising…because testing is rising. But deaths appear to be flat and even lowering. If you look at the CDC numbers you can see this. But the fear engendered by the rising cases is bringing renewed panic. This is not a disease that kills on contact like Ebola. It is not waiting in the air for you to step out of your house so it can attack you. This fear is being drummed up.

None of this is to say that the Wuhan flu is not a matter of concern. It is, especially if you or someone in your family falls into one of the vulnerable groups. But, and here’s the big part, for a large majority of us, that is not the case. As with the regular flu strains (which cause something like 20,000 deaths in the US annually), the usual precautions can be taken and have a good effect: wash your hands, sneeze/cough into your elbow, don’t touch your face, and if you’re sick, stay away from people.

Back to masking…sorry, that was a bit of a detour. No, I don’t like to wear a mask and I do not wear one whenever possible. I have eczema which is aggravated by a mask, especially in hot, humid weather. I also get claustrophobic if I have one on for too long. I have not yet been yelled at by a Karen, although I’ve received some sideways glances (all of which I’ve ignored). I don’t think states, cities, or other municipalities should be making rules regarding wearing a mask. Especially when doctors writing in NEJM suggest that mask wearing is not effective outside of a hospital setting and is indeed a reflection of fear and anxiety over the pandemic:

We know that wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection. Public health authorities define a significant exposure to Covid-19 as face-to-face contact within 6 feet with a patient with symptomatic Covid-19 that is sustained for at least a few minutes (and some say more than 10 minutes or even 30 minutes). The chance of catching Covid-19 from a passing interaction in a public spaces therefore minimal. In many cases, the desire for widespread masking is a reflexive reaction to anxiety over the pandemic.

Klompas et al, “Universal Masking in Hospitals in the COVID-19 Era”, NEJM, 5/21/20

This should be your guide to mask vs. no mask along with other general information, easily found, covering other strains of flu. Not fear of social ostracization.

Image by Elliot Alderson from Pixabay

No, We’re Not Becoming Russia

On June 1, 2020, President Trump declared he would invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 and activate various military units to move into states to assist local police and national guard troops with quelling rioting and stopping looting and other violence. Since he did that media, Democrats, and other progressives have been up in arms shrieking about authoritarian moves and how dare he and…and…and… I even saw a post on FB suggesting that Trump would cancel the November election in order to remain in office. I have to wonder how dark, twisted, and pessimistic is one’s view of this country and it’s people, and how much hatred you hold for Trump that that’s where you go first. Seriously? I read that post, rolled my eyes, picked them up and put them back in my head, and then logged out of Facebook. I may check back in tomorrow, but I think I’m going to go back to my previous routine of checking in on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and then skipping that swamp for the rest of the week.

Back to my original topic…the mention of the Insurrection Act pushed me back into my political science researcher mode. What exactly does the act do, and when has it been utilized? My comparative side wanted to go find out if other democratic countries had something similar.

Starting with the U.S. law, Jefferson signed the Insurrection Act of 1807 into law. It has been used several times since. What most people probably recognize are Eisenhower and Kennedy’s use of it to break up anti-desegregation protests and open schools in the south. It was also invoked during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Wikipedia has a good discussion and a list of the times that its been used here.

What I hadn’t known (US law is not my area of specialization), is that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Congress changed the law and expanded it to include natural disasters, epidemics, public health crises, and terror attacks. By designating AntiFa as a terror organization, it seems to me that Trump has now provided two underlying justifications for invoking the Insurrection Act: a functioning terror group, and riots that have moved beyond the capacity of local law enforcement to handle. As of now (Tuesday morning), the act has not been officially invoked. However, we did have a relatively quiet night here in Philadelphia, so perhaps it will not be necessary. I hope.

Looking at other countries with federal systems, you obviously find laws that specifically outlaw riots (even in democracies the term “riot” can be defined more or less strictly, but usually includes violence and looting in the definition. Here’s the Encyclopedia Britannica’s definition). Sanctions for participating or fomenting vary between countries as well. Canada, for example, gives police and governments, provincial and federal, much more leeway to define a gathering as a riot, and take actions as police deem appropriate. As a member of the Commonwealth, Canadian law mirrors that of Great Britain. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is a federal police force and the one used most often to disperse violent gatherings and deal with things like wide-spread looting. My quick and dirty search for Canadian law regarding activating military units within the country didn’t turn up anything specific, but going off of their status as a former British colony and current Commonwealth member, I’m going to guess that there are provisions for the Prime Minister to call up military units if he deems it necessary.

India is another democratic federal system. It has a strong central government that has more control and power over state governments than does the U.S. government over states here. India also has so-called paramilitary units which function similarly to the U.S. National Guard. India runs high with tensions between Muslims and Hindus and those tensions frequently break out into violent clashes. Also, almost as frequently, police will either do nothing, or occasionally step in on one side or the other as opposed to simply stopping and/or arresting all participants. For the army to be called in to help control violent riots, the civilian authorities must make that request. The army is viewed as more secular than local police forces so when the violence is between religious groups (usually Hindu and Muslim) the army gets the call.

In the end, it does not mean that a government has shifted from a democracy to an authoritarian system simply because the leader, whether president or prime minister, has called in the regular army to help local and state police forces deal with violence. Yes, a democracy can morph into an authoritarian system so slowly that one might not notice. But, if this is a part of that process, I argue that people are noticing the change (I think some moves have been going on for a while) and are now taking steps to reverse away from authoritarian means of governing. As an example, during Obama’s presidency, conservatives were extremely upset about his use of executive orders (EOs) noting (correctly) that EOs violated the legislative process. During the Trump presidency so far, that concern has reverted to liberals who are now extremely upset about EOs and claiming (correctly) that they violate the legislative process. In the end, more people are learning about the problematic nature of EOs and that’s a good thing.

We must remember that the U.S. is a very unique political system in the world. We were the first to institute a representative or republican form of government. We also have the widest/highest levels of individual freedoms among the world’s democracies. Those wide freedoms mean our political culture is also unique and that can be seen in how we respond to issues like police brutality and looting, or even the fact that we do respond. I know that it is not fashionable to proclaim American uniqueness, but we are indeed a one-of-a-kind political culture and political system.

I believe we will come through this current craziness and we will not be an authoritarian system. That will happen only if we allow it. And, no, Trump will not be the cause of it. I’m more inclined to think that those who so violently and vehemently oppose him and his policies (without ever thinking through results or consequences), those who scream at any and all dissent from their policies (on both sides), and those who try to force speech conventions (i.e. political correctness) on the rest of us, shift history around to suit their needs (1619 Project), and those who demand conformity with their ideas are the ones who would institute an authoritarian system.

We are a country and political culture built on individuality and compromise. The very definition of compromise is that nobody and no group gets everything they want, but we all come away a bit more satisfied with the situation than we were previously. Compromise by its very nature is messy and less than wholly satisfactory. Long-term survival, both as a political system that gives people the most leeway to define themselves, and as a species, demands that we all compromise with each other.

That’s the end of this rambling rant. Thank you for reading. Here’s to a looting-free week and all of us calming down, correcting what needs to be corrected (so, maybe the MPLS PD can look at their training and discipline procedures…), and return to rebuilding our lives and economy.

Riots and Mayhem

Watching Philadelphia burn the last two nights brought back memories of the L.A. riots in 1992. I was living in Long Beach, CA and we had a curfew and I had National Guard soldiers patrolling my block. A record store (they still existed way back then) and other stores a couple blocks away were completely looted and burned down. I remember lying in bed, hoping the roving gangs didn’t come down my street. But, then, like now, there were no stores on my block, thus nothing of interest for looters. Now, I live a block away from a reviving commercial corridor, but there are no big stores up there like a Target or CVS that provide a lure for the rioters. So, I spent last night under a curfew that started at 6:00pm and hearing sirens go through the neighborhood, but not stopping.

This morning, I saw stories of looting and arson across the river in West Philadelphia. Now, protesters are taking out livelihoods and stores in primarily African-American neighborhoods. The very people they claim to be fighting for. Yes, videos show a lot of African-Americans joining in the looting, but based on other videos, the instigators are white, young males who appear to be taking great joy in the destruction they wreak. They get to go back to their intact homes in the ‘burbs. They don’t have to live in the middle of that destruction and try to figure out how it all happened. The same thing in Center City on Saturday night. Sunday saw residents coming out to help with clean up along Walnut and Chestnut streets which were the hardest hit on Saturday (no police presence for almost two hours!)

I did see video from late last night/early this morning of West Philly residents trying to clean up, and I read a story of some (black) business owners who managed to protect their stores and restaurants because they had firearms and stood guard. One of the reasons they were forced into that situation is because when the National Guard showed up late last night, they were deployed around City Hall and other points in Center City. So the instigators moved into unpatrolled areas. Our city officials have not been covering themselves with glory during this craziness. They haven’t even been covering them selves with less-than-gifted competence.

Between the virus lock down and now this craziness, Philly has a very long, rough economic road ahead. Some areas will come back with relative ease because of the tourism. Others, like West Philly will see pockets of recovery around UPenn and Drexel, but further out, they’re screwed. North of Temple University, they’re screwed as well (until you get to the Northeast which is part of the city, but really a series of suburbs).

If all goes according to our plan, hubby and I will be moving out of Philadelphia this summer or fall. I love the people (mostly) and vibe of this city and I will miss it. But, the politics (this is full-on Tammany Hall, cement shoes, old school machine politics) and those in charge in City Hall have become a significant drag on any and all efforts to build up a truly vibrant, thriving city. We’ve lived in this place for over 15 years. Gave it our best shot. And, watching city officials actively work against those who would try to improve the city is disheartening at best and truly criminal at worst.

I’m done.

And, right now, I’m hearing helicopters overhead and sirens in the distance. Oh, joy.

But, I have a cat demanding attention, and worlds that need to be written. I will keep an eye on things, but get back to what makes me happy. Until the time comes when we can leave.

Take care of yourselves and those you love.

Image by joanbrown51 from Pixabay

Freedom vs. killer diseases

Lately I’ve seen a lot of snark towards people who dare to express concerns regarding the rapid erosion of our civil liberties and freedoms during the Wuhan flu* lockdown. A college friend even started a Facebook post the other day with “but muh muh freedoms” and then proceeded to rant that people concerned with freedoms obviously wanted to kill of a third to half of the US population in exchange for those freedoms. I was appalled. No disease mitigation is worth the loss of our fundamental freedoms.

This is not about trading lives for freedom. It’s about maintaining our freedoms so that government overreach does NOT result in the clusterfuck we’re seeing here and now. Our privacy, our ability to provide for ourselves and our families, our ability to learn and grow…all of these things are in jeopardy from the current level of restrictions and overreach practiced by many states and counties. I’m not really sure if those individuals inveighing against the respect for and restoration of our freedoms have given any thought to how the country will move forward and recover without these freedoms.

Where do they expect to get basic necessities like toilet paper or food if manufacturers and farmers are subject to random, yet mandatory shut downs? How do they expect to educate their children? And, yes, how do they expect to take care of their ill and/or elderly family members when governments (see PA and NY for example) are requiring that assisted living facilities and nursing homes admit residents who have tested positive for Wuhan flu? Roughly 70% of all cases in the US (massively tilted by NYC) are in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. So, please tell me, how is locking the rest of us up helping when your government is locking up healthy elderly with those who are ill? And then depriving us of the means to support ourselves and take care of those ill/elderly relatives? That’s also part of your freedoms…information. And that has been severely restricted by state governments…all in the name of keeping us safe.

The government cannot and more importantly should not take care of everything for us. I don’t know about you but being infantilized by politicians is guaranteed to make me angry and act in a most contrarian manner. And, being told by useful idiots that “it’s for our own good” and that we should support every authoritarian whim of politicians as long as they claim it’s for safety reasons, is guaranteed to piss me off even more. I’m capable of discovering the dangers for myself. And, if you’re going to tell me that there are people out there who “don’t know” well, that’s on them. Or, if you’re so concerned, go tell them yourself. Governments function best when they acknowledge they are governing adults, when those adults take responsibility for their own actions, and when the rest of you don’t expect or allow the government to do everything. In my intro American politics classes I’ve always asked my students what happens if you allow the government to give you something? The answer is, it can, and often does, take it away.

Right now, we are experiencing a loss of freedoms and there is a fairly large chunk of our population that is OK with that for some strange reason. They seem to feel that since the “experts” are putting these ideas out there, those ideas must be perfect. It’s already been revealed that the “expert” model created by Neil Ferguson, MD in the UK, for example, is deeply flawed and relies on ancient FORTRAN code (seriously? Even I know that FORTRAN is the computer code equivalent of stone tablets). Ask any techie friend you have what is meant by spaghetti code. That’s what the “experts” are relying on and expecting you to take at face value. Don’t give up your ability to question everything.

Take the precautions you feel most comfortable with. Don’t let others, family or friends or experts, panic you into doing something or not doing something that your rational mind knows is not rational. Remember, fear and panic crowd out rational thinking. And, note that fear and panic are what’s being encouraged. To borrow from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…Don’t Panic.

Demand that your government recognize and respect your natural rights and freedoms. We are better than this.

*Yes, I’m using Wuhan flu to describe this thing. It’s not racist to name a disease after the city where it was first identified. Lyme Disease anyone?

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Fear and Karen-ing

The other day I wrote about fear and how it limits us and how we all have to take steps to avoid becoming crippled by fear. This has been on my mind a lot over the last week or so. We have to allow ourselves to think clearly and recognize that life is inherently risky; as adults we take on risk to a level at which we’re comfortable. The problem with disease of course is that the risk I take can put someone else at risk. That’s where taking responsibility for your own actions comes in. If I have family and/or friends in a high risk category, then of course I am going to take what precautions I must before visiting them. That’s only sensible. I also expect those caring for vulnerable populations to take responsibility for protecting those populations…without destroying the rest of us. We have gotten to a point where, somehow, it’s been decided that the only way to protect vulnerable populations is to halt all motion. This is self-destructive. Despite what the media is trying to cram down our throats, coming out of lockdown is not a zero-sum game. In other words, opening back up does not equal certain death.

But there’s another phenomenon that I’ve noticed lately. That is the more subtle, less open “Karen-ing” many are engaging in. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know that a “Karen” is someone who demands to speak with a manager whenever things do not go her way. In the era of the Wuhan flu, this has come to include those who call out others for not “obeying” the rules of lockdown…wearing a mask at all times, staying six feet apart, playing on a playground, etc. These individuals take great pride in calling authorities to report what they know to be serious wrongdoing. What I’ve started noticing is the implicit Karen-ing that is happening on social media. I’m not talking about the virtue signaling of posting selfies with you in your mask, or commenting on a photo of the unmasked with comments like “What? No mask?” No, I’m talking about the cutting comments made about posts that may raise questions, or present possible alternate solutions, or question methodologies. This kind of Karen-ing is done via the “well, I’m certainly taking medical advice from amateur epidemiologists” sneering, condescending remark. These comments are as all Karen-ing is, designed to shame the poster or previous commenter into doing a 180 or deleting the post, or otherwise taking a public walk of self-shame.

The reality is that those doing the Karen-ing are shouting out their fear and demanding that the rest of us share in that fear. In all likelihood they are not doing it purposefully. However, given that humans are supremely social animals and have a strong desire to be accepted, there is a voice in the back of their head that is telling them that in order to remain an acceptable member of the group, they must aid in casting out those who question any and all premises the group is founded on.

Try this thought experiment:

Many people are afraid of dogs. They don’t own a dog and they don’t like being around dogs. If they have friends with dogs, those friends usually confine the dog when the dog-fearing are visiting. Or, they visit elsewhere without the dog.

Dog owners do not demand that the dog-fearing get a dog and spend all their time with it.

Nor do the dog-fearing demand that nobody own dogs so that they may go through life never having to face a dog.

Where am I going with this?

If you’re afraid to go out and interact with people under any circumstances, fine. Stay home. Do what you feel necessary.

HOWEVER, do not, under any circumstances, presume to think that I share your fears. If we are friends, trust that I care about you and will respect your wishes when it comes to your personal safety and that of your family. And, understand that I will not accept your strictures on the part of my life that does not involve you.

Opening up the economy is necessary so that we ALL may live and do so with less fear about straight-up survival. It is NOT about us wanting to kill of all old people, or poor people, or people of color (in fact, continued lockdown will eventually kill poor people if you don’t let them work…). The government can indeed hand out more money (which will eventually, and quickly, lose value), but the government cannot make the things you will need to buy with that money (TP, food, gas, pencils).

So, stay home. Work from home. Wear a mask all day, every day. That’s fine with me. But (and here’s the catch) STOP TRYING TO MAKE ME SHARE YOUR FEAR. And for God’s sake, stop being a Karen! Nobody likes a Karen.

I’ll be over here with my dog (when I get one). On the beach. Without a mask.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Fear

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.


–Frank Herbert, Dune

The Bene Gesserit litany against fear is something that has (sort of) stuck with me ever since I first read Dune. I say “sort of” because I never memorized the whole thing, but I did remember enough to remind myself to not let fear overwhelm me and remove my ability to think and act.

This pandemic and lockdown we’re going through right now has brought this litany back to me once more. I do not consider myself a particularly brave person, but I also like to think that I can face things that might be scary or frightening and still manage to function. Lucky for me, I was correct in my self-assessment. While stories about the spread and destruction of COVID-19 have multiplied faster than the virus has managed to infect people, I believe that I have maintained my cool.

This does not mean I am not concerned about the virus. However, I am becoming more concerned about the economic and other destruction that is being wrought in the name of keeping us free from this illness. The information is confusing, conflicting, and constantly changing (how’s that for alliteration?) Masks are for all; masks should be worn by those showing symptoms; masks are not necessary; wear masks any time you leave your house, even in your own car…you are never immune, oh, wait, yes, those were false positives; it will die down in the heat and humidity of summer…no, it won’t. It will come back worse than before…it will come back less than before…

You get the point. A law in physics says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It seems that in the case of media and government bureaucracy reporting, for every report there is an equal and opposite report. What the hell do you do?

Well, I’ve decided that panic and fear are not going to be in my list of possible reactions. I’m watching friends, who are intelligent people, react in outright fear to any suggestion that the economy should open back up. I had a colleague say, with complete sincerity, that she didn’t think that students should be getting jobs at McDonald’s because that was “just too dangerous”. She then amended that to say, of course, if they needed the money…good grief. There is an absolute lack of understanding as to how the economy and supply chains work. I guarantee, these will be among the first people to lament the lack of food in stores and yet still fail to understand how that happened.

First off, reasonable people should be able to realize that the virus, no matter what we’ve heard about lethality, rapidity of contagion, droplets, etc. is NOT hanging around in clouds just waiting for us unsuspecting humans to walk out of the house and into a virulent cloud of infection. Really, it’s not. If you or someone you know is vulnerable, stay home, wear a mask when you go out, avoid sick people. These are things that immune compromised people have been doing for years…most of them quite successfully. If you are sick…stay the fuck home and don’t drag your sorry ass to work no matter how important you think your presence is; we’ve all done that and it’s stupid. It’s how common colds (a corona virus) float around offices. Why do you think daycares tell parents of sick kids that they cannot drop the kid off at daycare? Why do you think daycares are petri dishes of every random illness known to man? If your kid is sick, keep ’em home. But, because YOU are sick, that does not mean I have to stay home for fear of catching it. It is incumbent on YOU to take precautions not to infect others. If I am vulnerable, it is incumbent on ME to take precautions. It is not incumbent on the whole fucking world to protect you or me.

This is a rambling post, but fear is a rambling thing, I think. Again, I don’t think I’m fearful. Rather, I am concerned. Concerned about food supply chains in the immediate and near future, about the economy tanking so badly it takes a decade or more to get back to where we were in January (hard to believe that four short months ago we were at the top of our game), about mental health issues in general, about possible riots and other unrest as governors tighten the screws just as things seem to be waning.

A protest today around City Hall (or as many locals call it Shitty Hall), was met by counter-protestors several of whom held signs and banners saying “Reopening = Death”. Really? You believe we can stay closed permanently? That demonstrates a complete lack of understanding not only of epidemiology (I’m fairly certain they haven’t been out protesting against business as usual during previous flu seasons or during H1N1 or SARS or Ebola) but also of economics and how life and society depends on being able to do business. The government can give you money, yes, but it cannot make food or toilet paper. Only businesses can do that. And, many of those, and those in their supply chains, are closed. What good is government money if there is nothing to buy with it?

We need to overcome our fear of dying, our fear of illness, our fear of life. We need to recognize that people die. And, please. None of this means I or anybody else advocating for reopening WANTS people to die. What we want is to be given a chance to work towards preventing MORE deaths and preventing more AVOIDABLE deaths. Every death is a tragedy for family and friends. But, believe it or not, the world does not, and cannot, shut down for every single death (and trust me…when my father died I was shocked to walk out of the hospital and find people laughing…did they not understand what had just happened??) Fear of death cannot be allowed to overcome and obliterate everything we do.

Do not let fear become total obliteration.

Face your fear.

Let it pass over and through you.

In the end, only you remain.

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Don’t Panic!

Are you panicked about coronavirus yet? Why not?? You should and you shouldn’t. It’s getting more difficult to decide what is overblown panic and what is realistic precautionary information. Should you <b>plan</b> on being quarantined? What if you have to? How do you plan for that? The whole situation is scary, uncertain, and seemingly constantly changing. But, I think with the most recent announcements by the president, namely the collaboration between the private sector and the feds to distribute and conduct the testing for COVID-19 will give us more realistic numbers, and give the number crunchers and those who have to respond to the numbers, far more accurate information. The key to damping down the panic is accurate information and we haven’t had much of that since before China announced that this virus. My plea to everybody is please don’t panic.

It’s a very weird dynamic, I must admit. On FB, I’ve seen a lot of my friends insisting that either we’re so complacent that we will all be dead by Easter and the world will end. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who are absolutely certain that the whole thing is a hoax, or at least so completely overblown that anybody saying it’s a bad flu should be ashamed of themselves. My take is that rational people recognize it’s somewhere in-between, but I will say I lean toward the it’s not really as bad as we’re being told it is by the media. Remember, the media, no matter how sophisticated they like to portray themselves as, are governed by the mantra “if it bleeds, it leads.” In other words, they <b>like</b> the sensational, emotion-inducing headlines. Dramatic pictures of empty store shelves, long checkout lines, etc. These all contribute to that feeling that society is thisclose to collapsing. And they’re gonna be with you every step of the way through that collapse.

My university has gone all on line for classes as of yesterday in response to some of this fear-mongering. We have a week to gear up and become functional in an on line environment. I understand why the decision was made. And, honestly, I’m looking forward to the increased flexibility in my days. But, at the same time, I think that it was something of an overreaction. It came in response to the cancellation of the NBA, NHL, MLB, and NCAA seasons. It’s as if the president and board of trustees said, “Oh, crap. If the NBA is shutting down, we should too.” I mean, between Wednesday afternoon and Wednesday night, everything changed dramatically. I’m just happy I’m not in administration and dealing with the logistics of all of this. Now, I just have to record my lectures.

But seriously. It’s a bit surreal. I went out for a long walk this afternoon. There were a lot of people out. Groups of friends, couples, individuals like me. All kinds of people out, living their lives, out and about. Not isolated, not quietly staying inside and avoiding all human contact. The world keeps going, and life goes on. Compare that to the grocery store this morning. Insanely long lines, carts piled high with 10s of things, panic-buying all the things. There was no meat, no frozen anything, and of course, no TP (what the hell is up with that anyway??) But the contrast was telling. Me, I’m going with continuing on with life and not giving in to panic.

Seriously. STOP PANICKING! That is what’s causing so many of the problems. Just stop. We’re not being confined to our homes, we’re not going to lose power or water. Do your usual grocery shopping. Buy your usual amount of TP. Go for a walk. Play with your kids in the park. And, for my students, do your class work. Me, I’m going to keep putting my classes on line, and post reminders to myself to check in with them from time to time (kidding…I’ll be there on line, every day).

OK, so this was a bit of a rambling post. But, please don’t panic. We’ll be fine. Testing is increasing. Trump has done the right thing in partnering with the private sector to get tests out and available to everybody. (I know that a number of my friends will screech at that comment, but it’s true. This is the right thing to do. Try not to let your hatred for the man cloud your judgment on actions taken.)

Take care, stay healthy, wash your hands, and avoid panic.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Socialism vs. social democracy

Every now and then, the PhD in political science comes in handy. By that I mean, I’ve read some really boring, esoteric, random stuff that goes into a great deal of detail on just about every obscure political thing you can think of. In my master’s program, I took a class on Marx. An entire semester. Read everything the man wrote. All of it. Taught by a Marxist feminist. So, I have a pretty good idea of what his ideas were and where they end up when taken to their logical conclusion.

I’ve also read a whole lot about a bunch of different regime types and ideologies. Liberal democracy, social democracy, electoral democracy, authoritarian dictatorships, fascism, feminism, communism, socialism, gawd…the list goes on and on.

All of this brings me to my main argument here today. Namely, democratic socialism and social democracy ARE NOT THE SAME THING!!

Wait, you say. Yes, they are! I saw a Facebook meme that clearly states that democratic socialism is just wanting all those things we pay for with taxes. Just like the Scandinavian countries do.

No! No it is not! They are most definitely not the same.

*deep breath*. OK, first we go back to Marx. He of the complete lack of understanding of human nature and nationalism. And, bad economic ideas. Marx had essentially a three-step process for moving from capitalism to communism.

  1. Capitalism would build the industrial base for the modernization of the economy and the increasing wealth of society. But, (as he was observing the Industrial Revolution in London), this would result in a great deal of inequality and the bourgeoisie who owned the means of production (businesses) would get wealthier while their employees (workers) would not move up or get poorer. Eventually, the workers would revolt against the bourgeoisie and this would lead to…
  2. Socialism. In socialism (and here’s the important bit folks), the state (government) would now own the means of production (businesses) and provide regulations regarding the economy including wages, prices, production, conditions, etc. Private property (homes, etc) would still be allowed under the socialism phase. Eventually, the state, having regulated everything and created equality among all citizens, would “wither away” leading to…
  3. Communism. In this phase all property and all business would be owned by all citizens in common (the state). No private property, no privately owned businesses. Everybody would contribute to and receive all from the state. “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

I’ll tackle the idea of communism and it’s failure to take human nature into account in a later post. What I want to focus on here, is the “democratic socialism equals social democracy” foolishness.

The Scandinavian countries are social democracies. In other words, they are capitalist democracies that tax at a high rate in order to provide a generous social safety net for their citizens. They are most emphatically NOT democratic socialist governments. These governments do not own all businesses or have planned economies. They rely on private businesses to provide the lions share of taxes (IKEA is not a Swedish government owned business, but it is a big source of tax revenue for them). This is such a misunderstanding in the United States that in 2016 the Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen felt the need to clarify things in an address to Harvard University.

“I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy,” Rasmussen said.

(emphasis added)

Catch that? “…far from a socialist planned economy.” They are market economies. Capitalist. That’s the difference and it’s the “planned” bit that gives most people the hives. Still unsure? Still think it might be a good idea to give this system a go? Run this thought experiment. Think about the last interaction you had with a government official. The DMV? Tax authorities? Paying a parking ticket? Now, imagine that individual and all his/her co-workers making economic decisions for the entire country. Wages, prices, output, imports, exports, tax rates, licensing requirements (wait…some of them already do that), product type and manufacture, product providers, employment decisions. All of it made by that person at the DMV/IRS/city office wherever. That’s socialism. And that’s socialism whether you call it democratic socialism, or just socialism.

As Mr. Rasmussen said, the Scandinavian countries are market economies. They are capitalist in nature. They provide generous social benefits. They are not socialIST.

So for the love of all that’s good, right, and bright in this world, stop conflating these terms. Bernie Sanders is a socialist. He wants the state to closely control the economy. For the end result of this idea, please see Venezuela for reference. Most Democratic voters believe that means he’s in favor of social democracy. Based on what I’ve read, he’s not. And, near as I can tell, none of the other Democratic candidates have figured that out.

This has been bugging me for a while now. Thank you for reading. We now return you to your regularly scheduled orneriness.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Offensensitivity

That’s a word invented by Burke Breathed the creator of Bloom County. Some people are just super easy to offend. They’re just looking to be offended. They are also usually extremely clueless and lacking self-awareness. They have a great deal of offensensitivity and excel in looking for and finding offense in almost everyone and everything they encounter. These individuals often post quotes and memes that are designed to show that they “know” what is going on in the world. They are aware and are on to the rest of us. They’re not going to be fooled. What they fail to recognize is that they may in fact be describing themselves and their refusal to see any other arguments. One of my FB friends, who also happens to be an old high school friend, posted a quote/meme from George Orwell:

The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it.

I know the political leanings of this friend so I know that this was meant to be a dig at Trump and Republicans. I pointed out that perhaps they should consider that they are the ones hating those who speak the truth, rather than those speaking the truth. Of course, I immediately got challenged. Surprisingly for me, I remained calm and simply pointed out that perhaps they were the ones not listening. I was told that was not possible because “everyone knows” that Trump never speaks the truth. Ah. OK, then.

Stupidly perhaps, I then said, well, being trained in counter-factuals or what-ifs, I was simply pointing out the danger of assuming that you are not the one doing the hating of truth tellers. I’m now being challenged with the usual “well, I guess I’m just stupid, so please, do enlighten me, I’m not trained” extremely sarcastic and over the top language designed to goad. I’ve decided not to respond since seriously, if you can’t figure out what is meant by a “what-if scenario” then you really are refusing to listen, and yes you are the one doing the hating.

I have become so much better over the last few years at ignoring the inflammatory on FB, but sometimes it’s so over-the-top that I simply can’t help myself. I need to quit doing that. It’s not that I’m afraid to lose friends (I haven’t seen most of thees folks in decades and got along fine before they reentered my life via FB.). It’s that I simply don’t want to expend the energy engaged in all things political. I need to spend energy on school/work stuff and I want to spend energy on writing. Getting caught up in ridiculous arguments on social media is simply a colossal waste of time. Nobody really wants to engage in any type of discussion, they simply want to inform you of how stupid and unenlightened you are. Clearly, I know this and yet I still manage to ignore that small voice in my head that says, no let it go, and engage. I gotta figure out a way to make that voice louder.

So, in the end, I will not be returning to that thread. Let them think I don’t have an answer, let my former high school friend unfriend me. It’s immaterial at this point. I’m gong to continue to post those things I find to be interesting or funny or poignant and that’s the end of that.

Pretty good self-assessment if I do say so myself (see what I did there? didja? Huh? Huh?) Anyway, paying attention to what I tell myself and avoiding self-induced stress (arguing with people on FB is the definition of self-induced stress!) will lead to a happier, healthier me.

So, go figure out what you want to spend energy on. Make sure it’s something that makes you happy and not stressed out. My totally obvious words of wisdom for this week.

Image by MoteOo from Pixabay

Brexit, the End Times, & being honest with yourself

So Brexit (the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union) became official at 11pm UK time last night. Shockingly, the rest of the world, including the rest of the EU, did not stop turning. Life went on. Yes, there are a number of details that will have to be hashed out, and trade agreements etc. will need to be revisited, revised, and reissued. However, all of these things are activities that happen every day all around the world. Countries are always revisiting such agreements and updating them to take into account changing circumstances. Nothing new there.

I texted my brother this morning (he lives in Ireland) and received confirmation that the sun rose and the sky did not fall, contrary to the dire predictions coming out of the EU and Remainers in the UK. Boris Johnson gave what I consider to be a good speech on this historic moment. You can watch that here and judge for yourself. Contrary to a large portion of media generated opinion Johnson is not the buffoon they portray him to be (OK, so he needs to figure out a new haircut, but that is not indicative of intelligence or political savvy). And, now, most importantly, he’s delivered on his promises. That delivery stands in stark contrast to David Cameron and Theresa May. The virulent rhetoric coming out of the EU also suggests to me that that body stands to lose more from the exit of the UK than the UK does by exiting. It will be educational and interesting to see how this all plays out.

As Johnson noted in his speech, there will be bumps in the road ahead. Some of them will appear to be large and scary. But moving forward is the only way you get anywhere. To borrow a mantra from the Marines, improvise, adapt, overcome. Here in the U.S. we are seeing something similar. The loud wailing and gnashing of teeth from the left regarding the expected acquittal vote in the Senate on Trump’s impeachment is because they see their control over US politics and culture slipping. They are lashing out in an effort to scare the public back in line and silence those who are publicly pointing out their flaws. The heated and violent-filled rhetoric says more about the speakers than it does about those to whom it is directed.

The same goes here in the US. The impeachment was not the answer. The Senate trial is not the end of the world. In fact I argue that the entire process was far more harmful than anything else the Democrats in Congress could have dreamt up. The screams about shredding the Constitution are a diversion from their own attempts to do just that. Do not buy the rhetoric. If you dislike and disagree with Trump. Find a viable presidential candidate and vote for that person. Honestly, right now, contra all public assertions in support of diversity, etc. the Democratic field is a swath of nothing but old, white candidates. Think about that contrast for a moment. There are rumors that the super-delegates in the D party hierarchy will be persuaded to cut out Sanders (who’s ahead as of today) and replace him with Clinton. If you want instructions on how to destroy your own political party there are no better examples than the Democrats in the US and Labour in the UK. Good luck with that.

You know, in 2016 I was relieved that Hillary lost but I was very uncertain what it would mean to have a Trump presidency. Now, I find myself happy with the outcome and ready to vote for him this year. That is heresy to many people. But, I will remind everybody, that you can only be a heretic if you are going against the teachings of a church you belong to. I never belonged to this current socialist vision of how things should be. So, I cannot be a heretic. Rabble-rouser, rebel against the prevailing norms, yes. Heretic no. Politics is not and should not be a religion.

Every belief should be questioned, examined, and analyzed. If, despite the flaws you find, you still find that belief to be the best for you, good. You have thoroughly accepted it despite its flaws. If, on the other hand, you refuse to examine your beliefs, spend a great deal of time shouting them at people who question you and them, and generally stick your fingers in your ears chanting “la la la I can’t hear you” then you are spouting things that deep in the center of your being you know to be flawed and perhaps even downright wrong. Yet for a variety of reasons (social acceptance, fear of thinking for yourself, dislike of personal responsibility) you refuse to disavow those beliefs. In doing this, you are a hypocrite.

Intelligent, honest critical thinkers have no fear of examining even strongly held beliefs. They understand the risks to their belief system but prefer the honesty.

Be analytical, think critically, and be honest with yourself.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay