The Coronavirus Is Immune to Lies

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Richard Feynman

W.J. Astore

Investigating the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, physicist Richard Feynman reached a famous conclusion: “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”

The COVID-19 virus is not going to be fooled with lies.  It’s not going to be fooled by a denial of medical science.  You can’t “spin” the virus away with false information and happy talk.  And this is precisely why President Trump (and indeed many other politicians) is uniquely unqualified to handle this crisis.

Trump is the man who sold us a fake university.  Trump is the man who’s lied roughly 13 times a day since becoming president.  Trump is a fantasist, a fabulist, a con man, a used car salesman, a huckster, an entertainer, take your pick.  And he’s good at it.  It’s a skill that got him to the White House.  But it’s not a skill that works against the coronavirus.

The other day, I was listening to an interview with Noam Chomsky, and he made the point that Trump is a master propagandist.  His skill is his shamelessness and sheer extent of his lying.  Trump floods the market with lies, so much so that many people, and especially those sympathetic to him, lose the ability to tell truth from lies, fact from fiction.  Politically, this helps Trump; but in meeting this medical crisis, it’s a skill that may cost America tens of thousands of lives, and, in worst-case scenarios, perhaps a million or more.

Living by the light of lies is a surefire way to get burned.  Last night, I was reading Norman Mailer and came across this invaluable insight:

“Fascism is not a way of life but a murderous mode of deadening reality by smothering it with lies.”

The more lies we tell, the more we open ourselves to fascism.  Mailer uses the word meretricious, which combines vulgarity with falseness and insincerity, and he proceeds to denounce our culture, our art, as sickening us because of its ugly dishonesty.  (And Mailer was saying this in the early 1960s!)

Again, lies will not defeat COVID-19; they will only speed its spread through America.  Lies will only kill us while smothering democracy.

Feynman was right: “Nature cannot be fooled.”  So too was Mailer: As a leader, if you think you can deaden the reality of a pandemic with lies, you’re not thinking at all.  You’re acting murderously instead.

Update (3/25): Our Dear Leader has decreed America will be open for business again by Easter. Don’t worry: the final decision will be based “on facts.”

They really felt they needed to add that coda: based on facts. And they did, because most of the Trump presidency has been based on lies.

Maybe my title should have been “The Coronavirus Feeds on Lies.” And we are giving it plenty to feed on.

Update (3/26): If America reopens by Easter with crowded churches and the like, prepare for lots of dead people, as this article and graph show (courtesy of the New York Times):

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Social distancing for 14 days leads to 128 million total infections in the USA by October (curve on left).  Social distancing for two months leads to 14 million total infections (curve on right).  Trump appears to prefer the curve on the left in the name of boosting our economy.  Which result would you choose as the leader of America?

Strong, Smart, and Resolute Leaders: What America Needs Now

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COVID-19: Not impressed by weak, dumb, and irresolute leaders 

W.J. Astore

If nothing else is true, COVID-19 is a wake-up call to all of us about the need for strong, smart, and resolute leadership.

Donald Trump is not that kind of leader.  He ducks all responsibility for mistakes, provides false information, and blames the crisis on others (Europeans, a “foreign” virus, the Obama administration, and so on).  His VP, Mike Pence, has been a non-entity for years and has done nothing to allay the concerns of Americans.

Meanwhile, the Democratic front runner, Joe Biden, has given short remarks read off a teleprompter.  I see headlines like “Can Biden handle a two-hour debate?” and I wince.  If serious people think Biden may not have the physical and mental endurance to perform well in a staged political conversation, how can we possibly believe he is fit enough to be president for four years?  Biden will be 78 in November, and none of us is getting younger.  If there are serious concerns about his mental and physical stamina now, when he’s not being pushed, how can there not be profound concerns about his ability to handle the burden of presidential leadership?  Severe stress ages everyone, and we shouldn’t close our eyes to this reality.

Roughly the same age, Bernie Sanders appears mentally and physically robust, and his speeches on the pandemic have been sensible, detailed, and smart.  But even Bernie isn’t getting any younger.

In Biden’s case, people may argue that Joe can always fall back on his VP if he fails in office.  But we don’t elect a president with the idea that he’s infirm and may soon need to pass his duties to a younger man or woman.

There is one presidential candidate still in the running for the Democrats who is strong, smart, and resolute and who is young to boot: Tulsi Gabbard.  She is 39 and has dramatic ideas to help ordinary Americans during this crisis.  Yet she’s been excluded from the Democratic debate by the DNC that can’t forgive her for supporting Bernie Sanders in 2016 while criticizing corruption within the party.

As Americans, we need to get serious about our leaders.  Trump has shown he has no answers.  Biden’s debate performances (among other public appearances) raise serious questions about his mental and physical capacity for office.

Yet as of this moment these two men appear to be our likely choices come November.  At a time of severe crisis, that’s no choice at all.

A Few Words on the COVID-19 Pandemic

W.J. Astore

COVID-19 is now a pandemic, and each day brings news of cancellations and changes in an attempt to curb its spread, or to slow the rate at which it spreads.

First off, I’m not a medical doctor, but I think I understand the gist of the approach, as represented by this graphic:

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If everyone gets sick at once, our healthcare system will be overwhelmed.  But if we take protective measures and slow the rate of transmission, our healthcare system should be able to cope.

What are some of these protective measures?

  1. “Social distancing”: Avoiding crowds and the like.  We see this as schools close and put classes online, the NBA suspends its season, etc.
  2. Quarantine for those who test positive for COVID-19.
  3. Helping to prevent transmission by washing hands vigorously with soap and hot water for 20 seconds and avoiding touching one’s face and eyes.
  4. Cover coughs and sneezes.
  5. Clean and disinfect surfaces.
  6. Wearing a face mask if you believe you are sick.

The chart below may be useful in recognizing the symptoms and knowing the difference between COVID-19 versus regular flu and the common cold.  But always defer to your doctor/health care practitioner:

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The best site for news on the virus is the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at cdc.gov.  For example, go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/prevention.html for tips on how to prevent the transmission of the virus.

The CDC site has many useful tips, including what to do if you are sick:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/steps-when-sick.html

It’s important to stay informed and to follow the advice of health experts.

Global Strikes, Global Warming, Global Change

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And a teenager shall lead them: Greta Thunberg

W.J. Astore

Today, Friday September 20th, is a global strike day to address global warming/climate change.

It’s hard to believe we need a teenager from another country, Greta Thunberg, to remind Congress and the American people to listen to scientists on the subject of climate change, but that’s the sad reality in the Land of Greedica.  We all know the world is getting hotter, storms are getting more intense, birds and insects are dying in large numbers, coral reefs are dying off due to bleaching — the list goes on.  And we also know human actions are contributing to global warming.

But we also know there are trillions of dollars of fossil fuels still in the ground, or under our oceans, or in rapidly melting arctic regions, and that fossil fuel companies want the profits from the extraction, production, and sale of the same.  And those companies buy as many politicians as they can, they control as much of the media as they can, they even buy scientists to present “contrary” evidence about global warming, all in the cause of greed and power.

They get away with it in part because we’ve been trained to think in the short term.  We keep daily and even hourly calendars.  The business cycle is quarterly and yearly.  Even those long Communist plans of the past dealt with five-year cycles.  We humans simply aren’t used to thinking in terms of generations, nor are we encouraged to.

The process of global warming has been occurring slowly, gradually, over the last few generations, but it’s beginning to pick up speed, with major changes occurring faster than many scientists predicted.

Speaking of generational changes, it’s interesting that the Pentagon and its generals easily think in generational terms when it comes to America’s wars, and encourage Americans to do the same, but we’re not encouraged at all to work persistently and patiently to win the “war” on climate change.  (As an aside, the fossil-fuel-driven U.S. military is obviously not helping the cause of ameliorating the impact of global warming, though the Pentagon is planning for global disruptions to be caused by climate change.  With military budgets approaching a trillion a year, I’d say they’re winning, even as the planet loses.)

As Tom Engelhardt noted this week at TomDispatch.com, we humans need to stop empowering the pyromaniacs who’d prefer to see the earth burn as long as they’re making money off of it.  We need to act globally to protect our planet from irreversible harm, or we’re pretty much screwed as a species.

The Races of Man

W.J. Astore

In the 19th century, many people believed in polygenism, and others used the concept of “the races of man,” where by “race” they often meant species.  At home, I have a framed copy of the races of man taken from an encyclopedia published in the 1890s.  Here’s a photo of it:

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Of course, there’s always an assumed hierarchy to the races of man concept.  White Europeans are at the top, since it’s they who defined and ordered the hierarchy.  Surprise!

In my photo, White Europeans take pride of place in the center, with some swarthy Italians at the top right (I’m half-Italian).  Meanwhile, Polynesian (pink flowers in hair) and Indian (from South America) women are shown with bare breasts.  “Primitives” are primitive precisely because they’re “immodest” in dress, a convention that allowed publishers to show nudity in illustrations and photos without being accused of pornography.  You might call this the “National Geographic” dispensation for nudity.

My college students were often amazed when I told them that science shows that all of us — all humans — came out of Africa.  Far too many people today still think of race as both definitive and as a rung on a ladder, and naturally they always place their own “race” on the top rung.

Even more disturbing is the resurgence of racialized (and often racist) thinking in the United States.  The idea of the races of man and the “scientific” ordering of the same was debunked a century ago, yet it’s back with a vengeance in much of the U.S.

Naturally, those who promote racialized thinking always put their own perceived race at the top.  In that sense, nothing whatsoever has changed since the 19th century and the “races of man” concept.

Disrespecting Science

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W.J. Astore

I grew up on science and the American space program.  My favorite character on “Star Trek” was Mr. Spock, the eminently logical Vulcan science officer.  I loved physics in high school and ended up majoring in mechanical engineering in college.  Later, I got advanced degrees in the history of science and technology, especially as these subjects relate to Christianity.

Suffice to say I have a deep respect and a fond affection for science.  That’s why it pains me to see the U.S. government taking positions against science, and specifically against global warming/climate change.

What disturbs me (among other things) is the denial of facts — the disparagement of science — by high officials in our government.  Denying global warming is like denying evidence of evolution.  People do the latter as a matter of faith — they take refuge in Creationism and Biblical literalism, partly because it’s easier, partly because they’re “true believers,” partly because they don’t trust experts, and partly because it’s flattering to their own self-image as being made in the image of God.  And there are certainly ministers within Christian sects who encourage their followers to reject science — it’s one way for these ministers to bolster their own authority.

The denial of the science of global warming is for some of the same reasons (it’s easier, lack of trust in experts) but largely due to capitalism and the desire for profit.  The ministers of capitalism are not about to cede authority to scientists, not on this issue at least.  There are trillions of dollars of fossil fuels still in the ground, and who wants to leave it there when there’s so much money to be made in extraction?  Damn the long-term costs to the environment and to vulnerable peoples worldwide — full speed ahead on short-term profits!

But as Tom Engelhardt notes in his latest article at TomDispatch.com, the global environment won’t be deterred by our denial of facts.  Environmental blowback is guaranteed — and will grow increasingly severe — as long as our government continues to ignore or downplay the high costs of burning fossil fuels.

In the aftermath of Sputnik and in the context of the Cold War, our government pushed science as a bulwark to democracy and freedom.  Now that same government is disrespecting science in the name of profitability and economic competitiveness.

As Mr. Spock might say, dissing science is not logical.  Nor will it end well for ourselves or our planet.

The Climate Change War

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Mother Nature doesn’t care about your denials (Josh Addessi at Blogspot.com)

W.J. Astore

It seems Americans can’t rally support for something without declaring a “war” on it. The war on poverty. On drugs. On gangs and crime. On terror. And these wars have become open-ended, or “generational” in Pentagon-speak, with a dynamic of crisis-surge-“progress”-new crisis-new surge-repeat that sustains large bureaucracies and huge government spending.

To these “wars” we must add a new one, notes Michael Klare at TomDispatch.com: the climate change war.  As Texas and Florida were being clobbered by powerful hurricanes, the U.S. military and Homeland Security took the lead role in responding to these disasters, notes Klare.  Yet, even as the U.S. National Security State was mobilized to respond, identifying and seeking to mitigate a root cause of this “war” — the role global warming plays in exacerbating these storms — was and is very much forbidden by the Trump administration.

This is nothing new. As with so many other wars, the U.S. military is deployed to address symptoms rather than root causes. Worse than that, we often deny our own role in creating or worsening those root causes.

With respect to climate change, we Americans have made our choice. We’ve come to believe the advertising slogans that “we can have it all.” We’ve dismissed the dangers of wanton fossil fuel consumption, and indeed wanton materialism in general. Corporations have worked hard to persuade us that global warming might just be a hoax, or at the very least dodgy science. Many of us have willingly bought the message that coal is “clean,” that fracking along with new pipelines are safe and create jobs, even though it’s clean(er) energy like wind and solar that is the better job-creator.

Those are facts that lead me to a different “war” in America, the one being waged against truth.  Basic truths are denied (e.g. that human activity contributes to global warming) in the interests of profits enjoyed by powerful industries. But denial in “war” is not a path to victory (except for the profiteers). Denial is a path only to generational conflict, one that is sure to lead to more disasters and end only in defeat.

So, two things are most definitely certain: the climate change war will be generational. And, much like that other generational war — the war on terror — our military won’t win it. For no one wins a war against Mother Nature — not when we’re going out of our way to piss her off.