Darwin In Plain Sight

virus-1812092__340

To all those who do not believe in evolution as a guiding force for life in the world, I submit that the recent spate of incidents showing the reluctance of “conservatives” to wearing face masks presents a rare opportunity to see evolution in action. Will we see the portion of the population that believes in science ending up with an evolutionary advantage in being able to propagate their genes better than those who claim a constitutional right to march macho and bare-faced through the world? Many who decry the wearing of “face diapers” are far beyond the age of propagation, but it is clear that many of the younger generation are following the example of their elders, and are crowding into bars, and onto beaches.

Look, when I was in college, the lure of drunken parties was strong. There were parties advertised down in the cave at the southwest edge of town, where I managed one night to stumble home safely by following the railroad tracks. I was indeed fortunate to not fall victim to a steel chariot that would have borne me to the netherworld. I also survived the disco era, when bars were packed so tightly you had to turn sideways in order to avoid committing sexual assault. I know the appeal of these venues. But this is truly a once in a century pandemic, where it is necessary to believe in the power of microscopic viruses that defy detection by any normal means.

And thus the evolutionary challenge. To believe in science, with its dependence upon statistical trials demonstrating efficacy of treatments, or to not believe in science. Those who do not believe in the scientific method are prone to believe in anecdotal evidence hawked by those who use the internet to spread their own brand of phony facts. We will see whether there is actually a difference in the survival rates between these competing belief systems. My money is on those who do believe in science winning.

Into this discussion, a columnist from the New York Times brings up research that reveals why we may have this dichotomy of beliefs between liberals and conservatives. Thomas B. Edsall wrote a column titled “The Whole of Liberal Democracy Is in Grave Danger in This Moment” on July 22. He cites many papers and studies from social scientists, but the gist of his findings is that those who use facts and data to form their opinions tend to be more liberal, whereas those who are reluctant to change their opinions even when faced with contrary data tend to be more conservative. The whole of the column is damning against the conservative side of the culture wars, suggesting that the trend towards authoritarianism currently expressed by right-leaning political movements across the world can lead to the extinguishing of liberal democracy. Studies are cited that claim liberals tend to be more expressive in their writings, using complex words and thoughts to provide more nuance. Conservatives, it is claimed, use simpler and more absolute statements of fact that allow their followers to have absolute certainty in their beliefs, regardless of any evidence to the contrary.

I tend to agree with the surveys that are quoted. In my own experience, it can be extremely difficult to engage in a substantive discussion with someone whose mind is closed to contrary evidence. I remember a member of my church choir, who in a huge misreading of my beliefs, said at the dawn of this administration that it was good to finally have an alpha male in charge. He must have felt I would agree with that assessment. At the time, I believe I called the soon-to-be inaugurated President an epsilon male instead of an alpha male. But I have no doubt that the person I was discussing this with felt no need to even consider my opinion as being worthy.

I do have a problem with the way the data was presented in the column, though. It provides fodder for those who decry the elites who think they are better than the common folks. Well, that is undoubtedly true. Those who have more education believe that their thought processes are more capable than those who just accept what is being spoon fed to them by their media masters. So this NYT column (if it were read at all by those of a conservative bent) would reinforce their beliefs that the elites of the world are against those who have common sense.

Look, there is a reason why Rush Limbaugh popularized the use of the term “ditto-heads” for his followers. No other term I can think of so masterfully expresses the anti-intellectualism that has come to govern this country. The movement has gained ascendancy with this President, and we have now seen that having someone totally averse to science and the scientific method being in charge of our government can be an existential risk. Which is why I think we are actually seeing an evolutionary fork develop here. Is there an evolutionary advantage to believe in science, and follow the guidance of scientists, or is there an evolutionary advantage to being macho and looking to stare down the virus through the mask-free exhalations of those who refuse to follow scientific recommendations.

The thoughts from the Edsall column have given me more pause for thought, though. My own writing is much more complex than that of our current ruling class, and thus I realize that I have no possibility of changing the minds of any people who are leaning conservative/authoritarian. We need other tools that can break through the intransigent mindset of those who believe this leader is doing God’s work. All of the tools I have, logic, irony, sarcasm, none of them seem to be seeping through the skull calcification preventing the acceptance of information that is disturbing to conservatives. I must see if there is some way in which complex thoughts can be presented in small twitter-like bits that fit within the attention span of those who believe themselves superior to libtards like me.

Eyes Wide Shut

3 dollar bill

When I worked at a chemical plant, and was involved in statistical testing, I learned one lesson. Never try to extrapolate two data points into a line. Always use at least three data points to determine the slope of a line. Given the dire nature of what we are seeing in the government response to protests across the country, I am violating my long-held prohibition against use of only two data points.

Lafayette Park and Portland. In both cases, the Federal government has used law enforcement personnel that were unidentified, save for a single word:  POLICE. The first time these unidentified forces were used, it was to clear the way for our great leader to pose in front of an Episcopal church with a Bible held high. That was bad enough.

But in Portland, things have taken a darker turn, and now we have these unidentifiable troops snatching people off of the streets, throwing them into unmarked vehicles, and whisking them away into detention. At least these individuals have been released promptly and no charges have been filed.

Here’s where the need exists to not allow another data point to be created. That data point will likely involve similar government-sponsored kidnappings, followed by disappearances of the arrested protesters. Or, it will involve non-government groups using tactics similar to these government groups, where they take people off of the street to enforce their own brand of justice. We cannot allow this illegal and immoral effort to expand to any other location across this country, not if we want even a sliver of our Constitutional freedoms to stay intact. When the Federal government believes they have the right to abduct those who have participated in protests, and use the human equivalent of unmarked cars as their enforcers, then all of us are in grave danger. The stated goal is to prevent damage to Federal facilities. But as the tactics used in Portland have shown, any relationship between protection of Federal facilities and the abductions of people off of the streets of a city is purely coincidental.

We are unfortunate that we have a commander in chief who is desperate to create a distraction from his abysmal performance as a leader against “this invisible enemy”. Resurrecting the ghost of George Wallace, he believes that only a strong hand against disorder can save his electoral hopes. Thus he will be increasingly unrestrained in his use of force going forward from here. And should the next election somehow come out in his favor, then he will have his storm troopers in place, with their practices established, and he will be ready to unleash them on any dissent whatsoever. Heaven help all of us who still believe in the rule of law when the person at the top of the Federal pyramid has corrupted the tools of government to only further his own misshapen fever dreams of converting this into a Great America.

Now, as I’ve sat on this post for a while before uploading, we’ve seen the list of cities expanding where Federal forces are to be applied whether they are requested or not. It is happening before our very eyes, and we cannot stand idly by as the nation gets dragged further and further into self-induced chaos and authoritarian dictums. Use your voice to protest this ongoing usurpation of the nation under this President.

Revisiting the Innocent Days of 2016

Trump's world

As the writer of a blog, occasionally I claim a point of personal privilege. I chose to do so at this time. My writing has made it clear that I am not in favor of the actions of this administration, nor in favor of the personality cult leading it. I am showing in this message that I have been consistent in my denunciation of the leader of the Republicans. The following post was written as a letter to the editor in my hometown Charleston Gazette-Mail on July 24, 2016, immediately after the Republican convention where Donald Trump accepted the nomination of his party. I sometimes hate it that I saw so clearly what was about to befall the nation, but I commend it to you as a look back to those innocent days in 2016, when we thought we would probably avoid being subjected to a Trump presidency. Would that we could have had that alternative reality come true.

 

Here is the link to the original letter in the paper:

https://www.wvgazettemail.com/opinion/letter-united-states-feels-bereft-of-hope-gazette/article_44dd8ef3-1c7b-5bd8-902e-7188e6c1c75b.html

 

Editor:

A nation bereft of hope, buffeted by demographic changes and societal upheaval that made us an impotent caricature of our former glory. A nation divided by those who are evil and who are actively working with our enemies to weaken us further. A nation that teeters on a moral abyss, ready to irreversibly tumble into said abyss. A nation who needs the strong hand of leadership to restore our grandeur and prosperity. A nation that must retreat within its borders, and make those borders impregnable to hold back the Visigoths and Huns and cannibals who are attempting to overwhelm our weakened wimpy forces.

That is the vision presented at this week’s Republican convention. It is a vision of hopelessness and despair supposedly brought on by the administration of the last 8 years. It is a vision that thrives on petty name-calling. It is a vision that is the climax of the campaign created by Donald Trump and enabled by his legions of worshipers. It is a vision crafted in bites of 140 characters or less, matching the attention span of this reality TV-addicted nation. It is a vision that evokes revulsion and hatred among its adherents — revulsion against the society that is stacked against them, and hatred of those viewed as responsible for the conditions these champions of the American way have had to endure.

I, too, feel bereft of hope. But not because of the issues enumerated above. No, I am bereft of hope because I have seen our nation devolve into such a state that a total sociopath could hijack one of the two major political parties in my nation. I despair due to the shallowness of thought that causes my own demographic (white male in my 60s in a red state) to form the core of Trump’s army. I despair due to the knowledge that during the upcoming campaign, the real issues facing this country will not be addressed. Instead we will be subjected to a seemingly endless string of negative tweets, PAC-sponsored media messages, and scenes of angry mobs attacking angry mobs representing the opposing party.

But mostly I despair due to the real possibility that a charlatan such as Donald Trump could ascend to the leadership of this nation. That our nation is so foolish that we could ever be suckered into believing the lie that is the story of Donald Trump, and that his brand of evil will be foisted upon this nation and the world. If that were to happen, I can only pray that we are able to avoid the apocalypse he could bring down upon us.

 

2020 update: This was what I saw coming down the road back during the days of the election. Sometimes I hate to be correct. I have learned that those who believe in this sham of a president, still do so unabashedly. Accordingly, I do not believe that any words in this forum can change the minds of anyone. Still, it feels good to vent, and sometimes it is good to look back in time and see if the feelings expressed then still are current. They are in this case.

Summer Reveries

Summer flowers

It is good to know in the midst of all of the concurrent crises we face, that nature  proceeds at its own pace unconcerned with all of the worries humanity has. Thus we return to summer in West Virginia, where the biggest issue is whether the cowbird will be successful in laying an egg in the wren’s nest up in one of our flower baskets.

We are loving it out in our outdoor living room, where we enjoy our coffee and newspaper in the mornings, and use its space for our afternoon cocktail. In between we can read or just watch  nature as it visits our porch. The finch feeder is in use most of the daylight hours, with the purple finches unafraid to visit while we sit there, though the gold finches are shy and only visit when we are not present. We were treated to seeing a hummingbird chase a finch away one day, though what the finch did to draw this attention is unknown. This year we are not seeing any non-conforming finches, where a brood is raised that includes a foreign egg from a cowbird. Last year we saw a young bird that was unable to use the finch feeder, though it tried valiantly. Instead, it chirped and waited for its father to deliver a seed directly to it, since it could not reach into the feeder with its own beak.

A wren built a nest in one of our hanging flower baskets. You can see it dart in and out, and it often scolds us, especially when we are at the table with our coffee. That puts us directly next to the nest, and that is obviously too close for the bird’s comfort. But it is the cowbird couple that is the most interesting. Last week I saw the couple, with the male perched a few feet away while the female scoped out the nest. At that time there were obviously no eggs there, and they flew away. But just yesterday I saw the female eyeing the nest again, and this time the wren flew directly at the cowbird, chasing it away. It remains to be seen if the battle will have future acts.

The fallout from the finch feeder keeps other birds busy who do not have the physique to feed directly from the feeder. Often we can hear the whooshing of the morning dove wings as they fly away after having poked through the rubble looking for intact seeds. And chipmunks cross our porch regularly, stopping sometime to search for seeds, while other times stopping under the hummingbird feeder and lapping up the spilled sugar water. Then they hustle off to whatever their business is.

This year I’ve seen not only the neon blue skinks skitter across the porch, but another color of skink. They are fast and you have to really be watchful in order to see them. So far they are the only reptiles we’ve shared our space with.

The flicker loves the hummingbird feeder. It will hang off of the feeder, and you can see it drinking as it brings the liquid into its beak and works it down its throat. The hummingbirds know that they cannot force the flicker away (too big), so an uneasy detente exists where the hummer will visit the side of the feeder opposite the flicker. It is amazing how much entertainment you can get out of a half-cup of sugar dissolved in water. We have seen at least one hummer battle, but know that more are to come as the alpha male perches on the wires leading to the house, keeping watch and driving away any other hummers who dare to intrude on its designated home turf.

2018 flicker

Several years ago we had to take down the hemlock tree that graced our front lawn due to storm damage. We replaced it with ornamental trees that won’t grow as tall so as to threaten the wires. The ornamental cherry directly in front of our porch is growing daily, as you can see the new leaves stretching higher each time you look at it. It may never give us shade, but that doesn’t matter to the birds who use any location as a handy perch.

We have apple trees which have very seldom given us apples. Not because the apples weren’t produced, but because the squirrels get to them first. But until this year, they’ve always left the crab apples alone. The tartness of them must be a turn off even to voracious squirrels. This year, though, the squirrels are taking the crab apples right off of the trees and eating them.

Squirrel

It is good to take the time to really see the world around us. If nothing else, this time of physical isolation and separation from the rest of humanity, has intensified the desire for watching the world of nature. It is good to realize that the life outside does not care about human pandemics, or divisive politics, or any of the other matters that occupy the airwaves. Just hearing the sounds of birds, and the chirring of the crickets helps to put things into perspective.

Snowflakes Are Dancing (As They Melt)

snowflake

Pity the poor snowflakes. Those who cannot adjust to the changes in society. They are the ones  who so often decry those on the left who make the argument that a society cannot survive while a substantial portion of the population still suffers from inequality. In many ways, that is what we have seen with the ascendance of the Republicans this past decade. They do not accept that we live in a fundamentally different society than the one they so fondly remember. The one they remember that never really existed at all. Instead, like the view perpetuated by popular cultural phenomena of “Gone With The Wind”, which wistfully viewed plantation culture as the epitome of white culture, they remember only the image they were fed. That is one reason why “To Kill A Mockingbird” was so devilishly subversive. It showed the mirror side to the part of the population that believed in white supremacy, by depicting the reality of life for so many who lived by the rules imposed upon them, but still got caught up in the scapegoating that white privilege allowed.

The poor snowflakes are melting down. Of course, they are unable to understand subtlety. Defunding the police becomes synonymous with anarchy and riots, since clearly it implies a binary choice. You either have order imposed at the end of a gun (or a knee), or you have chaos and anarchy, brought to you by a phantom called Antifa. Nowhere is there room in the discussion to bring up the uncomfortable fact that through the decades since we deinstitutionalized the mentally ill, we shifted more and more of the responsibilities for them onto the police force. By allowing the mentally ill more freedom by removing them from institutions, it brought their issues into conflict with the larger population of the nation, and when calls for assistance came, only the police were in a position to respond. Unfortunately, too often they respond with lethal force, since that is the main tool they come equipped with. Since we as a society have not funded alternatives to institutions, street confrontations and growth in homeless populations keep the snowflakes demanding a police solution to these problems.

The Republican snowflakes are melting into a pool of stagnant water. They no longer have the ability to defend their leader when he makes yet another asinine claim (this time it was that the 75-year old Buffalo man was an Antifa plant). Instead, they march right on by the press who tries to get them to respond to this outrageous claim. The press keeps waiting for reasonableness to creep back into the Republican party. They don’t realize that the only reasonable Republicans are the ones who have left the party (because the party left them). Subjugation of the party to the service and worship of one thin-skinned man has caused them to abandon their principles. They don’t want small, fiscally-conservative government. Instead, they want to fund ongoing degradation of civil liberties by unleashing the military directly on those who exercise their first amendment rights. They want tax reduction above all else. They want those who are unqualified and on the extreme fringe of legal thought to be awarded lifetime positions in the court systems, in order to perpetuate their short term hold on this nation.

For this is the thing that causes the full-scale melting of the snowflakes. They can see the sea changes coming to this society. We have indeed moved past the homogenous sea of whiteness that they long to bring back. Unfortunately, those who held power in this nation have never willingly yielded any of the power to those of “lesser” characteristics. No, you had to impose the force of law in order to keep blacks enslaved. You had to push out the native inhabitants into plots of poorer lands in order to facilitate the confiscation of the lands by the favored classes. You had to restrict the immigration of Orientals since their alien culture would never be accepted by the real patriots. Even after multiple generations in this country, you had to exclude Japanese ancestry from the larger culture in WWII since allegiances could be faked, and you couldn’t take the risk from the other.

Now that demographics are changing, and changing fast, the desperate scrabble for power is being exposed daily. The snowflakes tried to redistribute votes in a favorable way through gerrymandering, and that proved very successful in many states. The snowflakes were successful in judicially enfeebling the voting rights act, which led states to reduce polling stations in demographically challenging locations. After all, if you can make it into an all-day ordeal in order to exercise your rights by ballot, you will discourage many from even trying to exercise the franchise. That will allow you to hang on for yet another election cycle, and right now that appears to be the limit of the strategic vision of the snowflakes. They only want to keep the warmth of civic life from melting them completely, causing them to be lost in the entropy of society.

Successfully Jumping Sharks

Trump's world

The words of Charles Mckay from 1841 ring as true today as they did then:  “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.” Thus it has been with the slow recovery from the election of 2016, where the electorate went just enough insane to select the disruptor in chief, thinking that their choice would at the very most, place a thumb in the eye of the establishment. Little did they know that their choice was in fact an existential one.

Finally, though, the event we were waiting for happened last week. The President jumped the shark! By staging that photo op event of holding a generic Bible in front of an Episcopal Church, then inviting his enablers to stand beside him to join in this glorious display, this reality star performed his sit-com equivalent of Fonzie jumping the shark on water skis. Perhaps this is the only image this ratings-obsessed creation can understand. His act has gone stale, and the blatant hypocrisy involved in using mounted police to purge demonstrators from Lafayette Park while simultaneously declaring himself to be the ally of peaceful protestors everywhere, served as the last straw for many of his former allies. Add to this the story of his call to governors where he called for the domination of the streets and threatening to send the nations active military to any location that failed to maintain “LAW AND ORDER”, the mask came off and his true nature became apparent to all.

Thus it was that during the week we were shown one after another of the military men who had graced both this and former administrations, moved to denounce the anti-constitutional nature of the current occupant of the mansion on Black Lives Matter Plaza. Next will come the tell-all to be released by the owner of the walrus mustache. Expect others who have taken part in this immoral and chaotic administration to slowly dribble their truths out into the media maelstrom over the summer and into the fall, until only those who still believe in the racism and evil that Trump personifies stick with him into the election.

Of course, we will have the benefit of seeing Darwinian evolution in actual practice, as the mass gatherings of Trump supporters will soon be back in vogue. When you are washed in the blood of the Donald, you need fear no virus. None would dare harm any of his followers. Or so he would have you believe. After all, the entire virus was nothing but a nothing burger. Don’t believe what you see on the TV. They only work to deceive you by directing attention away from the glorious economic recovery happening day by day. So when the smattering of contact tracers go back, they will find mass spreading events that coincide with Trump’s rallies. That’s a prediction for the future.

The events of the past few months have defied belief. This is how you know that time travel back to the past does not exist. If it did exist, someone would have come back at the start of the year and warned us of what we were to face. I don’t remember anyone that called for a pandemic plague, an economic catastrophe, and a racial explosion reminiscent of the late ’60’s. Maybe I just wasn’t listening hard enough to hear the rumblings beneath the surface of the serene waters of the DC swamp.

How Can I Keep From Singing?

WVSO

I have been fortunate so far during this pandemic. My family has not contracted the disease, my income has been steady since I am retired, and both of my sons in neighboring states are still employed. In fact, my older son quit his job due to concerns about the morality of keeping his bookstore open to walk-in traffic, and ended up getting a better job in a management training position. So it seems like the height of arrogance to mention what this pandemic is taking from me.

I am a singer. I have always been either in church choirs, choral groups, or even belting out songs on stage. For over 50 years, singing has been an integral part of who I am. But. With the corona virus, that has come to an abrupt halt. For how long, I don’t know. See, when you sing, you also spray. I see little drops on the music sheet as we go through the pages of scores. You accept the fact that you will spray others, and others will spray you. Before the advent of this virus, that was of little consequence. You accepted it, just like you accepted the shoulder-to-shoulder experience, especially when you have the opportunity to sing a major choral work with an orchestra accompanying you.

Now, it is apparent that choral singing is a breeding ground for exposure to the virus. Many have seen this report  from the CDC that showed 87% of singers in a community chorus were infected after two weekly rehearsals in the Seattle area after community transmission began. As a result, both my wife and I have had to reconsider our involvement in our singing groups. When our church goes back to live services, it will likely be without choral singing. Quite simply, there is no way you can provide adequate spacing in space-limited choir lofts to ensure a lack of viral transmission. Since I have always considered my singing to be a significant part of my service to our church, and a reason why I continue to be a church member. Now? What will take its place in my soul? As the hymn says, “How can I keep from singing?”

Similarly, to be a member of the local symphony chorus will also come into question this year. We already lost a performance of Carmina Burana this spring when the symphony cancelled its remaining concerts. The chorus will likely come back in September, and during a normal year, we would begin work on the major piece (Mozart Requiem) scheduled for next spring, while preparing our own music for a chorus concert around the holidays, along with the music to share with the holiday pops concert with the West Virginia Symphony. We’ve already decided that we will likely miss the fall season, with the hope that conditions have changed enough by this winter that we will be able to participate in the spring. Since we’ve sung the Requiem several times, it is not a matter of learning the notes, but bringing the parts back into active memory so that the singing becomes natural and nuanced. We can do that just with rehearsals after the first of the year. But the decision to forego the fall semester comes with a deep sense of regret. We are in the target demographic for this virus, and although we’ve been spared the crisis of larger cities, the virus is opportunistic, and loves to spread through exactly the type of gathering we participate in. So even if we avoid catching the virus, it still is exacting its price from us.

A Quilt For All Seasons

Anne's quilt

I’m turning this post over to my wife, Carrie, who wanted to share a little bit about the quilting  process, and how it is healing emotionally. Let me just say that this is the first quilt she has made in a long time that was not blessed by our cat Napoleon, who died in early December. Napoleon blessed the quilts by laying on them as Carrie put on the binding.

 

I am a quilter. Pictured here is the quilt that I have sent to my niece Anne, who is a 2020 high school graduate.

I had been working on this quilt since back before Christmas. While it was in progress, shortly before Christmas, something very distressing happened to me. (I don’t want to go into details).  One afternoon, I carried that distress one afternoon to my sewing machine.

Before I go on, let me explain a little about how this particular quilt block is constructed. You start with two contrasting squares of fabric, sew them together in a certain way, then cut them in a certain way, press open, turn,  re-sew, press, cut again, turn again, sew one more time to finish the block. Laying them out in rows and sewing the rows together forms the all-over pattern pictured.

So that day, as I watched the blocks form in front of my eyes and saw their beauty, the distress I was feeling just seemed to melt away. A couple of hours of doing this and a great happiness replace the distress.

So, I guess the moral to this story is that we all need beauty in our lives. Whether is doing something visual, like quilting, or making music (which I also do), the human spirit needs beauty.

Quilt closeup

Finally, I know that a comforter from Target is just as able to keep my niece warm when she is able to go to college, but a quilt also covers her with love and lets her know she is not alone.

This is why I quilt. And, indeed, quilting is one thing that has kept me sane during the social distancing.

Long Time Coming, This Virus Crisis

corona-4912186__340

So, we are now in the world flavored with corona. A world where many still claim that the virus is no worse than the seasonal flu, and that there is absolutely no reason to accept economic damage due to a stated need of preventing an exponential rise of cases from completely overwhelming our medical capabilities. These deniers of all things uncomfortable to them refuse to accept any evidence that hasn’t slapped them upside of their heads with a 2×4. They may be a small fraction of the total population of the US, but they speak loudly, and are prone to simultaneously demonstrate many of their rights, as they parade with placards, guns, and the incongruous mash-up of the US flag and the Confederate battle flag. The images of unmasked faces spitting their hatred towards state legislators will be engrained in the history textbooks of the future as they describe this episode in our nation’s narrative.

These bloviators are encouraged by their cult leader, who speaks in the Twitter language. This is a strange language, where thoughts are compressed to bullet points, and ….. becomes the joining conjunction. I can foresee a future library where these masterful expositions of momentary blips of what passes for thought, are portrayed as the speech form of the future. Forget writing meant to last longer than the moment. That is so elitist! Instead, we need to speak directly to the common man, bypassing the superfluous filter of the media. For too long those people have held sway over the agenda of this nation. No wonder we’ve become the laughingstock of the world, pretending that we cared about anything other than gross economic growth. For the sweet nirvana of growth is the only thing that matters,.

It is truly amazing that this nation can be brought from the “Greatest economy in the history of the world,” within two months to a basket case where people line up for miles in cars in order to access a food handout. One might say that the apparent prosperity we enjoyed was an illusion, sustained by the necessary labor of those we now celebrate as the indispensable ones. You know, those who we truly valued by paying wages that precluded any ability to save. Instead, we encouraged overconsumption by the easy availability of credit. Credit for vehicle payments, credit for mortgages, credit in the form of credit cards that ensnare millions into a life of making minimum payments, credit traps like payday lenders. All it took to pierce this illusion of prosperity has been a simple little invader, the tiniest subdivision of life.

The hollowing out of the economy has taken decades. Every so often, we saw what could go wrong with the increasing financialization of our economy. The practice of using junk bond financing in order to make hostile bids for existing stable companies got a little too brazen. Michael Milken, one of the early users of this technique, found that using insider trading in conjunction with the purchasing of a company worked even better, and eventually he was charged and convicted of securities fraud back in 1989. It is not a surprise to learn that he was pardoned by President Trump in February 2020. But it has not been the actual effect of the technique that has caused the most damage to this nation. No, it has been the modification of corporate behavior as a response to the vulnerability exposed from corporate raiders which has inflicted the damage and greatly increased the inequality we have in our nation.

Once corporate boards realized they were liable to be attacked by outside financial wizards, they took many of the actions those wizards would inflict on their victims. No longer was it beneficial to play a beneficial role in the local economy by paying more in wages, and supporting the local economy through donations. Nay, now all that matters is to reward the stockholders. When you combine that with the opening of China, and its legions of low wage workers and its ignoring of environmental restrictions, you saw company after company outsource production to this new savior of the world’s economy. This nation could survive by doing the design work, and the marketing and sales for the products returning via container ships. Component cost is the sole determinant of what is good. The lower the component costs, the more gross margin can accumulate on the final product.

The next piece in this financialization nightmare came about when computer technology made it possible to arbitrage taxation rates among the various countries. If you establish a subsidiary in a low tax location, then use it to move product from one country to another, you can take some vigorish off the top and allocate some of the supply chain profit to this new entity. Now all nations became engaged in the race to the bottom for corporate taxation rates, since all were liable to be victimized by this new technique, and were likely to see taxable profits disappear from their shores.

Then layer debt onto this structure. Not debt for new facilities, for opening new markets, but debt to directly reward the shareholders and corporate executives by enabling the buyback of shares and goosing the stock price. All are happy (except for those who lose their jobs when business does turn down and the debt repayment leads to bankruptcy of the company).

Of course, there are those people who do not fit into this new world so neatly. They are those who have to provide their labor in a single location, who cannot leverage their skills across the globe. People like those who remove our trash, and serve us coffee, and wait tables or bartend, those who provide health care services, those who are in the first responder ranks. As we’ve seen in these past two months, they are the ones who stitch together the threads of society. Without them, we unravel. That is why this original stand at living in quarantine was so important, since we saw in other nations and in New York what could happen when one essential part of this structure became at risk. When health care workers are overwhelmed, the entire health care system becomes dysfunctional at the very time it is being depended on by so many.

But in the corporate environment we live in, every action has its down sides. By closing the health care facilities to discretionary procedures, only a fraction of the personnel employed at these facilities were needed. Therefore it is the nurses and orderlies and service personnel not engaged in the ICU who became expendable, and were furloughed. So we see the extreme irony of health care workers joining the army of the unemployed at the same time as we are depending more heavily than ever on health care workers. Similarly, as assisted living facilities and nursing homes were co-opted by for-profit companies, the need for profit resulted in fewer and fewer resources being available in the front line of these facilities. For the investors, what was important is that the facilities paid their rents for their buildings, which were owned by corporations separate from the health care companies. Thus, we see deaths concentrated in these facilities as they become overwhelmed by the flood of illness.

When even pandemics are viewed through a partisan lens, it is very likely that no real structural change will happen if and when we return to “normal” lives. Even if the power in the Senate and the White House change in the upcoming election, we know that a substantial minority in this nation will never accept the legitimacy of the government. Somehow, we must break the hold of the personality cult that has poisoned the minds of so many, so much so that they ignore all signs of incompetence and mental illness in their leader. It remains to be seen whether the death and illness caused by this virus will suffice to loosen the bonds of this confederacy of dunces.

Existential Threats Revisited

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Back in 2018, I wrote about existential threats to humanity, or at least to the way of life we have enjoyed. In that post Where the Wild Threats Are , I highlighted seven threats that face humanity. Two of those threats are very germane to the current situation in which we find ourselves. I expanded them into separate posts that I wish to revisit now. They are The Bugs We Fear and the Rise of Willful Ignorance .

In The Bugs We Fear, it covered the overuse of antibiotics leading to reduced effectiveness of those critical medicines, and the increase in viral diseases that we may be prone to. Additionally, the post talked about the increased resistance to vaccinations from those who fear the vaccine more than they fear the disease. Even now, when the entire world is straining to develop an effective vaccine against COVID-19, you see more and more people suggesting that the whole purpose of this virus was to enable the evil globalists to activate their diabolical plots to depopulate the world, and enable a need for a new vaccine that would incorporate the “Mark of the Beast” via nanobots, or some other advanced technology. Once the vaccine is in place, all of us will be mandated to show our proof of vaccination or infection, or else we will not be allowed to participate in society. It is disgusting to see this entire episode of a global pandemic decried as a deliberate attempt to subjugate the world’s population and institute a one-world government, but that is exactly what many people are claiming at this time.

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Which brings me to the second post that is appropriate to revisit. The Rise of Willful Ignorance discusses the attitude of dismissal towards experts and anyone who dares to show expertise. Unfortunately, the actions of the US administration towards the oncoming pandemic showed how this attitude can result in orders of magnitude more collateral damage than if we had heeded the warnings of experts and actually taken effective action before it was too late. Since science presents a reality that cannot be bullied into submission by a personality cult, it has been the scientists at the Federal agencies who have had to deal with the petulance of the leader of this nation. And then when the leader ponders aloud totally ignorant ideas like using oxidizers or disinfectants internally, prompting spikes in calls to state poison control hotlines, it only shows how deeply the willful ignorance runs in this administration. Because the appearance of a disruptive pandemic would wreak havoc in the crowning glory of this administration (the best economy EVER!), the pandemic had to be hushed up. Until the actual rates of infection grew too large to ignore, that is what our leader tried to do. He tried to willfully ignore the existence of this inconvenient new truth. In a pandemic, days matter. The weeksand months that were lost in denial have borne fruit in the enormous number of infections we’ve suffered.

Existential threats are just that. They provide a threat to our very existence, or to the foundations of our society. When you combine two of them as this crisis has done, it becomes a perfect storm and the strings that have held together our society are becoming unraveled. Now we are conducting a gigantic experiment upon ourselves. Can we end up relaxing our mitigation efforts before we have the tools to quickly determine the infection status of all individuals? If we do, and the virus asserts its preeminence over humanity again by successive tsunamis of infection, then the damage done to our economy will be magnified several fold. And the original tolls of hundreds of thousands dead in this country will come true. It was only through the extreme measures we’ve taken that has caused the predictions of the number of dead to be reduced. I fear the unbridled rush towards reopening the economy will result in secondary outbreaks of the virus, and this time, we will not have the will or means to combat it. We’re already in a weakened state from the first onslaught.

May we hope to gain wisdom from our struggles against this horrible disease. And imagine how we would fare against an even more potent microbial adversary, like the ones that used to sweep over civilizations and reorder human relations and economies for decades. The economy we’ve built is too fragile to sustain many more attacks. We will all learn what is to follow in the viral aftermath.