Pandemic Ramble

Introduction

This could have been a diary, but I didn’t write daily, or record the dates. I just made occasional notes on the pandemic, as they came to mind, and kept going until now. It’s a long and loose ramble! It hopefully contains some interesting observations. It’s probably best read in short passages over several days.

Déjà vu 

The Coronavirus pandemic arrived with a crash, like a tidal wave. I’ve not seen anything like it. However, it reminded me a bit of grade school in 1942 and, again, junior high school in 1949. 1942 was my first year at Fort Barton Elementary School in Tiverton, Rhode Island, overlooking Narragansett Bay. I was six. The first lesson was how to hide under our desks to protect ourselves against bombs launched from German submarines in the bay below. We learned that a World War was going on that involved us and our school. The surround of World War II felt total and inescapable until VJ Day. The global cocoon of the coronavirus pandemic feels similarly total and inescapable, and it feels like we’re in a war again. 

In the summer of 1949, when thirteen, the scourge of polio swept the nation once again. Children were instructed to avoid drinking fountains, swimming pools, and uncouth kids. We expected to get polio. Kids we knew had the disease. More were getting it daily. This was terrifying and mysterious. Where was this disease coming from? The threat was immediate, lurking in pools and the cracks of the sidewalks, everywhere. The Covid-19 virus is similarly invisible, spreading, and omnipresent.

Worse Problems

Lest we forget, the coronavirus pandemic is not, as terrifying and deadly as it is, the worst problem we face. Planet degradation from climate change and pollution, to which the pandemic may be linked, is more fatal. Discover Magazine recently reported that one million species are on the verge of extinction as a direct consequence of human activity. Only one species, ours, homo sapiens, is threatened by this pandemic, and the virus can’t kill us all. We’re in no danger of extinction. 

The ever-present threat of nuclear destruction, poised over our heads now for near eighty years, is the other deadly prospect. The Doomsday Clock published by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is set at 100 seconds to midnight, signifying that some fool nation is likely to blow the place up in the not distant future! I hope not. The United States, it should be noted, deliberately withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with Russia in 2019. The Russians didn’t complain much. The U.S. had already withdrawn from a treaty designed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. There are other nuclear treaties from which the Trump administration intends to withdraw. It is unclear where nuclear disarmament stands as a public policy concern. It should be at the top of the list. As more than one writer has observed, the danger of nuclear war is greatest when the threat is forgotten, when no one is paying attention.

Personal Lives

Our lives, Bev’s and mine, aren’t all that different from before the pandemic. At ages 82 and 83, we are long practiced in living by ourselves. She’s still wonderful company after sixty years! I think she would say the same about me. We used to eat out regularly, usually breakfast, buy groceries, get hair cuts, visit doctors, pick up prescriptions, visit with family and friends, and catch an occasional movie. Otherwise, we lived at home. Now, its us at home 24-7. We miss the human contact. We miss the freedom. 

We do appreciate the bounteous singing and music circulating the Internet. We also appreciate the humor. For example, Arleen Keating, who lives in the Villages in Florida, notes in her prose-poem, Corona Humor, “this virus has done what no woman had been able to do…cancel all sports, shut down all bars, and keep men at home!!!” We aren’t giving up our sense of humor. We hope you don’t lose yours!

It is great that our wonderful family, all of whom live nearby, are so devoted to keeping us supplied, comfortable, and alive. We’re glad that the nation is committed to protecting the lives of vulnerable citizens.

Speaking for myself, I have it easy; the pandemic hasn’t burdened us to the extent it has other people I know of or have learned about. One researcher supposedly found, although I’ve not seen the study, that a person born in 1936 had the easiest route to the good life of all people born in the United States in the twentieth century. It seems that way to me too. That was my birth year. I feel nothing but fortunate and grateful. My thoughts are with the people who are suffering the burden of this pandemic. But, of course, I wouldn’t want to get to know the virus. I’m reminded of the suicidal young man who refused to be saved by the police boat after the disappointment of surviving a jump from a bridge. He got in the boat plenty fast when the officer ordered him to get in or be shot! Pick your poison. I don’t want to die from the Covid-19 virus.

Worrisome Attitudes

The genuine concern for seniors hides uncomfortable secrets. One is that ours is an overwhelmingly youth oriented society. Seniors, by living ever longer, are becoming an economic burden to working adults. People are deeply ambivalent about aging. Older people, retired and out of the work force, are ambivalent too. We wish we could be of more help than we are and we wish we could be less of a burden. The “golden age,” we know for sure by now, is a tease, a myth. Old age isn’t really much fun, and it definitely “isn’t for sissies!” The prospect of death seems less scary and more friendly than it once did.

The second secret, related to the first, is that Plato’s high regard for Sparta still lives in the hearts and minds of some citizens. They think that survival of the fittest is the best principle upon which to organize society. Call them “Social Darwinists.” In their view, Nature’s ways, not government intervention, lead to the strongest, healthiest society. The pandemic, this suggests, should be allowed to run its natural course. This argument has apparently been bewitching President Trump, and nearing his lips, as he looks for reasons to reopen the economy. “We can’t allow the cure to be worse than the problem!” What does this portend? Should the virus hold sway? Should the frail be sacrificed?

Story Line

Here is a line of thought a playwright might adopt in crafting the context for the story of this pandemic. E. O. Wilson, among others, argues that humankind has turned traitor on nature! We’re a species of Benedict Arnolds. While nature is in reality our one and only home, we long ago retreated from the wilderness and its Garden of Eden on account of the fear of death. We traded in nature for an ersatz human culture built to withstand death and grant immortality. To strengthen the pretense, deities were invented, including The One True God. A supernatural realm was manufactured to supplement and replace nature. The supernatural realm provides spectacular theories of history and causation, and it provides real estate for a second life after death, including an eternity for those who need it! Thus comforted, people relax somewhat, shut down their worrisome brains, and take up delightful entertainments. For compensation, we promise to confess our failures on our deathbeds, ask for forgiveness, line up for redemption, and get our ticket punched for Graceland.

Arrival of Pandemic

Just when our technological wizardry and habitual mental sloth seemed to be moving us well enough along—overlooking nuclear weaponry, climate disasters, and species extinction—along came this amazing natural event: an inert virus makes an evolutionary jump in a Wuhan meat shop to attach itself to our bodies, mutate, multiply, and go viral. 

Pandemics aren’t a stranger to us. We have ourselves transmogrified over centuries into an effective pandemic creating machine for the Monarch butterfly, bees, Wright whales, Coral reefs, and thousands of other species threatened with extinction. But then, surprise, nature returns the favor and puts the bullseye square upon us. Some minds of a religious persuasion might see justice in this; we deserve it! nature would be better without us! Whatever the provocation, the Covid-19 virus is our problem now, big time!

Irony of ironies, we homo sapiens turn out to be both the target and the agent of transmission of this deadly virus. Each of us carries a package of biological explosives on our person. Best practices thereby call absurdly for purposive unity through radical separation. A thoroughly social animal is forced by facts and reason into solitary confinement! Wash your hands, cover your face, settle in place! What a weird experience this is going to be.

Smart Approach to the Pandemic

A pandemic is a planet-wide phenomena in which a disease “breaks out”of a locality, “travels,”“crosses,” “circles,”“pans” the globe, and attacks earthlings. It is a thoroughly natural event, an event in the evolution of life, exhibiting all of the glorious processes of biology. Nationality, tribal identity, ethnicity, religion, political party affiliation, economic class, and related social groupings are peripheral concerns, strictly secondary, potentially diversionary, and thus dangerous. To keep our heads on straight, the pandemic is best thought of as a planet-wide attack on our species, homo sapiens, not as an attack on nations, tribes, religions, or other social groups. If we followed this advice, we would unite as a global community in attacking the pandemic straight-on, wherever it hits, organizing medical care, mobilizing resources, co-ordinating policies, mounting projects, and conducting research. The World Health Organization (WHO) is the global organization tasked with confronting such a pandemic. Its indispensable knowledge would be applied through the United Nations (UN), corporations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Universities, scientists, and nations, including our own Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The good sense of this approach is shown by global statistics. Here is a link to a source I regularly consult. Ask yourself as you scan the statistics: where hasn’t the virus landed? Where are people safe from it? As I scan the confirmations today, on May 24th, I note 11 in Greenland, 8 in Papua, New Guinea, 1 on Saint Pierre Miquelon, 187 in the Faeroe Islands, 6 in the Western Sahara, 39 in Eritrea, and 18 in Fiji. In short, the virus is pretty much everywhere on earth, and spreading fast, which is amazing because it only started in Wuhan, China about 5 months ago. Here’s a video published by the New York Times on how the virus broke out of Wuhan so quickly, spreading wide and far. It is great testimony to the ease of transmission of the virus, to the diversity of people’s travel destinations, and to the frequency of travel.

But, no, we aren’t approaching the pandemic as a natural event aimed at our species. The citizenry and politicians of the globe have shifted their focus from the pandemic, the species, and the planet, to more local and parochial concerns. They have turned their national commitments and expectations for effective governmental intervention into nationalism, regionalism, localism, factionalism, and partisanship. The great mistake is to carve out regions and restrict attention to the disease within the borders of one’s nation, state, county, and/or locale. In a pandemic, the deadly virus, by definition and by nature, crosses any and all borders easily; it goes everywhere. The pandemic isn’t over or non-existent because a case is lacking or numbers low in your county, state, or nation. You’re just lucky and safe for the moment. Once the pandemic is reduced to an exclusive concern for my “territory,” issues of ethnicity, race, national origin, religion, class, and partisanship arise. A name and blame game begins and possibilities for containing the pandemic are missed.

World War II Concepts

When the pandemic set in, the name of George C. Marshall came to mind. As Chief of Staff of the Army under President Roosevelt, General Marshall led the armed forces of the United States through World War II. As Chief of Staff of the Army and as Secretaries of State and Defense under President Truman, his Marshall Plan guided the rebuilding of Post War Europe. The Marshall Plan is justly considered among the greatest policy achievements in world history. Find another George Marshall to lead us and the world in defeating the virus and rebuilding the world economy. A centralized authority and a General Marshall type of leader seems to be needed. That is what I hoped President Trump would do, appoint a General to lead, but, as everyone knows, it didn’t happen. Alternatively, a project approach, like the Manhattan Project undertaken in World War II to develop the atom bomb, might have been smart. The President didn’t take that approach either.

President Trump’s Response

Sadly, President Trump denied the pandemic’s existence, likened it to the flu, acted as if it would go away on its own, predicted miracle cures, hocked bogus remedies, and basically wasted four or five weeks, thus implicating himself in the death of tens of thousands of people. After resisting the advice of scientists for weeks—before feeling obliged by facts and reason to accept their counsel for a couple more, he took to imperially issuing weird advice at two-hour daily news conferences theoretically devoted to fighting the pandemic. Then, he blamed the pandemic and his personal failures on random others, settling on the Chinese government, who indeed deserve the criticism. He assured the nation that under his leadership our scientists and great companies would conquer the disease in short order, and happy days would return again.

President Trump not only took a different direction to the ones I’ve discussed, but a radically opposite one. He rejected an American leadership role entirely, and refused a federal leadership role as well. No national strategy now exists, and, to my knowledge, none is being developed. Instead, President Trump has insisted that governors and mayors take prime and full responsibility for addressing and containing the virus. Under the aegis of a vaguely organized coordinating committee, he has restricted the federal role to facilitating the availability and distribution of needed medical supplies, and administrating the stimulus plans approved by Congress. Furthermore, he has unilaterally withdrawn monetary support for the World Health Organization (WHO), and later withdrawn our nation from membership altogether, just when that organization is most needed. Like in a sandbox squabble, he hadn’t liked something their leader had said about him and us, in contrast to the better things said about China. 

On top of all this, the administration seems to be incapable of managing logistics. They haven’t been able to get the supplies to the front lines, nor have they been able to produce the tests needed to control the pandemic and reopen the economy. In the summers of 1956 and 57 I was responsible for supplying parts to the assembly line at the Ford automobile plant in Somerville, Mass. I had to get crates of parts from the train cars in which they were stored to their assigned place on the assembly line before parts ran out. If I failed, the assembly line stopped, literally shut down. From this nerve-wracking experience, the consciousness is drilled into my skull that the EMS people, the hospitals, the ER units, the nurses, the intensive care units, the doctors, and all the support staff around them, are the front line soldiers fighting the pandemic. They are the one’s who get to say whether or not they have the supplies and equipment needed to do their work. They either have the equipment and tools or they don’t. But instead of judging his administration’s work this way, by actual delivery of needed tests and supplies to the front lines, the President praises himself profusely for talking to governors and CEOs and filling up box cars with tests ands ventilators. He overlooks entirely the issue of whether these supplies are getting from the box cars to the front line.

From the time of recognition of the probable pandemic in January, the President has been disinclined to recognize and attack it. When the infections and deaths piled up, he insisted that problems and failures should be laid at the doorstep of the state governors. He took responsibility for nothing. He made it clear that keeping the economy going full bore was his main concern. Re-election seems to be his only interest and exclusive concern.

Accountability

If the rules are “We’re succeeding and deserving of your praise while you’re responsible, failing, and deserving of my condemnation,” accountability is not possible. We’re far and away the hardest hit nation on earth. Yet, no standards exist by which to judge our performance0. A few weeks ago the President opined that his administration would surely keep the deaths well under 100,000 given the mitigation procedures his administration had put in place. Now we’ve passed 100,000, and it looks as if 140,000, 200,000, or even higher tolls are possible. President Trump denies responsibility for the number, whatever it is. The truth is otherwise. If the nation keeps its mitigation program in place until early June, in accordance with public health recommendations, and reopens the economy in stages following guidelines promulgated and announced by the administration, well under 100,000 deaths would have occurred. By insisting, against his own guidelines, that states ”reopen” the economy early, and by staging protests to pressure the Governors to reopen, he has made the 140,000 figure probable. He is already implicated in the deaths of tens of thousands of people, and will be responsible for tens of thousands more.

Yet, as things stand today, the economy is reopening without the states meeting minimal readiness conditions, and without adequate tests and a vaccine. This is happening against the best advice of experts. The nation and the world have big hopes for a vaccine, and lots of tests are in the works. But otherwise we have no strategy or plan. Even guidelines for reopening are lacking. No end is in sight. It looks as if we’re going to just wing it. Social Darwinists seem to be winning the day! The Pandemic is sure to spike repeatedly in diverse places, in our nation and around the globe. For all we know, the pandemic may rage. That’s what viruses are inclined to do.

Words of Thanks

This, I know, is pessimistic. In counterbalance, I want to point to several notable achievements.

Not only have the front line people—the folks in necessary jobs as well as dedicated medical professionals—done outstanding work. They have also shown exceptional bravery. They put their lives at risk for their compatriots day after day, shift after shift. Consider, for example the city workers of New York City who take the subway daily to keep the city open and to do its essential work.

People all over the country, in every state, have obeyed government orders to stay at home, practice social distance, and take safety precautions. They understood and believed what the scientists and doctors told them, and they complied. They did this for many weeks, thereby saving tens of thousands of lives. As David Brooks has said, Americans are mostly together in fighting the pandemic; they are leading by their actions when their leaders stumble. Even in the states where the economy opened early, most people are acting cautiously and are continuing social distancing practices. In retrospect, it is remarkable that we have been able to segregate ourselves for as long and successfully as we did.

I wish to give a shout out to the creativity, artistry, and programming of people at home. People didn’t just sit there; they created and found ways to send messages of support, hope, and good cheer from their living rooms. Marvelous songs and videos issued forth.

The PBS news program, The Newshour, is doing remarkable work covering all aspects of the Pandemic. William Brangham conducts excellent depth interviews of first responders and medical personnel on the frontlines. Anna Nawaz hosts an “Ask Us” segment for callers with urgent questions about the virus. Judy Woodruff closes the hour with an “In Memoriam” segment honoring the lives of extraordinary people who lost their lives to the virus. Jeffrey Brown coordinates with Yo-Yo Ma an extraordinary “Songs of Comfort” program for the solace and joy of the citizenry. Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins do great work reporting on daily happenings in Washington. These are just some examples of the excellence of the Newshour. The 2020 Graduation program produced by CNN was another bright highlight in this difficult period. 

Learning Projects

Henry Thoreau’s complaint, as I understand it from Walden, is that the people of Concord (America) spend so much time working to satisfy vapid “wants” as to have none left for purposeful learning projects (nature studies and self development). Therefore, he proposed in a chapter entitled “Necessity” to find out how much time would be left for learning if a person declines wants and addresses only the needs that nature imposes. As I recall, he found that after building and furnishing his cabin, mending his clothes, and tending his garden, he still had three months or so of free time left to develop himself through learning. Ironically, Thoreau’s outcome of free time for learning, has just been imposed on us involuntarily by the pandemic in the form of forced home imprisonment. For parents with families, the lock down has surely brought with it more work demands than leisure. But most of the rest of us have acquired more time than we know what to do with.

I used some of my extra time for purposive learning. For example, after learning that Freeman Dyson, the physicist, had died, I rounded up all the Youtube interviews I could find about him. This introduced me to an interview/story telling series on famous physicists. I viewed some of those. Also, I watched Lawrence Krauss, a renowned physicist, explain how gravitational waves had been measured and proved by actual experiment.

While we rightly credit people for serious self-directed learning projects, I do more sloppy, random learning than anything purposeful. I surf the web. As a YouTube addict, I scan videos and double click the ones that attract me. Naturally, one learns all sorts of arcana this way. For example, I can claim to have attained a bit of knowledge during the pandemic of cricket (in Australia, England, and India); soccer in Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Spain, and England; Formula I racing in umpteen Grands Prix; birdcalls; trail camera videos; and boxing. I found a couple of singers in Papua, New Guinea I like. 

Here is a list of ten people I learned about during the pandemic. I wonder how many of them you can identify? Patricia Janečková; Carlos Tevez, Lewis Hamilton; Beix; Makali; Steven Gerrard; Max Verstappen; Tite; Clifton Chenier; and Naoya Inoue. I’d be surprised if a reader identified half the folks on the list. The memory of these particular people is probably unique to me, and I could easily add to it. The list represents less than half of my random learning in the time period. I’m sure your mind could as easily produce a unique list of notables. I’m ready on this thin basis to declare a truth about human minds: their existence and functioning are beyond amazing; they are impossible. Minds like ours shouldn’t exist considering the composition and complexity of the circuitry involved, but they do. As a Kurt Vonnegut character, an alien astronaut spy, said about us in amazement, their circuits are embedded in meat! It’s truly incredible what our minds can do when we let them work. We could do so much more with them than we do. It’s disappointing how little we get out of these remarkable—found only on earth—instruments!

I’ve recurrently been wrong about the pandemic, For instance, when I first learned that a novel virus was loose in China which was expected to reach the United States, I predicted that it wouldn’t hit Maine. Then, when infections showed up in other States, I guessed that fourteen or fifteen might occur in Maine. Then, when U.S deaths reached 50,000, I guessed that would be the limit. We’re over 104,000 U. S. deaths today, and Maine has had a lot more than fifteen cases. The state has had 2,325 confirmed cases to date; 89 of those have died. Reality seems to change everyday in this pandemic, which is disorienting and humbling. I try to be attentive to and knowledgeable about what’s happening, but, nevertheless, am surprised daily. No one can know what is going to happen.

Meditation Rituals

I find a bit of obsessive-compulsive behavior calming! For that I do two things. I compulsively watch a half hour of nature videos each day, usually produced by remote cameras located surreptitiously in jungles and swamps! Wilderness is peaceful and the birds and animals are free. Seeing them is joyful and good for the soul. I’ve written about this before. See my blog piece on Tim Harrell and his Trail Camera Pickup program, entitled “Interludes with Tim.” Also, I highly recommend a video described as the best documentary ever on Moose. Mainers, Newfoundlanders, trekkers, be prepared to radically change your view of moose!

The second ritual requires two computers. On one I bookmark and bring up on the dashboard an amazing website called Radio Garden. The site opens to a revolving globe showing continents, nations, and islands. On this model globe are ubiquitous green dots, each signifying a discrete radio station that can be turned on and listened to. There are stations everywhere, and they come in instantly and clear as a bell. I double click on a green dot! For example, I turn on a station in Tahiti and find that it is playing “Brown Girl in the Ring” (1979) by Boney M, a group I happened to have reacquainted myself with last year. Recently, I had beamed a link of their “Rivers of Babylon” (1978) to my granddaughter! What a delightful surprise. Indeed, it’s constantly amazing and joyful to listen to the wonderful music played all over the globe. A lot of it comes from the United States! On the second computer, I bring up a website that runs national tallies of confirmations and deaths from Covid-19. Next, I match the two: I pick a station and check the stats to see how the pandemic is hitting the home nation. Tahiti is an Island in French Polynesia. I find there have been 60 cases of infection. Every one recovered, no new cases recently, and no deaths! This ritual makes me feel closer to people around the globe. It is one world and the virus brings suffering to everyone. I find the practice enjoyable, surprising, calming, and, in French Polynesia’s case, reassuring. We truly are all in this together.

 Mourning the Dead

Large numbers haunt me, not least because the numbers of the inflicted and dead are going up fast, exponentially in some places. The individuality of the person is lost. Suffering is solitary. A large number today begets a larger number tomorrow, often increasing, as if by alchemy, by hundreds and thousands. I feel remote, uncaring, solitary, and helpless. I would like to be able to extend meaningful sympathy and comfort to the families involved. I wish the names of the victims could be published. I wish their lives could be celebrated. A continuous digital streamer comes to mind as a form, like the way headlines run continuously at the bottom of a cable news program, but that wouldn’t be appropriate. How will we individualize and memorialize the mass dead? 

After writing this paragraph, I discovered that the New York Times had just published a memorial that is better than anything I could have imagined. The piece, “An Incalculable Loss,” lists all victims of the disease by name, municipality, state, and date of death, with a short distinguishing identifier. Names are placed on the page in such a way as to suggest social distancing, marking the terrible loneliness of suffering, mourning and death. Here is the link.

I also cry for the young whose futures have been so suddenly and thoroughly curtailed, for the brave emergency responders and medical staff who minister to the afflicted day after day, and hour after endless hour, for the unemployed who have lost their income, and for the families whose members have suffered and died from this terrible virus. I cry for African Americans and Latino immigrants who as a consequence of racism have been hammered by the pandemic.

When the pandemic is past, I hope the public feels in every heart a deep appreciation for the people on the front lines of the pandemic who have done the military work of soldiering the society onward. They deserve not only our love and respect, but universal health care, stable, well-remunerated employment, and all the benefits our society and country have to offer.

Exposure and Inequality

Inequity angers me. The virus marches in and disproportionally kills poor people, indigenous people, people of color, nursing home patients, prisoners, uninsured people, exposed immigrants, the marginally employed and the homeless. Large companies get money intended for small businesses. The rich get more of everything than the poor. Good and loyal workers lose their jobs by the millions. Undervalued and unappreciated people do much of the “necessary” work at minimal wages. The pandemic fractures the social order and exposes longstanding injustices. As this is happening, refugee children crossing our borders are summarily deported back to where they came from without plan, regard for their safety, or the knowledge of relatives. 

It seems—but how could it possibly be true—that the authorities tested people in nursing homes, prisons, and meat packing plants (staffed by vulnerable immigrants) last. Just when the curve looked to be flattening and cases declining in the fifty states, mass infections are found in one or the other of these places where people are packed closely together, and off the numbers go skyward. What happened in those facilities? Investigations are needed.

A hell of our own making seems to be swimming right along aside the hell of the pandemic. What happens to patients we can’t see in hospital beds and nursing homes is dismaying and terrifying. But look at what officially sanctioned cruelty is happening out in the open. Where are our voices? Where is our shame? As we honor our fallen war heroes on Memorial Day, and mourn for the hundred thousand souls who have fallen to the virus in the last 100 days, let’s not forget the harms being imposed on innocent refugees and immigrants.

With all of this horror going on, as if that were not enough, a killer in policeman’s garb, with three associates and in front of witnesses, kneels on an unarmed, handcuffed man’s neck on a busy street for nine minutes until he is dead. Why? Because he’s black and they are white. When a murder this blatant happens in plain view, imagine the atrocities that happen when no one is looking. The ubiquity of mistreatment of black men by police explains why random protests of significant size have popped up all over the country. White identity is a centuries old pathology that twists the minds of its bearers and turns not a few into killers. Donald J. Trump, once taken to court for his unwillingness to rent to black people, has regularly dog-whistled the race card to his followers throughout his presidency.

Bold plans Needed

The havoc caused by the pandemic on lives, economies, and nations calls for resourceful leadership, wise policies and social invention. Children are at home and out of school. Unemployment is massive. Food lines form in cities. Mortgages and rents go unpaid. Small businesses are going out of business. Many have no paycheck or savings. Heath coverage disappears for the unemployed when the job disappears. The health insurance system is broken. 

If President Trump is unwilling to lead, and continues to erode the authority of public health authorities and governors, new leadership and better ideas will have to come from a successor government, which makes the November election all the more important. The times call for policies and programming comparable to the New Deal. Universal health care is an obvious need. A second Work Projects Administration (WPA) might be needed. The Green New Deal offers a powerful thought-out framework for redevelopment. A National Service system is a possibility. We should think big, and we should vote Donald Trump out of office. 

The Future

When humans turned traitor to nature, and replaced natural law with human authority, they decided to believe themselves in a crisis rather than exercise doubt. This bad habit is occasionally mitigated by science. When we listen to science and think as scientists think, we gain a fighting chance of acting on the basis of reality, reason, and fact. Science respects and admires nature and seeks with much success to learn its ways. Our civilization depends on science totally, and on the amazing technology it produces. Science is in fact indispensable to our way of life. Yet, we prefer religion and magic to science. We dismiss science from consciousness whenever we can. The Trump administration, and its fundamentalist supporters, dismiss science, reject climate science, and detest the concept of evolution. Scientists have been driven out of key posts in the administration. Science projects have been defunded.

When the pandemic occurred, science—particularly epidemiology, biology, medicine, and public health—assumed the mantle of necessary guide. As a consequence, the spirit and advice of science held sway over public policy for a few months in the form of public health protocols. But now ideology, magic, conspiracy theories, and religion are returning to center stage in politics. Science is being displaced. While the majority of people still follow the advice of scientists, the President and his followers are pretending the pandemic is over. Ignorant voices are gaining ascendancy. As science and caution are set aside, nature will do the teaching, and the lessons are likely to be bitter and hard. We should know better than to treat nature as an enemy.

As the pandemic progresses, I’m increasingly pessimistic. Leaders are telling the citizenry it’s safe to “reopen” the economy when the science doesn’t support it. Folks are resuming their old practices, but too soon. We’re listening to sincere but untrained voices. The pandemic is just getting started. It could mushroom, as it seems to be doing in Brazil, where new cases are nearing 30,000 a day. What’s going to happen in India? What about Africa? Who knows?

We must and probably will stop the virus, through medicine and the development of a vaccine. This could take years, but should not require decades. I expect we will misstep spectacularly along the way.

Pandemic dashboards—virtual, real time, tally sheets on the pandemic— provide the best antidote I know of to orient ourselves and guide conduct. The ones operated by the New York Times and Johns Hopkins University are excellent, and there are others. Consulting one regularly is the best way to avoid wishful thinking about the virus. Scanning the stats before breakfast and again at bedtime should convince anyone that the pandemic is real, large, and spreading. The sum of infections and deaths across the globe is the best measure at any point in time of the extent and status of the pandemic. As of 12:48 am. EST today, June 1, the figures for the planet are 6,166,978 infections by the Covid-19 virus and 372,037 deaths. 104,383 of those deaths happened in the United States. The “new cases” metric is the best marker of all on the status of the pandemic. 97,538 new cases were confirmed yesterday. This number is undoubtedly an undercount!.

Best wishes to all. Take good care.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

June 1, 2020

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good

2 thoughts on “Pandemic Ramble

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  1. Will, I love your writing, I love your thinking but most of all I love our dialog over the years especially in re leadership. You were on the planet for a whole year before I arrived so it is no surprise that we might see government a bit differently. You will recall Dr. Dean Fisher. He was my boss soon after I arrived in Maine. I loved being one of his lieutenants but it was short lived and we all moved into the morass of governments where we now reside. In regard to your latest post, you are right, it is too long. I should have taken your suggestion and read a little each day but …………
    I will have to reread your words more than once in order hear what you say. I too am working on brevity after many years of too many words. I saw your comment on my previous posts and am delighted that we can shout at each other across the world of BLOG and maybe even be heard above the din. By the way, I’m convinced that is the role of us old farts. To share what we have learned and to insist that we all keep learning. There is a turkey in my garden with a dozen chicks as I write. She is teaching survival. My next post will be brief and focus on the same topic. I’ll try to post it by the week end. Jim

  2. Jim. It’s amazing how lives intersect. While I can’t remember the year (1968?), I applied for some big job in the Department, for which I was totally unqualified, Dean Fisher interviewed me, chose me for the position, offered me a big salary, and tried his best to get me to accept it. I must have been at Clark University at the time where I had done some things in community health, like train poor people for positions on the boards of Worcester’s hospitals. At the same time, the new UMass Medical School had offered me a job heading up their community health program, but they that required that I take a Masters in Public Health program to keep it. So I had two job offers for which I was unqualified! Instead, I took a job as a Sociology Professor at the University of Maine, Machias, and, as the saying goes, the rest is history!

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