COVID 19 and Science Denialism

“Isn’t it sad that you can tell people that the ozone layer is being depleted, the forests are being cut down, the deserts are advancing steadily, that the greenhouse effect will raise the sea level 200 feet, that overpopulation is choking us, that pollution is killing us, that nuclear war may destroy us – and they yawn and settle back for a comfortable nap. But tell them that the Martians are landing, and they scream and run.” Isaac Asimov, The Secret of the Universe

As of today, May 20th, 2020, COVID 19 has killed 324,962 worldwide.  Almost a third of those deaths, 93,533, have occurred in the United States.  We are currently conducting what I call the Grand Experiment here in the States.  In spite of the unanimous opinion of scientists and doctors, we are opening the United States back up, giving the virus back vectors that allowed it to spread and quickly threaten to overcome both the healthcare system here in the states as well as other healthcare systems around the world.  In the interest of higher stock prices, we are willing to risk both American lives and the sure destruction of the economy if the virus gets out of control.

Donald Trump has called this effort a “war”.  His critics claim he is simply using hyperbole so as to cement his legacy as a “war-time” President. In this instance, however, I agree with him.  Invaders can take all forms and come at us in many different ways. It doesn’t necessarily have to be rival gangs of mammals equipped with guns, aircraft, and explosives.  It could be an invasive species of insect that preys on insects beneficial to our agriculture or, as with the Zika virus, the insects can transmit a virus directly. In the case of the Coronavirus which causes COVID 19, we are the carriers as the virus spreads throughout our environment. So this is a war in every sense of the word; our opponent uses stealth so it is invisible.  Science, until it develops a vaccine or a treatment, such as Tamiflu for the influenza virus, has given us clear instructions on how to slow down the spread and, when followed to the letter as the South Koreans did, even stop it in its tracks.

Most countries have recognized the seriousness of this Pandemic and followed the science.  Three countries, the United States, Russia, and Brazil have not.  We are about to experience the full force of the virus while Brazil and Russia are at the very cusp. While the United States still leads the world in the number of new daily cases, 20,289, Brazil is second with 16,517, and Russia is third with 9,263.  Brazil is poised to start passing the United States in many of the categories, the most sobering being new deaths each day.  It is interesting that all three countries are led by a self-proclaimed Strong Man who is quite willing to ignore the scientists and other experts and instead follow his ‘instincts’.

While I could write volumes on Putin or Bolsonaro, living here in the United States I am way more concerned with the consequences here.  Each day the internet is filled with right-wing websites, blogs, and social media pages vilifying the science and the scientists who are tasked with fighting this war against COVID 19.  Their recommendations are viewed as liberal assaults on ‘freedoms’.  The issue of wearing a protective mask illustrates this anti-science/anti-expert sentiment like nothing else.  It is as if there were Londoners during the blitz who refused to turn their lights off to help stymie the German bombing runs in the name of ‘freedom’. No one could be that stupid, you say?  Hold to that claim and I can guarantee the right-wing in this country will make a fool out of you. Even if a vaccine is developed, it is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans would refuse it.  Why you ask?  Because the anti-vax community has convinced them that this is a surreptitious way of introducing a microchip into people in order to track their every move.  This they tweet, post, and IM from their cell phones that they willingly carry around with them everywhere they go.  Mad, isn’t it?

“I have always found it quaint and rather touching that there is a movement [Libertarians] in the US that thinks Americans are not yet selfish enough.”
― Christopher Hitchens

There is an exception to this anti-science rhetoric by the right-wing.  One of the more common canards you hear is that modern medicine is hiding the cure for cancer and that all one needs to do is a search on Google and YouTube for both the proof of this claim and, more importantly, for the myriad of cures that are out there. One of my favorites is German New Medicine which claims, among other things, that “mainstream medicine is regarded as a conspiracy promulgated by Jews.”  You can find out about it and others here.  There is a notable exception to this narrative about cancer and the medical community. It happens when they or a loved one gets diagnosed with the disease.  Gone are the posts about the nefarious medical mafia and their schemes.  Suddenly we are all extorted to pray for the doctors so God will guide their hands and to pray for the unfortunate victims.  They sit silently in front of the cancer surgeons, oncologists, and radiologists, mouths shut, hanging on every word. “We must pay close attention and do what we are told by the experts in order to beat this terrible disease.” But what about the coffee enemas?  “Shut up, you are not a doctor!”  Sorry, I was just repeating what you told me a few months ago.

You can cut the hypocrisy with the same knife the surgeon uses to remove the cancer.

Elizabeth Warren’s moment in history

The Impeachment Trial of Donald Trump is still underway as I write this.  It seems that the trial will reach its conclusion in a few days with no witnesses being called or newly, available evidence being admitted.  Of the three impeachment proceedings (Johnson, Clinton, and Trump) only Trump’s impeachment will fail to call any witnesses or allow any new evidence to be introduced.  History will judge all the actors including Elizabeth Warren, who’s question to Chief Justice Roberts might be the moment that history remembers above all else.  She asked, “At a time when large majorities of Americans have lost faith in government, does the fact that the chief justice is presiding over an impeachment trial in which Republican senators have thus far refused to allow witnesses or evidence contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the chief justice, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution?” You can hear Chief Justice Roberts read the question out loud here. The chagrin on his face is quite noticeable.

There are moments when History beckons a person onto its stage and this was one of those moments. Senator Warren rose to the occasion and delivered a performance in the form of a simple question that will echo down the halls of history. She took a stand for the Constitution and the gravity of these events, the Senate trial of Donald J Trump. History will remember this trial and will remember Senator Warren as a Senator who stood up against the partisanship which disgraced these proceedings. This was her moment to be Presidential and she seized the moment.  I have a newly found respect for her.

 

 

The Egregious Lies of Lindsey Graham

I watched an interview today of Lindsey Graham stating the Senate trial is not blocking any witnesses; his claim was that the House never called them so it is not incumbent on the Senate to call them and by doing so “legitimizing the House choosing not to call a witness”.  Further, if the Senate decided to call them it would deal the courts out of “a judicial review of impeachment”.  You can listen to Senator Graham for yourself here.  I have not heard a more pungent instantiation of Orwell’s NewSpeak than these few seconds of Lindsay Graham speaking to reporters.  He claims the House did not call witnesses?  They sure did and in the official manner of calling witnesses:  the subpoena.  A list of those subpoenaed, including Vice President Mike Pence, can be found here.

This ‘spit in the face of all Americans’ tactic by Senator Graham should prompt every American, regardless of political affiliation, to ask cui bono. Cui bono is a Latin phrase which rendered into English means, “who benefits?”.  Graham, along with every other Senator and member of Congress were acutely aware of every subpoena issued by the House during its Impeachment investigation.  To turn around a few weeks later and to lie that ‘no witnesses were called’ does not call for outrage, although it certainly deserves that, rather, it calls for intense scrutiny into the financial dealings of every Senator and member of Congress who propagate these lies.  This is not simply partisanship.  Impeachment is a solemn Constitutional duty of every elected official when the political milieu is such that the very existence of the Republic is threatened. The process of impeachment was put into the Constitution to safeguard the Republic, not the Republican party. The Founders worst fears, that a sitting President would use the office for personal gain or that a sitting President would be beholden to a foreign power is the milieu in which the Republic finds itself in today.

What could cause people such as Lindsay Graham to turn their backs on their oath of office and the oath the swore just a few days ago to be fair and impartial jurors?  What could cause people such as Senator McConnell to announce he would work with the White House and promise an acquittal?  Here is where I believe this is just another area where we all can see the Citizens United ruling rearing its ugly head.  It is easy to abandon one’s principles while untold millions of dollars are pouring into your pockets.  This is why every American should be out in the streets demanding an accounting of how much money each and every Senator and member of congress is getting and who is the entity giving it.  Our Republic is too valuable to be sold to the highest bidder by filth like Lindsay Graham and others.  It is high time we put a stop to this before we find ourselves unwilling participants living in an Orwellian nightmare.

 

Review |Beyond God – Why Religions are False, Outdated and Dangerous by Peter Klein

Beyond God - Why Religions are False, Outdated and DangerousBeyond God – Why Religions are False, Outdated and Dangerous by Peter Klein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great subtitle to this book would be, “An Antitheist Manifesto.” Peter Kline has written a book that is required reading for secular activists. Contained within its 266 pages is a point by point evisceration of religion and the harm it causes across the spectrum of human existence. Not just informative, this book is both inspirational and practical. Each chapter discusses how religion and its barbaric views poison just about every area of human life. Example after example is given along with the plethora of religious texts that support these backward and draconian views. This is also one of the best books to give to your religious family and friends when they ask about why you hold such stringent views towards religion.

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Trump’s Maginot Line

As we enter the longest shutdown of the U.S. government in our country’s history over the building of a wall spanning the US-Mexico border one wonders how shutting down the government and causing so much pain to almost a million Federal employees is going to force Mexico to pay for this wall as was promised on the campaign trail by Donald Trump.  To be sure, in classic Orwellian fashion, Trump, while admitting he said during his campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall in the same breath denies that he said during his campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall.

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But what is this wall Trump is so hellbent on building no matter how many Americans he hurts in the process?  The wall has gone through various iterations and as of this writing it has become a fence built with steel slats.  Its purpose is to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, drugs, and human trafficking from Mexico which now, according to Trump, have reached emergency proportions although the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) DHS Border Security Metrics Report says otherwise.  Quoting the report, “Figure 2 depicts available data on estimated undetected unlawful entries for FY 2006 – FY 2016, the years for which data are available. As the figure indicates, estimated undetected unlawful entries fell from approximately 851,000 to nearly 62,000 during this period, a 93 percent decrease.”

figure 2

Trump is proposing building a modern day Maginot Line, a multi-billion dollar wall  rather than investing in the technologies and methodologies that, as anyone can see, works in reducing the amount of illegals successfully getting across the border.

The Maginot Line, named after the French Minister of War André Maginot, was a 943 mile long wall of fortifications built along the French-German border in the 1930s intended to deter German aggression against France.  As history shows, specifically images of German troops marching as conquerors past the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, it was considerably less effective than was originally thought. It has become a metaphor for expensive efforts that offer a false sense of security.

Trump, ignoring all factual evidence, is proposing to build a modern day version of the Maginot Line on our Southern border claiming it will work where all other attempts to use a wall on scales such as this have not worked. What has worked is an investment in the most modern technology and efficacious methodologies that employ them.  Opponents of the Maginot Line, most notably such as Paul Reynaud and Charles de Gaulle, argued for investments in other technologies such as armor and aircraft to repel the German forces and the war against Germany may have had a different outcome had their suggestions been heeded.  The historical legacy of the Maginot Line was that it was an extremely expensive way to provide the French people a false sense of security.  Trump’s wall, a modern day Maginot Line, will do exactly the same.

Review | The View From Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America by Sarah Kendzior

The View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten AmericaThe View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America by Sarah Kendzior

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“…and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

This book is a collection of essays written between 2012 and 2014 covering subjects including the collapse of the US economy, the loss of opportunities, the shrinking middle class, and the transformation of higher education into a debt trap by the super rich. While the book is focused mainly on ‘flyover country’ also called the mid-west or the ‘rust belt’ it will also ring true with those in such places as Williamsburg and Greenpoint Brooklyn, where gentrification has pushed out middle class families some of which had lived there for generations. The author successfully predicted the election of Donald Trump and each essay describes the angst that motivated disillusioned voters to cast their vote for him. To be sure, his populist rhetoric set fire to the simmering anger you could easily see at his rallies but populism is a plant that can only grow in a specific type of soil. These essays describe the soil in which his message took hold.

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Review |Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

Homo Deus: A Brief History of TomorrowHomo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this book the author delves into the perilous depths of predicting the future. Regardless of where you come down on the issues and his prognostications you will be thinking about this book long after you have put it down. The author takes two technologies still in their beginning stages, biotechnology and data processing coupled with ever more powerful AI algorithms and extrapolates the impact these two fields will have to economics, humans and the value of human life. The author uses a broad brush so the reader gets everything from the ‘rose colored glasses’ scenario to a bleak dystopian future chronicling the last days of the human race. One comes away with the impression that both scenarios are possible; it all depends on who gets their hands on the technology first and their subsequent ability to control it.

Of particular interest to me were the authors treatment of two subjects: free will and Humanism. Discussions regarding free will have become increasingly popular with a number of authors such as Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett recently releasing books on the subject. Dr. Harari’s treatment of free will is as good an introduction as I’ve seen to the subject. His treatment of Humanism is even better and, while I still have some issues with specifics he has forced me to rethink some of my assumptions and change some of my views. I would love to see Dr. Harari’s next book delve deep into Humanism. His historical approach to understanding a subject would work quite well with Humanism and add a great deal of value to the current discussions.

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Review | Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy by Jonah Goldberg

Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American DemocracySuicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy by Jonah Goldberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“A Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.”
― John Adams, Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife

This book is a great conversation starter and conversations are what are sorely needed at this point in our country’s history. Casting aside the “it can’t happen here” head-in-the-sand position the author shows that yes, Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics can and are happening here and, more importantly gives a lucid and powerful explanation why this is so and what we need to do to counter them.

This is first and foremost a secular argument; the author states plainly in the beginning of the book that you will not find God in these pages. This is befitting for a number of reasons. First, it puts the ideas of casting people in the “good” and “evil” camps, which is the surest way to end a conversation and start an argument, on the shelf. Secondly, a secular nation such as ours deserves a secular argument when defending the principles it is based on. These principles are the principles that came out of the enlightenment and are a scant few hundred years old. In contrast, our species is tens of thousands of years old and the societal systems we have evolved under are what we call Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics. They “feel” right to us. In contrast, the Enlightenment values of inalienable rights, democracy and the rule of law are foreign to our intuitions and, as such, take work. Work to understand them, work to implement them and work to keep them as the principles of our society. The arguments put forth in defense of this conjecture are lucid and powerful. One may not agree with everything but you will have your work cut out for you rebutting them. Sophistry and jingoism won’t do.

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Review |The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom by Michael Shermer

The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and FreedomThe Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom by Michael Shermer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting read/listen. Shermer presents a number of arguments to show and explain the apparent correlation between the advance of science and the advance of our moral sensibilities. Having considered Shermer’s arguments I am still not fully convinced that it is the rise of science and reason that is informing and driving the moral insights of society and is the prime mover of ‘bending the moral arc’ as Shermer calls it. We have had science and scientific progress in any number of societies over the course of history; the Chinese and the Arab world are two that come to mind yet there was no corresponding rise in either the standard of living or moral sensibilities which mimic Western society over the past 100 years. While I would agree that science is a necessary condition for moral progress to occur I don’t think that Shermer makes the case that it is a sufficient condition.

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Review | LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media

LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social MediaLikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media by P.W. Singer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

LikeWars is a well written, well researched and penetrating analysis on how powerful social media has become in influencing society, politics and our perceptions of what is real and what is not. More importantly, it attempts to chart a trajectory of how social media will evolve in the future and powerful role artificial intelligence (AI), specifically neural networks, will play in determining that trajectory. The solutions presented by the authors to the issues we are facing and will face are as insightful as their observations. I would hope that every educator and policy maker here in the United States would read this book and be motivated to take action.

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