When the Coronavirus is Personal

By happenstance we ran into an old friend Monday who told us from behind a face mask six feet away that he had recently recovered from COVID-19, and been given clearance by his doctor to start running into people again. He further informed us his wife, also a friend of ours, who already had plenty of serious health problems, was still recovering in a nearby hospital but had at least been taken off the ventilator.
We have other friends who stubbornly insist that the seriousness if not the existence of coronavirus is a hoax promulgated by an alarmist fake news media as another witch hunt against President Donald Trump, and they like to ask if we even know anyone who’s gotten sick. The aforementioned friends are the second and third people we know who have been among the nearly two and a half million COVID-19 cases, and although we don’t yet know anyone among the more than 120,000 Americans who have died from the disease we’re inclined to regard the coronavirus as a truly serious problem.
Politics and other weaknesses of human nature have proved ineradicable throughout history, though, and those instincts overwhelm a dispassionate assessment of the data. The coronavirus is indeed a pressing political problem for President Donald Trump, and his most ardent admirers feel obliged to somehow explain why it’s all fake news. Some still cling to the theory that all the federal health authorities and and the state and local health authorities and all the doctors and nurses on duty in America’s hospitals are in on a “deep state” plot to make Trump look bad, but most attempt more reasonable arguments. The coronavirus does indeed exist and has infected a couple of million or so and killed more 120,000 or so, they acknowledge, but they argue that in the grand scheme of things that’s not so bad, and no reason to continue any anti-coronavirus measures.
After all, this is in a country of more than 330 million people, with some 47 or 50 million of them unemployed and eager to get back to work, and pretty much everyone is itching to get back to going to concerts and sporting events and campaign rallies and social justice protests and running into people within six feet and without face masks. Federal and state and local restrictions on personal behavior for public health reasons are predictably widely unpopular, and it’s understandable why Trump has seemingly staked his reelection on flouting those rules and encouraging others to do so as well.
For now, though, it seems a losing argument. All the polls show most Americans are taking the coronavirus quite seriously, Trump’s handling of the problem has majority disapproval, and a mere 6,200 of his most ardent admirers signed a form waiving the Trump campaign’s liability for any sickness or death to attend an indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Trump is hugely popular but coronavirus cases have lately been doubling every day, The fans in attendance loved it when Trump drank from a glass of water with one and not spilling a drop on his silk tie, but his rally speech in a time of coronavirus didn’t do him much good with any potential new voters.
Trump had plenty of people to blame for the current sorry state of affairs, but at his first coronavirus rally he didn’t outline any specific plan to resume economic activity while keeping the coronavirus in check. To be fair, none of the damned Democrats have done so. Which leaves us worried, and wondering what might come on Election Day, if that happens. In the meantime, we’ll be praying for all of our friends, and everyone else.

— Bud Norman

The Day After Memorial Day

The weather around here was awful on Memorial Day, which for some damn meteorological reason is an annual tradition, and although it was only a cold steady rain rather than twohe usual severe thunderstorm it was enough to keep most people inside. Around most of the country the weather was more welcoming, and so far as we can tell from the news many thousands of people went into the world as it if were it just another Memorial Day.
One can well understand why, as a house is awfully confining after a couple of months or so and people have a natural need to interact with other people, and Memorial Day is traditionally a time for drinking beer and charcoaling beef and enjoying friends and warm summer weather, while giving a passing moment’s thought to the fallen heroes who made it possible. Had the weather been better around here, we’d have been tempted to do the same.
Except for the predictably awful weather this Memorial Day seemed different, though, in the same way that last Easter seemed different, and that the next Independence Day might seem as desultorily different. There’s a virus going around the entire world that has already killed nearly 100,000 Americans, which is more than died in every American war since Vietnam, and although the rate of deaths has been steadily declining over the past few weeks it’s still out there and finding new hot spots in rural America. There’s also a case to be made, which all the credentialed experts are currently making, that the decline in deaths is due to people having kept their distance from one another these past grueling months, and that if everyone resumes getting together at the beaches and lakes and bars and churches to commingle their germs there will be another spike in deaths in a few weeks..
All the recent lack of human interaction has taken a terrible toll on the world’s and America’s economy, with our unemployment rate and gross domestic product rates currently at Great Depression levels, and late spring and early summer is often so very enticing, so there’s a predictable and persuasive push for getting back to business as usual. There’s also a predictable pushback from people more concerned about another spike in deaths, and of course that’s the political debate du jour.
These days we’re mostly stuck at home and find ourselves relegated to the political sidelines, with no rooting interest in President Donald Trump’s full-steam-ahead and damn-the-coronavirus strategy, nor the Democrats’ most alarmist voices. and for now we’re making our decisions about about how to buy beer and other essential groceries according to our best inexpert judgement. our guess is that things won’t be nearly back to normal even by autumn’s Election Day, if that comes to pass, and it will probably come down to a referendum on who deserves the blame.
Until then, we hope you and all of your loved ones have a happy summer and a healthy fall. and that the center somehow holds.

— Bud Norman

The Upcoming Contentious Election

Our hope is that the coronavirus miraculously disappears in time for American voters to safely visit their local polling places, but we’re not so hopeful about that we aren’t thinking about how to run a fair election just in case. One possible solution is having registered voters cast their ballots by mail, and although we don’t like it we’d prefer that to not voting at all.
President Donald Trump seems to disagree. He’s recently “tweeted” threats that he would withhold federal disaster funding from Nevada and Michigan unless they abandon plans for widespread voting mail, saying that it’s illegal and an invitation to voter fraud, He’s not made any such threats against several states that have Republican governors and are more likely to give their electoral votes to Trump, but we’ll assume that’s because those states have systems that are tamper-proof and perfectly legal.
Even so, something about Trump’s stand offends our traditional conservative sensibilities. American elections have long been run by state and local officials, which is in keeping with federalist traditions and has long bolstered the public’s faith in the voting process because they’e easier to keep an eye on, which is the sort of time-honed thing that conservatives once wanted to conserve. A president strong-arming state and local officials for arguably self-interested reasons is another thing conservatives used to grouse about, and we’re not going to abandon that principle for the likes of Trump. Trump is also “tweeting” threats to defund the United States Postal Service, a constitutionally-mandated function of the federal government, and we’ve got conservative objections to that.
Pretty much every Michigander we’ve ever known have been delightful people, and Trump’s specific targeting of their state strikes us as very stupid. Michigan has seen a large number of coronavirus cases and Covid-19 fatalities, its manufacturing-based economy has been worse than decimated by the economic downturn, the central third of the state is literally underwater after a 500-year-rain storm and dam failure caused by lack of state and federal infrastructure spending. Given that Michigan gave its electoral votes to Trump last time, albeit by the slimmest of margins, we can’t see how withholding much-needed federal disaster aid feuding with Michigan’s more-popular-than-he-is Democratic governor and a state Attorney General who seems on solid legal footing by mailing applicati,s to vote for is going to help him in the state.
Trump and his more articulate allies can make a compelling case that voting by mail permits potential voter fraud, but they made the same arguments when Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million last time around, and we retain some faith in American ingenuity. Let Michigan and Nevada and all those Republican states come up with their own solutions for holding an election in time of potential plague, and let all those neighbors who are Democrats and Republicans and kooks work it out on the state and local level, where we can better keep an eye on them. Some good might come of it.
No matter what the United States collectively come up with not everyone will be satisfied. That’s partly due to humankind’s infallibility and even more to do with humankind’s tendency to think the universe is rigged. Trump will contest the results even if he wins, the Democratic nominee might well have some legitimate objections if he loses, and in either case much of a divided country will regard their democratic republic as illegitimate. The legitimacy of our of democratic republic is the thing we most wanted to conserve in our political life, and we’d hate to see it become another victim of the coronavirus.

— Bud Norman

How Science Stuff Works

President Donald Trump made a surprising announcement on Monday that he’s been ingesting hydroxychloroquine for nearly two weeks to ward off the coronavirus. Assuming he is telling the truth, which is by no means a safe assumption, we can only wonder why the hell Trump would do that.
Hydroxychloroquine has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as either a prophylaxis or cure against the disease caused by coronavirus, and early scientific results from Veterans Administration hospitals and other hospitals here and abroad have found that covid-19 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine were more likely to die than other patients and have an increased risk of potentially fatal heart problems. Given such empirical evidence, those nosy “fake news” reporters from the “lame stream media” naturally asked why Trump was taking the drug.
I think it’s good,” Trump explained, choosing not to dodge the question by insulting the reporter. “I’ve heard a lot of good stories. And if it’s not good, I’ll tell you right. I’m not going to get hurt by it. It’s been around for 40 years.”
Trump is correct that hydroxychloroquine has been around for a while, as a provenly effective response to malaria and lupus and other obscure diseases, but that doesn’t mean it’s any more effective against coronavirus than it might be again pancreatic cancer or the common cold or dishpan hands. Those peskey reporters couldn’t resist a follow up question about what evidence Trump had to justify his actions.
“Here we go, are you ready? Here’s my evidence,” Trump defiantly replied, eschewing his usual insults about the reporter. “I get a lot of positive calls about it. The only negative I’ve heard was the study where they gave it — was it the VA with, you know, people that aren’t big Trump fans gave it.”
Trump had an uncle who was a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institutes of Technology and according to his unsubstantiated claims all the scientists at the Cwnters for Disease Control were awed by his scientific knowledge, and he claims to be a very stable genius with a very big, ugh, brain. We’ve taken this into consideration, but remain unassured that our president has the the slightest idea about what he’s saying.
Our dad was an outstanding avionics engineer and his dad was an autodidact oil patch foreman who famously figured out how to extinguish an oil well inferno, but you wouldn’t want us anywhere near your airplane or oil patch fire. A friend who’s a former professor at Harvard and currently runs the University of Texas’ genetic engineering program once opined we’re the smartest guy he knew, but that was more due to our witty repartee than anything useful, and we don’t claim to be very stable geniuses or have a very big, uh, brain. We did pass some seventh and eighth grade science courses despite some surprisingly rigorous public school teachers, though, and can confidently spot all sorts of fallacies in the President of the United States’ reasoning.
You’ll all hear all sorts of great things about lots of things from lots of people, but in our desultory experience of life as fairly intelligent people on that doesn’t mean they’re all true. We learned enough in the seventh and eight grades to know that you need control groups an double-blind testing and peer review and replication of methodology and all that other scientific mumbo-jumbo to reach a reasonable conclusion. We also confidently know enough to not reject advice just because it came from people who disagree with us on political or other matters.
And since when is the VA “people that aren’t big Trump fans”? The only reason the VA has distressing data about hydroxychloquine is because it’s been using it with Covid-19 patients, and the most likely reason for that is they were following Trump’s expert if entirely unscientific recommendations. So far they’ve not tried Trump’s suggestions of ingesting household disinfectants to either prevent or cure the coronavirus, nor has Trump, and we’re glad of that.
At this point our best hope is the President of the United States is once again lying his ass off by talking about taking hydroxychloroquine and recommending it for everyone. Why he would do that, though, raises more questions.
One possible explanation is that Trump and his family have a stake in the company that makes hydroxychloroquine. It’s only a small stake, providing only a tiny portion of the wealth Trump makes unsubstantiated claims about owning, and you’d have to be pretty darned cynical to think Trump would endanger the public health for such a relatively mere pittance. When you’re the only president in decades who hasn’t has put his wealth into a blind trust to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, however, such cynics as ourselves feel free to point it out. Some people are saying, you know.
The more likely explanation is that way back when the coronavirus had only killed a couple thousand Americans Trump touted hydroxychloroquine as a “game changer” that would solve all of his and the country’s problems, and that something in his stubborn nature won’t allow him to back off a claim. Trump demoted the government scientist in charge of finding a coronavirus vaccine after the scientist disputed Trump’s claims about hydroxychloroqine, saying he didn’t know the guy but had “heard bad things,” and even though hydroxychloroquine had faded from the news cycle Trump does not let feuds die.
We’re admittedly laymen about all this, but our best advice is to not stay home and wash your hands and not ingest hydroxychloroguine or household disinfectants and hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

The Lonesome Death of La David Johnson

The death of Army Sgt. La David Johnson was an American tragedy, and now it’s the latest political brouhaha.
Johnson and Staff Sergeants Bryan Black, Jeremiah Johnson, and Dustin Wright were killed on Oct. 4 by an ambush attack in Niger, where they were apparently on an intelligence-gathering mission against the Boko Haram terror gang. The deaths were given scant attention by the national media, and didn’t warrant a single presidential mention until Monday. At a brief press conference President Donald Trump was asked about the 12 days of silence, and of course his response put the story on all the front pages and the top of everybody’s news hour.
Rather than directly answer the question Trump said that his predecessors had routinely failed to offer any condolences to the families of fallen soldiers, which was promptly refuted and quickly backtracked to some extent, but Trump also demanded the press ask his Chief of Staff about how his son’s death in combat was handled by President Barack Obama, who turns out to have invited the family to a seat of honor a memorial dinner, so that was enough for another day of outraged stories. Trump then did get around to calling the Johnson family, but wound up accused of being disrespectful.
Among the people listening in on the call was Democratic Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson, who coincidentally has had a long and close relationship with the Johnsons, and the told reporters that Trump had callously told Johnson’s widow and the aunt who had raised him as a son that “he knew what he was signing up for,” and that his references to “your guy” rather than Sgt. Jonson or La David had the led the widow to believe that Trump didn’t know her husband’s name. Trump responded with a “tweet” that Wilson was lying, and alleging he had proof, but press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later acknowledge Trump did not have a recording of the call and assured the media that just because Trump kept referring to Johnson as “your guy” did not mean he didn’t know the name. The aunt soon corroborated Wilson’s account of the call, and that was enough for another day of outraged stories.
Wilson is a partisan Democrat ¬†who strikes us as slightly kooky, and for all we know the grieving aunt is as well, but what they allege Trump said does sound an awful lot like something he might say. Offering empathy and carefully-worded condolences in times of tragedy is not one of Trump’s strong suits.
He infamously dismissed the heroic sacrifice of Sen. John McCain’s extra years in a hellish North Vietnamese prison camp by saying “I like guys who’d didn’t get captured, OK?” He publicly ridiculed the parents of a Muslim American soldier who died fighting in Iraq after they dared speak against him at the Democratic National Convention. When a hurricane left Puerto Rico underwater and without electrical power he “tweeted” about the island’s debt and laziness, lambasted the mayor of the capital city, tossed papers towel into a crowd of suddenly homeless refugees, told individual survivors to “have a good time,” then “tweeted” that the federal relief won’t last forever. He also waited 12 long days of golf and “twitter” feuds with with National Football League players and fellow Republicans before mentioning the four deaths in Niger, and then only because a reporter had asked about it, and there’s still no explanation for that.
The press has other stories, too. Trump promised a personal $25,000 check to the grieving father of a fallen soldier who had been excluded from the Army’s family benefits because of a divorce, but that was last June and the check didn’t get sent until The Washington Post reported the unkept promise on Wednesday, which recalls another and much bigger check that Trump promised to veterans organizations but went unsent until The Washington Post weighed in. The president’s chief of staff has long been careful to keep his son’s tragic death out of the news, too, and his continued silence on the subject has also been noteworthy.
As much as we hate to see the tragic deaths of those four brave Americans become a political brouhaha, we’re glad to see that at least they’re being prominently mentioned in the news. There are valid questions about the nature of the mission they’d been sent on, what sort of intelligence failures led to their demise, what America is doing in a place called Niger in the first place, and why the administration was not more forthcoming with answers. We don’t doubt that there are valid answers, and that some of them can’t be offered without revealing classified information that might put other brave American soldiers at risk, but the grieving families and the public at large deserve that cautious explanation and some carefully-worded empathy. So long as the Trump administration can’t muster that, we expect it will suffer at least a few more days of outraged stories.

— Bud Norman