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

Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

Another earthquake rattled our old house today, and we still haven’t quite become accustomed to it. It only lasted a few seconds, and doesn’t seem to have done any noticeable damage around here, and residents of Los Angeles and Tokyo and Teheran and other earthquake-prone places probably wouldn’t have thought it worth mentioning, but during our first half-century here on the once-solid plains this sort of thing was unheard of, and even after the last few years of earthquakes becoming a rather regular occurrence it’s still a topic of local conversation.
Before the local old media could provide official confirmation that an earthquake measuring 4.5 on the Richter scale had emanated toward us from the not far away small town of Crescent, Oklahoma, we were happily assured that weren’t going crazy by all the alarmed posts on our Facebook page. Folks of various degrees of familiarity spread across the entire city were describing the same unsettling phenomena we experienced, with most of them sounding even more rattled that we had been, and of course more than a few them were assuming that all the “fracking” going on down in Oklahoma was to blame.
We remain agnostic about the theory, as we have to admit that the earthquakes didn’t start around here until the “fracking” did, while at the same time we can’t help noticing that earthquakes are happening in all sorts of unlikely places where no “fracking” is going on and that “fracking” is going on in places that aren’t experiencing earthquakes. Most of the scientists who presumably know more than us about these sorts of things are admirably frank that they don’t know what’s going on either, and we rather like having the local convenience stores selling gasoline for $2.41 a gallon, and would be quite annoyed by paying $4 a gallon for Iranian oil and still experiencing an occasional earthquake if the theory is wrong, so we aren’t jumping to any conclusions. Still, we can understand the temptation to believe that there’s something we can do.
One of those Facebook friends from the local university was angrily demanding that these earthquakes be immediately stopped, just as his preferred presidential candidate vowed to stop the rise of the oceans, and if it were truly that simple we’d probably go along as well. Few things in life are so simple, however, and if more of them were we’d also be demanding an end to the tornados and hail storms and droughts and floods and miserably cold winter nights and swelteringly hot summer days that are the more traditional banes of Kansas life. The tornados and hail storms have lately been unusually and quite pleasantly uncommon around here, despite the dire predictions of our university-affiliated friend’s preferred presidential candidate, and last winter was no colder than usual and this summer has been only as hot as our lifetime’s average, with no recent floods but enough rain to bring an unmistakable end to the most recent drought, and the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye and the bumper wheat crops have helped with the state’s budgetary woes. A lifetime on the prairie has left us in awe of nature’s power and skeptical of mankind’s, so we can’t quell a certain suspicion that the former has more to do with these occasional rumblings of the earth than the latter, and we’ll patiently await the conclusions of those scientists who supposedly know more about this stuff than we do. In the meantime we’ll be checking the basement for cracks and perusing the news for about the more consequential earthquakes that seem to keep happing elsewhere, and hope that our brother in southern California doesn’t fall into the Pacific Ocean as has long been predicted, and continue to worry about the national debt and the nuclear bomb that the Iranians are building with their oil revenues and the rise of Donald Trump and the greater possibility of a Hillary Clinton and all of the other disasters that can only be blamed on mankind.

— Bud Norman

A Gay Old Time in Kenya

Modern liberalism has so many rules, with new ones constantly being added by both the bureaucracy and the more unofficial social justice warriors, that it’s hard to keep up. Oftentimes the rules are in conflict with one another, too, which can lead to the sort of awkward moment President Barack Obama recently endured while advocating homosexual rights during a trip to his ancestral homeland of Kenya.
One ironclad rule of modern liberalism is that every primitive instinct of third world hellholes as such Kenya are to be regarded as ancient wisdom far more profound than anything our decadent western civilization has concocted, and that any attempt to correct them is tantamount to cultural imperialism, but another even more ironclad rule is that homosexuality should not only be tolerated but celebrated with the rainbow colors on the White House, and given the fact that Kenya and most other third world hellholes regard homosexuality as a crime punishable by years in prison or even more draconian punishments this poses something of a dilemma. For Obama, who has famously proclaimed that “No nation can or should try to dominate another nation,” except perhaps for Israel, whose housing policies and ability to defend itself from terrorist attack are of course exempt from this rule, the dilemma is especially vexing. Homosexuals are a more sizable voting bloc than Kenyans in American electoral politics, however, and more generous donors to Democratic candidates, so we are not surprised that Obama went right ahead lectured his Kenyan hosts on the need to get up to date with western civilization’s recent embrace of homosexuality.
We have no problem with Obama’s statement, as we think that Kenya’s criminalization of homosexuality is an egregious violation of human rights and a futile effort against the many varieties of human nature, but then again we’re unapologetic cultural imperialists who would happily impose even older and more unfashionable notions of western civilization on such third world hellholes as Kenya. Given the opportunity of a presidential visit to Kenya we would also criticize the tribalism that has divided its society, the Afro-Marxism that has destroyed its economy to the point that Obama’s own half-brother is living in a shack, the strange superstitions that has impeded its scientific and technological development, the primitive sexism that has oppressed its women, as well as its considerably less consequential animus toward homosexuals. What we can’t comprehend is why Obama found only the homosexual issue worth mentioning.
The reluctance to criticize the tribalism of such third world hellholes as Kenya can be explained by Obama’s affiliation with a modern liberalism that feels obliged to apologize for saying that “all lives matter,” which also explains the reluctance to criticize the Afro-Marxism that has reduced Kenya to squalor, and the unscientific nature of Kenyan society has at least arguably reduced its contribution to the superstition of “global warming” or “climate change” or whatever they’re calling it these days, and we understand that the privileged white women who comprise the modern feminist movement in America don’t really care about what the black women in Kenya are enduring, but it’s still hard to see why homosexuality is the only issue that is exempt from the otherwise ironclad rule about one nation trying to dominate another. Domestic politics is an obvious explanation, but modern liberalism insists that it is above such crass considerations.

— Bud Norman

On the End of the World

If you are reading this the world must not have come to an end yet. That is probably a good thing, we suppose, although with the way the world has been going lately one can’t say for sure.
Many people have been expecting the world to end today, all because some ancient Mayan astronomers devised a calendar that concluded on this date. What’s left of the Maya have lately been assuring the world that just because their calendar has run out of time it doesn’t mean everything else has, probably in vain hope that their once-great empire won’t be thought just another wacky doomsday cult, but of course that hasn’t prevented the usual apocalyptic anxieties. There are reports from all over the globe about people anticipating today’s big finale, some of whom seem to take the matter very seriously.
Perhaps these are the same folks who anticipate the end of the world every time it is announced, but we suspect that the Mayan pedigree of the latest apocalypse gives it a certain intellectual respectability that the intermittent pronouncements by Christian sects do not enjoy. The Mayan empire was an early victim of western imperialism, after all, and according to the inviolable rules of multi-culturalism that confers an ancient wisdom which modern westerners are expected to regard with a guilty awe. Like every other society of human beings the Maya had admirable virtues and deplorable vices, ranging from a knack for astronomy to a tendency to commit human sacrifice, but polite society will nonetheless agree that their end times scenario deserves a special consideration.
Every religion has its eschatology. Hindus believe that the world ends every few billion years or so, then starts all over again. Christians have long been divided on the question, with the pre-millenialists and post-mllenialists and amillienlialists arguing over the very cyrptic passages of the Book of Revelation and some Old Testament text, but most agree on some very explicit scripture saying that no one but God knows when the end will come. Islam is similarly split, with stark differences of opinion between Sunnis and Shiites, and the Iranian theocrats of the latter denomination reportedly believe they are commanded to hasten the end with their nuclear weapons program.
Secularists who scoff at all such superstitious nonsense should note that both ancient religion and modern science concur that there was a beginning and there will be an end. Science offers a number of end time scenarios, each as a gruesome as anything organized religion has envisioned, and most of the scientifically-suggested cataclysms conveniently justify an degree of government control over human behavior. The same people who scoff at anything theological will invariably agree that the inevitable result of sports utility vehicles and incandescent light bulbs is environmental Armageddon.
Which puts us in mind of a long ago late night drive across Kansas listening to the “Coast to Coast” radio program. This unreliable yet highly entertaining show is usually devoted to flying saucers, conspiracy theories, and paranormal phenomena, but on this occasion it invited callers to discuss their expectations for the end of the world. The possibilities ran the gamut from the religious to the scientific, with plenty of nuclear bombs thrown in for good measures, but all the callers seemed to share the same hopeful enthusiasm for the end of everything. As with the current crop of doomsayers, they seemed to prefer it to the prospect of getting up in the morning and going trough another routine day.
This is an understandable impulse, especially to those of us who see nothing but a long and precipitous civilizational decline ahead, but it should be resisted. We’ll boldly predict that the world won’t end today, if only because no one will be around to gloat about it if we’re wrong, and gird ourselves for the long slog toward the inevitable day awaiting us all when la commedia é finita. No final debauchery for us, even in the unlikely event we could find any willing collaborators, and if Saturday does happen to come around we’ll try to make the best of it.

— Bud Norman