May 31, 2020

Two Puzzlements of Polarization

I’m trying to understand two of the great mysteries of recent modern life: how masks became controversial and why all Americans can’t just bond over hatred of George Floyd's killer.

George Floyd Case

My initial attitude was racist: I assumed the cop who killed Mr. Floyd involved a racial motivation rather than him being power-mad or simply mad, as cops can be. So I prejudged the cop because of his white skin, my bad.

Also, I was not sufficiently exercised over the looters. But why should I expect more of him than the looters? Soft bigotry of low expectations?

Another reflexive attitude was: “why are they protesting in Columbus? This was a Minneapolis cop under a Minneapolis police chief killing a Minneapolis citizen.” To me it just spoke about how localization of news is dead, that an incident thousands of miles away becomes front page. My very white take is that protesting is considered cool and countercultural and very of the ‘60s hipness and so people didn’t want Minneapolis have all the fun.

But it’s probably also a case of that marvelous black unity, a unity and brotherhood so strong that it’s a second nation within the nation. An attack on a black brother in Minneapolis is an attack on all blacks, in a way that it could never be for whites. In a sense there is no such thing as “local African-American news” just as there’s no such thing as “local Catholic news” if it’s a big enough story. Mr. Floyd’s death story has been on loop on black radio stations coast-to-coast.

There are good reasons for black unity. Nothing bound the Irish people like English tyranny and prejudice, and nothing binds African-American identity like white prejudice. The Irish likely made their religion Irishness (witness the decline of the Faith after the tyranny of Britain has ended), just as blacks like Jeremiah Wright and Louis Farrakhan appear to make their religion blackness.

But it's telling how the polarization on the Floyd killing isn't where it should be, that of police unions protecting bad cops. That's because GOP is anti-union but pro-cop and Dems anti-cop but pro-union. So we miss why even the Floyd killer had the opportunity to kill after repeated bad conduct in the past.

But that’s par for the course where the major parties agree or agree to sweep things under the rug, like illegal immigration. The GOP is pro-business and so pro-immigration, and the Dems are for expanding their voter base, so they also are pro-immigration.

Mask Not, Lest Ye Be Masked


I find the conservative anti-maskers also interesting especially given conservatives tend to be more risk averse.

The conservative sensibility is usually one of recognizing the value of past experience, so given that Asians have a lot more on-the-ground experience with SARS and H1N1 and they use masks, I thought it puzzling it’s become a political issue with Republicans.

But I’m now thinking it could also be that conservatives see masks as a needless innovation and would prefer the status quo, pre-virus.

Math? 

I wondered if both can be connected to the math illiteracy.

People think the difference between a 1-2% death rate (covid) and a .1 death rate (flu) is nothing. Thus polarization on covid-19.

People think the two recent cases of blacks dying at the hands of whites represents a trend rather than a statistical aberration.  School shootings are incredibly rare but because of news coverage become copy-catted and people get scared -- despite the fact the odds of getting killed in school are almost as long as winning the stat lottery.

But ultimately it likely comes down to true king of the influence realm: the media we consume. Conservatives drink from one trough, liberals from another, and blacks have a third.

Each media outfit is a lawyer arguing a case.  So we hear only one side of the argument all the day long so naturally we’re going to rule in favor of the (only) lawyer we’re hearing.

Math literacy only goes so far. I assume we can’t put a number, alas, on how many blacks are hassled by cops versus whites when in similar circumstances.  But it is significant.

And, admittedly, we are visual creatures, wired that way, and so if we see something (like the Floyd murder video) or an abortion procedure on tape it’s far more impactful than abstract numbers.

May 27, 2020

Seven Takes

Talked to my boss in one-on-one and quizzed him on his take on the virus and how big his circle is. His parents are very que sera, sera, while his wife’s parents very strict. He had planned to go to Hilton Head in late July with her family and relatives but now not only are her parents begging off but asking the other family members not to go. He said he will go if no one else does.

The virus is understandably polarizing given the uncertainty. (That mask-wearing is polarizing just seems weird to me.)   I’m more relaxed now about the idea of our circle being widened: When the virus isn’t exponential in terms of growth - when it takes “breaks” (like infecting only a hundred a day in Franklin County) - then we have to take advantage. We might have a decent window, maybe till November, before the second wave and there’ll be time enough for quarantine then.

At the risk of jinx, it’s the best of all possible virus worlds right now: Summer (which is better for keeping the virus down), no big super-spreading events, and a merely linear viral increase. From what I’ve read, it’s possible 80% of the virus cases were caused by 20% events, big things like Mardi Gras and such. So by America simply limiting gatherings to under 50 we might get away with just the drumbeat of a slow viral increase. 


Read the latest issue of Gilbert, the Chesterton magazine. Interesting despite the lack of quotes from GK on the plague of his time (1918 flu). He was discouraged from publishing anything on it since they didn’t want the Germans to know how they were suffering given it could give them an advantage in WWI. In characteristically saintly fashion he looked upon his catching that flu as saying it allowed him solidarity with all those others suffering a similar fate.
___

The biggest non-story in the constant drumbeat of political non-stories is Trump’s feud-tweets concerning Joe Scarborough.  How anyone could take Trump seriously when he does that stuff is beyond me. It’s as newsworthy as a child having a tantrum.

___

Spectacularly beautiful summer day in May. Late linger-evenings that contain not a whiff of chill -- and not a mosquito to be found. The royal blanket of grass and trees and farm field (ok, newly planted garden). The dogs hungover from the walk in the heat, tongues askew like Otis Taylor’s cap.

Is it merely an “age thing” that my sense of the seasons has moved stage left on the calendar? When I was a kid summer was June 5, and June 5 was summer (where June 5th represents the quintessential last day of grammar school then). It was as black and white as it gets. Fall was Sept 1, or whenever we started back to school. Winter began on Thanksgiving weekend and ended in April. Summer lasted 3 months, Winter 4.5 months, Spring 2 months, and Fall 2.5 months.

Now I’m more sensitive to the weather aspects, the quality of light, the heat or cool, the length of days and interplay of all. (And I don’t go to school. And I live more closely to the baseball season -- I would prefer living the liturgical one).

Spring can feel as early as late February now when the first light from the east graces the sunroom. It can linger till June; it has “graduated” to a lengthier season.

Summer abates at a later felt-date, maybe the end of September even though there’s the deep bone-sense of the writing being on the wall. Winter has shrunk its talons to a mere December to February fling, maybe 2.5 months, or whenever spring training starts and I can watch meaningless games from sunny locales. And that leaves Fall with a brief Oct-Nov timeline.

Perhaps part of this could be climate change which seems to lengthen Ohio’s summer at the expense of fall.

So High June here in May, like a high mass. Peak beauty.

I took the dogs on a little mini-travel trip: downtown Dublin, the historic district. It might've been exotic Dublin, Ireland, so starved for travel I’ve been. I pushed them to their Max, which included a many flights of stairs in order to get down to and then back up from river level.

We saw old homes with rock fences, as in Ireland. We saw lovely grassy knolls and historic buildings. We saw kayakers on the river off Bridge Street. We saw attractive (empty) restaurants with outdoor patios, a modernistic public library...

We saw, we came, we panted. They panted.
__

Poet Jane Kenyon on the Civil War:

With psalters
in their breast pockets, and gloves
knitted by their sisters and sweethearts,
the men in gray hurled themselves
out of the trenches, and rushed against
blue.

May 21, 2020

Trump’s Sin: Disregarding the Taboo

Excerpt from interesting piece from David Mamet in National Review :
I’ve been puzzled for a while by the absence in this virulent [Leftist] movement not only of a handy name (for leftism defines the thing only in relation to its opposite) but of a leader.

In the upcoming election, the Left has proposed, and its adherents have accepted, no candidate onto whom can be grafted even the most basic and most provisional attributes of charisma, wisdom, or record (however factitious) of accomplishment.

Why has the Left, intent on destroying the West, put forth no leader, and why has no leader put himself forward to fill the vacuum of power? What does the Left have, in place of a Marx, a Hitler, a Lenin, or, indeed, a Roosevelt or a Churchill? One who could state and embody its principles and thereby unify a country or a party? Perhaps the Left’s inability to propose a leader—and, so, a coherent (even if loathsome) vision—is not a problem but a solution.

The question, then, is: To what problem?

For four years I’ve found the “massteria” (Professor Harold Hill, The Music Man, 1957) around Trump healthy, as energy directed thus was unavailable for the Left’s beatification of a new leader (a führer). How fortunate for the country, I thought.

The national emergency has given me some leisure to think and consider; it was awarded by a virus. My question of the Virus is “Why now?”

The virus could not have spread globally without universal air travel, the national wealth that created such travel, and the disposable incomes that allowed individuals to take trips.

The Black Death reached Europe through rats on merchant ships from the Orient, the Spanish flu was spread here largely by servicemen returning from Europe, and so on, and so on.

Each, perhaps, could be seen as occurring through, or spreading because of, some stage of progression or, say, maturity, in the economy, or, to flirt with eschatology, in the Progress of the World.

The individual lifespan lengthens, and now the elderly are faced with diseases unknown to or rare among grandparents who would have been dead at a similar age.

Traffic congestion, attendant pollution, anxiety, and so on are the result of urban success. The highways take the mass of the newly solvent to the suburbs, the commutes become intolerable, and the old cities die, or exist (all the old capitals of commerce) as tourist attractions, or amusement parks, with the super-wealthy maintaining their skyboxes above the entertainment, as in “The Masque of the Red Death.”

The liberal, elite cities and states raise taxes, because they must, as their tax base disappears. As the services disintegrate, the rich follow the middle class out and leave the cities to the homeless, their ranks engorged by the aliens attracted to the notion of something-for-nothing (as who is not?), which is to say the Garden of Eden before the Fall.

There it is, before our eyes, but those who call attention, like our friend Laocoön, are swept back into the sea, and the wooden horse, inside which the voices of enemy soldiers are heard, is dragged inside the city.

The unabated loathing of Trump must be considered a delusion, for how could one man be responsible not only for treason, collusion, malversation, and other crimes that, though they might be practiced individually, would, in their conjoined execution, each cancel the efficacy of the other (e.g., armed robbery and embezzlement)? Consider that in addition to this endless litany of his human corruptions, he is, coincidentally, indicted as responsible for the weather and the spread (if not the inauguration) of a global pandemic.

A comparison of Trump Psychosis with adoration of Hitler—though perhaps appropriate mechanically, that is, in terms of power exerted on the mob—is inexact in terms of utility. For the apotheosis of Hitler united the Germans behind a shared vision; he personified, and gave voice to, a nationalist desire for revenge, pride, and power, in which vision, and through its supposed benefits, the individuals could participate.

But the revanchist Left is not opposed to Trump as the avatar of the Right, of capitalism, of Americanism (once called “patriotism”). They cannot object to his policies per se, because the policies, one by one, are demonstrably superior in practice to any the Left has employed and, in reason, to any they have suggested. Their objections are all ad hominem, alleging various “isms,” which epithet may be applied, given but little inventiveness, to any of his words or acts. (As they may to any of yours or mine.) To suggest it is his acts that enrage the Left would be as to understand the Islamist attacks of September 11 as architectural criticism.

The Trump “resistance” began in the first hours of his presidency and has continued unabated by either reason or fatigue. There are no dissentient voices on the left, for any suggesting consideration, let alone dissent, have been expelled, vilified, and “canceled”—they are thus no longer on the left. Perhaps in this the disease starts to proclaim itself.

Leo Marks was a British codebreaker at Bletchley Park, during the Second World War. In his book Between Silk and Cyanide (1998), he writes about the codebreaker’s disease: Engaged as they are in trying to break the code, it is their last thought at night, and their first on awakening. Many of them became ill—physically or psychologically—from the strain.

Marks was in charge of decrypting the messages sent by Allied agents parachuted into Nazi-controlled Holland. He was, he writes, driven mad by the suspicion that the Allied agents had been captured and turned—that is, that they, and so their codes, were being manipulated by the Nazis. He could find no error in the transmissions, but his suspicions would not go away. One morning he awoke and realized that the problem (that he could find no errors) was, of course, the solution: It would have been impossible for an Allied spy in Nazi Holland to transmit—in haste and in hiding, risking death—without errors in the transmission. The agents had been captured or turned, he concluded.

There are no “errors” in the unity of the Left, which may be a key to the solution of their irrational, implacable loathing. Trump is hated as the most prominent example of one who’s not afraid to employ reason. He has been “canceled” but ridicules their verdict.

It is not his plans (the Left doesn’t hear of them) or his accomplishments (they are discounted, attributed to others, glossed over, or dismissed as nefarious) that are loathed, but the man himself, as he had the temerity to hold himself superior to the zeitgeist.

The zeitgeist is the Decline of the West, which had been sweeping the world since the American apogee, victory in World War II, and the advent of the most prosperous economy in history.

Things age, mature, and die. Fascism was a 20-year-long dictatorship, expanded through murder and terror. American exceptionalism and prosperity are the overwhelming story of the 20th century; it was not spread by the sword, and it will not die by the sword. Lincoln said that all the massed armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined could not take a drink from the Ohio, but American culture has been decaying throughout my lifetime, as must any organism. Mr. Trump’s presidency has lengthened the American experience by some number of years. That number will be debated by the civilizations that succeed us, who will wonder at our fall, as the educated once did at that of Nineveh and Tyre.

Tragedy, to be compelling, must address a prerational experience or unity. A Hokusai painting of a wave makes us nod in recognition, as we do at a resolution of a Bach fugue. We cannot explain or dissect our experience of understanding, but it is undeniable. True art creates in us the same feeling of fulfillment, its possible description just beyond the rational mind.

The technician might explain it technically, the musician employing the cycle of fifths, or the painter some theory of color or proportion, but this merely puts the problem at one remove. For, after the technical reduction, even the expert cannot quite answer the question of why: Why, for example, is the eye so pleased by the golden mean? Like any great truth, our understanding of art must devolve into metaphysics or an assertion merely leading to an infinite regression.

The human mind will and must assemble phenomena into cause and effect. We will intuit or ascribe a causal relationship to two events that, to another, have no possible connection: Aunt Edna did not call on my birthday because she’s furious I didn’t sufficiently praise her new frock; Germany is troubled because of the Jews; we are suffering a pandemic because Trump did or did not act quickly enough, and an economic disaster because he did.

Psychoanalysis (and politics) attempts to address or capitalize on our human suggestibility, particularly on our frenzied willingness to assign our disquiets to another. Solutions offered thus flatter our ability to identify a problem, suggest its cure, and remind us to come back tomorrow for another dose.

Drama acts similarly, engaging us in the assurance that the cause of all problems is evident, and that our reason will suffice to cure them. The Bad Butler did it; Deaf People are People, Too; Love Is All There Is; and so on. If we enjoy the mixture, it must (and will) be taken regularly.

Tragedy provides not reassurance but calm through the completion of a mechanical progression. Its end is probative, for it is the disposition of all the variables (the code) stipulated at its beginning—mathematically, there is no remainder.

The journey of Oedipus begins because there is a plague on Thebes; it is the king’s job to conquer it. Without the initiating impulse (the stated problem), the play becomes merely a drama, it cannot be a tragedy, and we take away from it not that peace from recognizing the human condition but the lesson “Do not sleep with your mother.”

Can our current national emergency be viewed as perhaps a classical tragedy rather than as sordid drama? We see that the various factions are fighting over a disordered kingdom; each employs (to its own degree) the universal tools of indictment, incitement, appeal, reason, conspiracy, deception, and so on (assignment of these to taste). Considering ourselves as the dramatist, we can prognosticate an end: civil war, dissolution and chaos, conquest by a foreign power, return to a new and healthier polity actually based on the Constitution . . .

But such an end, to satisfy as tragedy, must be understood as the resolution of that specific problem absent the appearance of which we would not have a play. (Hamlet’s father dies.)

But in our case, what brought about the plague of Thebes?

The builders of the Tower of Babel suffered from hubris. They thought that they could aspire to heaven and raise themselves above human concerns, and that the various conflicting impulses of humanity would go away if we all spoke with one tongue. This tongue, of course, would be that of the builders, and I will leave comparisons with globalism to the reader. But it is no sin to be prosperous, and even the most committed Marxist wishes only to regularize (that is, reduce) the wealth and consumption of his neighbor.

What is the precipitating event or situation whose resolution would be one of those mooted above? We know our current pandemic came from China, and from trade with China. And every schoolchild knows that April showers bring May flowers, Mayflowers bring Pilgrims, and Pilgrims bring typhus.

The demagogues of the Left have discovered anew the ancient secrets of corruption, collusion, and decay, and, like all their predecessors, delight in their discovery: indicting their opponents for their own crimes.

We had, on April Fool’s Day 2020, two events warring for pride of place in our reconstruction of the tragic cryptogram: the pandemic, and the election of Donald Trump. But tragedy cannot have two precipitating events. (See the child’s excuse “I didn’t do my homework because the dog ate it, and my mother has the flu.”) Two explanations are none.

We must choose one, determine how the two are, if not identical, then conjoined (“My mother has the flu, she usually feeds the dog, she could not, the dog became hungry and ate my homework”), or discard them both and begin our work again, remembering Tolstoy’s admonition that the first or most apparent manifestation of an event is not necessarily the cause: The savage seeing the puffs of smoke first might conclude that they caused the locomotive.

The Left insists that our national disruption is caused by the election of President Trump, which affront would be resolved by his removal from office.

But if the successful results of their machinations brought us to civil war or economic collapse, then the effect would be out of adjustment with the supposed cause. (See the all too common explanation of spousal murder: You would have shot her too if you saw the way she looked at me.)

That message was fictionalized in Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand lived through the Russian Revolution, in St. Petersburg, and spent her working life, in fiction and nonfiction, writing about the horror.

Here is another report, by Alexander, Grand Duke of Russia, first cousin to the czar, from Once a Grand Duke (1931):

What was to be done about those princes and countesses who spent their lives going from door to door and spreading monstrous lies about the Czar and Czarina? What was to be done with that scion of the ancient family of Princes Dolgoruky who sided with enemies of the Empire? What was to be done with the president of Moscow University, Prince Troubetskoi, who turned that famous institution of learning into a radical campus? What was to be done with that brilliant Professor Milukoff, who felt it his duty to denounce the regime in foreign lands, undermining our credit abroad and gladdening the hearts of our foes? . . . What was to be done with our press who met with rousing cheers every news of our defeat on the Japanese front?
The message on Nebuchadnezzar’s wall was “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.”

Trump Mania is not a message, but a key, serving to obscure an underlying message.

The key (the accusations of the Left) disguises an underlying terror—operating here just as the near-psychotic, immobilized by a terrifying, free-floating anxiety, extemporizes specific phobias in an effort to gain some control.

“It is not that I am losing my mind in unnameable panic,” he thinks, “but that Martians, or mice, food additives, or Jews are trying to destroy me.”

The Left’s loathing of Trump differs from their other attempts at constructive phobia in this: He is not an event, a phenomenon, an attitude, or a group, but an actual human being.

He has supplanted previous attempted solutions to panic, but universal and vicious loathing comes close, in its virulence, to revealing the key, and thus the presence of an underlying code.

He is a mere human being who has the temerity to disregard the taboo.

In the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, some brave soul might speak up for one accused of witchcraft; but no one would have dared to say, and few to think, “There is no such thing as witchcraft.”

The Left’s hatred of Trump reveals their code. They here are like the ghoul Rumpelstiltskin, whose power disappeared when the victim said his name.

Trump is loathed because he is feared, and he is feared because he named the monster.

The Monster is the zeitgeist, that is to say, the Left.

May 13, 2020

Who Was that Masked Man?

Kind of mesmerizing to see masks becoming controversial before my very eyes. R. R. Reno has decided to die on this hill which is riveting in a train wreck sort of way.  My kingdom for a mask!

A more common sense idea can hardly be found as the whole object is to prevent spitting/coughing/sneezing on someone or some thing (which can then be touched and spread that way). Sounds like a plan.  It’s almost like the anti-maskers didn’t get the memo that there’s a pandemic going on.

And a lot of the whining is from the right end of the spectrum which is surprising as there’s generally more caution and forbearance than our liberal siblings. (Or used to be.)

Conservatives in theory are supposed to have respect for the wisdom of experience which - in the case of our Asian brothers and sisters - is hard-won via their bouts with SARS and such. That they wear masks suggests we ought have the courage to face that maybe they know something we don’t.

In the past we buckled to the man and wear seatbelts nowadays at no great cost of courage and manliness. Let’s hope we can do the same with masks. Hell, Jesse James wore one didn’t he? He not manly enough?

I’m all for opening the economy and for opening churches and a mask is not something we should be worried about if it works towards the goal of opening churches and economy.

May 07, 2020

Flannery O’Connor’s Thoughts

Excerpts in the New Yorker, from Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journal:

I do not mean to deny the traditional prayers I have said all my life; but I have been saying them and not feeling them. My attention is always very fugitive. This way I have it every instant. I can feel a warmth of love heating me when I think & write this to You. Please do not let the explanations of the psychologists about this make it turn suddenly cold. My intellect is so limited, Lord, that I can only trust in You to preserve me as I should be.

Contrition in me is largely imperfect. I don’t know if I’ve ever been sorry for a sin because it hurt You. That kind of contrition is better than none but it is selfish. To have the other kind, it is necessary to have knowledge, faith extraordinary. All boils down to grace, I suppose. Again asking God to help us be sorry for having hurt Him. I am afraid of pain and I suppose that is what we have to have to get grace. Give me the courage to stand the pain to get the grace, Oh Lord. Help me with this life that seems so treacherous, so disappointing.

Please let Christian principles permeate my writing and please let there be enough of my writing (published) for Christian principles to permeate. I dread, oh Lord, losing my faith. My mind is not strong. It is a prey to all sorts of intellectual quackery. I do not want it to be fear which keeps me in the Church. I don’t want to be a coward, staying with You because I fear hell. I should reason that if I fear hell, I can be assured of the author of it. But learned people can analyze for me why I fear hell and their implication is that there is no hell. But I believe in hell. Hell seems a great deal more feasible to my weak mind than heaven. No doubt because hell is a more earthly-seeming thing. I can fancy the tortures of the damned but I cannot imagine the disembodied souls hanging in a crystal for all eternity praising God. It is natural that I should not imagine this. If we could accurately map heaven some of our up-&-coming scientists would begin drawing blueprints for its improvement, and the bourgeois would sell guides 10¢ the copy to all over sixty-five.

Freud, Proust, Lawrence have located love inside the human & there is no need to question their location; however, there is no need either to define love as they do—only as desire, since this precludes Divine love, which, while it too may be desire, is a different kind of desire—Divine desire—and is outside of man and capable of lifting him up to itself. Man’s desire for God is bedded in his unconscious & seeks to satisfy itself in physical possession of another human. This necessarily is a passing, fading attachment in its sensuous aspects since it is a poor substitute for what the unconscious is after. The more conscious the desire for God becomes, the more successful union with another becomes because the intelligence realizes the relation in its relation to a greater desire & if this intelligence is in both parties, the motive power in the desire for God becomes double & gains in becoming God-like. The modern man isolated from faith, from raising his desire for God into a conscious desire, is sunk into the position of seeing physical love as an end in itself. Thus his romanticizing it, wallowing in it, & then cynicizing it. Or in the case of the artist like Proust of his realizing that it is the only thing worth life but seeing it without purpose, accidental, and unsatisfying after desire has been fulfilled. Proust’s conception of desire could only be that way since he makes it the highest point of existence—which it is—but with nothing supernatural to end in. It sinks lower & lower in the unconscious, to the very pit of it, which is hell. Certainly hell is located in the unconscious even as the desire for God is. The desire for God may be in a superconsciousness which is unconscious. Satan fell into his libido or his id whichever is the more complete Freudian term.

Perversion is the end result of denying or revolting against supernatural love, descending from the unconscious superconscious to the id. Where perversion is disease or result of disease, this does not apply since no free will operates. The sex act is a religious act & when it occurs without God it is a mock act or at best an empty act. Proust is right that only a love which does not satisfy can continue. Two people can remain “in love”—a phrase made practically useless by stinking romanticism—only if their common desire for each other unites in a greater desire for God—i.e., they do not become satisfied but more desirous together of the supernatural love in union with God. My God, take these boils & blisters & warts of sick romanticism.

It is the adoration of You, dear God, that most dismays me. I cannot comprehend the exaltation that must be due You. Intellectually, I assent: let us adore God. But can we do that without feeling? To feel, we must know. And for this, when it is practically impossible for us to get it ourselves, not completely, of course, but what we can, we are dependent on God. We are dependent on God for our adoration of Him, adoration, that is, in the fullest sense of the term. Give me the grace, dear God, to adore You, for even this I cannot do for myself. Give me the grace to adore You with the excitement of the old priests when they sacrificed a lamb to You.

I have been reading Mr. Kafka and I feel his problem of getting grace. But I see it doesn’t have to be that way for the Catholic who can go to Communion every day. The Msgr. today said it was the business of reason, not emotion—the love of God. The emotion would be a help. I realized last time that it would be a selfish one.

April 25, 2020

Various & Sundry

Everyone is so sports-starved that the NFL Draft took on epic proportions. It was like the Super Bowl despite the promised lack of drama. The Bengals did the obvious thing and picked Joe Burrow making them instantaneously interesting to me - if they play this season.

Most of the players I’d never heard of as I’m not big on knowing offensive linemen from the Georgia Bulldogs or safeties from Iowa, but there was a voyeuristic drama in seeing the homes of these kids as well as the homes of the executives. Jerry Jones skyped in from his $250 million yacht. Coach Mike Vrabel shockingly had someone going to the bathroom (number 2) in the background! You can’t make that up.

Vrabel answered reporter’s questions and said that it was a reflection in a mirror of a cabinet and was not what we thought:
"It’s been a long quarantine over here," he said of the overall setup. "We’ve got a bunch of 18 and 19 year old kids but Tyler was not going to the restroom. He was sitting on a stool not a toilet."
Consider toiletgate solved.

The disappointment was OSU star JK Dobbins not going until number 55, in the second round. Seemed harsh. One magazine had him ranked 38th and CBS Sports ranked him 45th.

So basically the draft was excitement until Tua got drafted, then it was all about looking inside other people’s houses. 



__

Came across a St. Padre Pio quote I need follow more instead of reading bout corona or drafts: “Help yourself during this troubled period by reading holy books. This reading provides excellent food for the soul.”

__

Heard this from a priest on Twitter: “Why is it so hard to convince you people that God loves you? Like, for real, this is the most difficult part of my job.”

Interesting. I think of St. Peter’s response to Jesus’s favor: “Lord, leave me for I am a sinful man.” As well as his later initial refusal to have Jesus love him by washing his feet. Is the problem for many that Jesus is too close to us, as he was for those who stopped following Him after the words in John 6 about having to eat His Body and drink His blood to have life? Is that the appeal in the Muslim idea of a God that is more distant and inhuman?

I learned today that the word “companion” literally means “Bread-with-us”.

__

Ohio health guru Dr. Amy Acton said, right from the get-go almost two months ago, is that the goal is NOT for fewer people to get the virus. The point of “flattening the curve” graph was to get same number of people sick but just over longer period of time. That’s pretty amazing thing, to recognize the virus is so contagious that half or more of the country will get it regardless of what we do. The whole point was to allow the virus to come into society in an orderly manner to prevent a rush on our health care workers. It’s like we’re saying to the virus with the lockdown: “Queue up! You’ll get plenty of time to have hosts and you’ll infect the same number by not rushing. We just need you to slow down and sicken people one-by-one.”

I like the transparency of Ohio’s governor and Dr. Acton that their appeal was not for us to avoid getting the virus but to avoid having the health care system crash and not be able to deal with it.

For me, this virus always seemed to have two options: kill it at the start in early cases, by doing social tracing and testing. Don’t let it spread. Once a hundred got it it would be too late. And by “too late” I surely didn’t see that an option was to close schools and workplaces and shut down barbershops and churches. The point of my obsessive need to learn about how the CDC and FDA botched it from the start was related to thinking that all of this would’ve been avoided if we had killed the virus in the crib, so to speak.

But in hindsight I now think that was utopian and could never happen. We have porous borders, a globally connected economy, a population with a high propensity of travel. There was no way the virus wasn’t going to get in and get large. And it’s also probable that the first known cases back in mid-February were surely lagging indicators. All the testing and contact tracing in February was likely already too late. It got in silently due to lack of symptoms and you can’t trace that.

Wall Street Journal opinion piece said:

"What Amer­i­cans need now is not an­other celebrity ad re­peat­ing the un­sus­tain­able 'stay at home' mantra. They need de­tailed ad­vice from gov­ern­ment about how transmis­sion does and does not oc­cur (do masks help? are sur­face residues a sig­nif­i­cant threat? does in­fec­tion con­fer im­mu­nity?) so they can learn to live with a virus that isn’t go­ing away at least un­til a vac­cine is de­vel­oped."

April 23, 2020

Haiku Corner

I used to walk steps
To park, eat, meet and bathroom
Now five steps to each.



China lab mishap
John Prine died and people cried
Damn Commie Bastards



Had a Corona
In a Chinese restaurant
Beer and food are safe.

April 22, 2020

Civic Duty When Your Impact Approaches Zero

Feels like the virus has been momentarily tamed. Attractive Dr Amy as lion-tamer. Just 3-4% increase each of last four days in Franklin County. About 40-50 new cases a day amid our 1.3 million. (Obligatory caveat is we don’t have testing of course, yada, yada.)

That’s the sort of increase one could live with although obviously it will increase as we open up. The peak, so far, was 4/17, which means the “caught-it date” was around Holy Week and Easter.

The odds of getting the virus here seem to be extremely slight (unless you’re in a nursing home, prison or hospital) and yet if everyone works from that knowledge the virus will take off again.

It reminds me of voting: my individual vote for president is infinitesimally small as far as impact. In fact it’s so close to zero in percentage terms that it is practically meaningless mathematically. But if everyone acted on that rational knowledge no one would vote. The civic duty of voting reminds me of the civic duty of socially distancing oneself and wearing a mask.

I think some vote like the play the lottery: Winning the lottery is mathematically close to impossible just as affecting an election is close to impossible.

But some people vote for other reasons than changing the outcome. They simply enjoy having their say or they want to run up vote total (by 1!) for their candidate. Or, best choice, they vote out of civic duty.
__

The time we are in feels absurd. The social distancing, schools closed, the workplaces and sports gone. It’s funny how I’ve always thought that that the true measure of a crisis is whether sports continue. If there’s time for trivia of sports then things must not be so bad. This is what I’ve long thought of the basket case of Detroit - as long as the Tigers are playing how bad could it be there?

And now... we don’t have sports. The god of this world has been taken down!

And the economic front is pure carnage. Our government debt spirals faster than the virus. Justice is served in that our government spent trillions it didn’t have and now is in no position to pay for this rainy day.

And our spiritual capital is nearly all spent down as emotional carnage exponentiates.

As the old Italian proverb goes, “The situation is hopeless, but not serious”. I interpret that personally as, “the situation is hopeless but God is not hopeless and therefore neither are we.” Pope Francis recently said, “Optimism disappoints, but hope does not.”

I’m reminded of this meditation about Mary’s response to the Annunciation:
“Mary did not laugh at God, as Sarah did when she was promised a son. Sarah, being a sinner like ourselves, began from the difficulties; she focused on what was absent, on reasons to dwell on impossibility. Mary, being truly innocent and without sin, did not entertain cynicism even when historical circumstances made it difficult to see how God could fulfill his age-old promise of an eternal King and Savior. Mary does not start from absence. She does not focus on darkness and nothingness and impossibility, which leads to despair and to no! Mary starts from a presence. Her only focus is the light and love and limitless possibility that embrace her. This leads her to yes!”

April 18, 2020

Plague Journal & Timeline

My brother did some bottom-fishing and bought some Royal Caribbean stock a couple weeks ago (a good purchase so far for him) and so I looked at the graph to see when and how it dawned on people that they needed to get the hell out of that stock given the virus.

It’s sort of like trying to see on a micro, anecdotal level how efficient the market is.  It doesn’t take a brainiac to realize a virus is going to hit cruise ships hard. Of course you do have some people in for the long, long run. Buy and hold for a lifetime and they may do fine. But I’m interested in those who sold and when they sold.

I already had my “plague timeline” started so I plugged in the big moves in the stock. Obviously anything I knew was already far from gnostic knowledge.

The summary answer is:
1/23 to 2/12 there was a slow drift of 7% down.  Verdict: Smart money.
2/12 to 2/21 it goes to 106, down another 9%. Verdict: Obvious move given cruise news.
2/24-3/4: Goes down to 79, down 25%.  Verdict: Meh, late to the party but...
3/4-3/12: Down another 62% from 3/4.  Verdict: Dumb money. 
____

Plague Journal, because I’m such a slave to the NY Times (not).

1/26/20:
Addicted to news of the Wuhan (China) coronavirus. Five in U.S. now. Seems an end of days kind of thing even though it’s like an Avian flu rather than Ebola. Still it’s deadly for the respiratory challenged, like poor Steph. Scary.

1/27/20:
Grim twenty-something lad on Twitter announces concerning coronavirus, “this is going to kill everyone’s grandparents”. Time to buy masks.

1/31/20:
Co-worker Brian mentioned his parents are going on a cruise in March to Hong Kong and China; I’m predicting that’ll get called off.  He says they’re pretty relaxed about it, letting the cruise ship decide.

And in May colleague another coworker's parents are going to China. At least he thinks so. I’m not so sure it will be burned out by then even.  I reply to FB friend: “History doesn’t repeat but I can’t help thinking this one may rhyme with 1918 flu.”

2/9/20:
Here’s how Trump doesn’t get re-elected: virus kills market and starts recession.

2/12/20:
From 1/23 to 2/12 Royal Caribbean stock slowly drifts down 7% from 129 to 118.

2/15/20:
The Coronavirus cruise ship kind of surprises me as far as how many infections they’re seeing even after the quarantine. Apparently there are some asymptomatic people testing positive.

On Feb. 1st you had one guy leave the ship with it. Feb 5th they have the total lock down, can’t leave cabin. They find 10 infections that day. You’d think within 3 days the infections would start to level off as a result of the quarantine. But they doubled between 2/8 and 2/10 and again between 2/10 and 2/13. 67 more yesterday, to 285 total. They’re slated to get off the boat on 2/19 but how can they let that happen unless new virus cases go to 0. No wonder U.S. wants to airlift and expatriate U.S. passengers from ship. (Later: as of Monday there’s 450 infections! Update 2: now over 670!)

The current death rate is around 2.2%, with an additional 19% in serious or critical condition.

This year, the regular flu has killed about 14,000 people with 26 million infections. That’s a death rate of a paltry .000538 rate, or one half of one-tenth of one percent. If 26 million got the coronavirus there’d be 572,000 deaths at the current rate. So I get why the China panic.

2/19/20:
In meeting I jokingly said: “Will we be changing our mortality expectations due to the coronavirus?” Gallows humor. It got some laughs.

Stock market at all-time high!  Go fig.

2/21/20: From 2/12 to 2/21 Royal Caribbean goes to 106, down another 9%.

2/24/20:
Stock market down sharply this week.

2/28/20:
So today was the last-gasp day before vacation. I’m glad to be going now rather than late March if only because by then the coronavirus could be in large and in charge by then. Fortunate that it was only because flights too expensive that we moved it to now.

A respected virologist in Atlantic magazine said he expects eventually about 40% of Americans to catch it primarily because you can carry and pass it along without having any symptoms yourself. No way to quarantine that. Basically it’s the perfect virus from a virus’s perspective: don’t kill your hosts too frequently because otherwise it’s harder for them to pass it along. Also infect some victims without them knowing they have it. I suppose this was always a “when” not “if” thing since viruses (like terrorists) are plotting incessantly. Sometimes the terrorists are going to win given the law of averages. We’re all germophobes now.

On the economic front I was surprised though economists think earnings will take a 30% hit. That seems harsh. For sure some companies but they made it sound like it would be nearly across the board. Meanwhile my 401k may be a 201k.

3/2/20:
So the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic is in Columbus this week. A gathering of tens of thousands of visitors including athletes from 80 countries. If that doesn’t bring the coronavirus to Columbus nothing will. There’s an online petition to cancel the event, as if that would ever happen.

2/24-3/4: Royal Caribbean goes down to 79, down 25%

3/4/20:
Arnold cancelled! Guv got stones.

3/7/20:
Two people with coronavirus were at this airport recently, one death. They got back to Fort Meyers on the Wednesday before we left Ohio, and they didn’t report to hospital till following Wednesday. Kind of weighing on my psyche since for the first time it dawns on me I could be a widower. I don’t have a ton of confidence Steph can fight off a virus attacks the respiratory system so strongly given her background of age and lung issues. The dirty little secret is that coronavirus will be with us for a long while.

Given the germ can survive a week indoors it looks like it could actually have coronavirus at the airport, great. Expected that would happen eventually but not this soon. Hitting too close to (travel) home.

Couple hundred cases in all U. S. and it would have to be where we travel.

3/8/20:
Last grankids visit. Seems to have gotten real, as the kids say, gotten in my head. One thing’s for sure, there’s no way [my brother’s family] going on that European cruise in June. So I predict in March.

Fr. J. today talked a bit about the coronavirus saying that he wasn’t going to change anything, not the Sign of Peace or receiving from the Cup. He says common sense that you don’t give Sign of Peace or receive from the cup if you’re ill, but the dirty little secret is that you can be contagious and not know it, for sure with the coronavirus but potentially also other illnesses. The lady in front of me made a point of just nodding and saying “Peace be with you” and not shaking hands, a little act of civil disobedience I liked so I followed her lead.

I think handshaking needs to go the way of all flesh since it’s a very effective germ transmission vehicle.

3/9/20:
I feel like a prophet with this coronavirus and collateral damage, although admittedly it was the most predictable thing in the world for those who have eyes to see. You can’t contain a virus like that to one of the most populous and interconnected countries in the world although China gave it a heckuva try. The virus surely was going to pummel the stock market, potentially cause a recession, and greatly harm Trump’s reelection chances. Presumably all because some Chinese like to eat bat. The coronavirus is China’s gift to the world much as the 2009 financial panic was America’s. The irony is they’ve been able to get the virus under control due to extraordinary test procedures that efficiently test and isolate someone. We - and Europe - are well behind that curve. You’d think it’d be an advantage to see this coming up Fifth Avenue and thus be prepared but you’d be wrong. The CDC made a major mistake with producing flawed testing kits and we don’t seem to be able to screen as well for the virus as the Chinese are doing now.

But I’m surprised it’s taking this long to come to a venue near us. China was in a state of panic around mid-January and now it’s almost mid-March and U.S. has only 554 cases. But I doubt even the return of warm weather will kill this virus now. It’s too entrenched. Best we can hope for is a 3-month reprieve from it going bonkers: by next fall - by next November election time - it’ll be back and bad as ever. I hope I’m wrong.

3/10/20:
Italy in free fall coronavirus-wise and U.S. is said to be 11 days behind them. So if that’s true then 3/21 should be when we get really hit. Still, the good sign is that the Asian countries (South Korea, Japan, China) have shown that it is possible to get it under control. Alas, Europe and U.S. have not shown that ability yet.

3/11/20:
Cratering interest rate have our company leaders scared.

3/12/20:
We live interesting times. “Historic times” as a company leader put it. Certainly distracting times as it’s hard to think of anything else when you’re reminded of it constantly: even ESPN in the gym was talking coronavirus given the cancellation of the NBA season. It’s gotten real now. Maybe a virus is never real until a celeb gets it, Tom Hanks in this case.

Stock market crashing. Everything is getting cancelled left and right: our parish Fish Fries since it involves over a hundred people gathered. Not sure how we’ll make up all that lost income. And Sunday mass has been deemed optional for the next three Sundays according to the bishop of Columbus. Our March Madness work event/fundraiser at a local bar was cancelled. The Beethoven symphony concert I was planning on going to Friday likewise. I wonder if the holy of holies, baseball, with delay the season.

And the company came out with what they’d been hinting at for awhile: working at home. For the next three weeks (and “likely into May”) we have a goal of 50% working at home. It would be 100% except for the fact that our IT department doesn’t think our VPN can handle the gigantic traffic load.

3/4-3/12: Royal Caribbean down to 30. Down another 62%. A week later, a low of 22.

3/13/20:
First case in Columbus reported. Company announces cafeteria will be greatly reduced, just pizza and hamburgers and hotdogs. Ouch. That’ll pinch.

3/15/20:
Last Mass (Latin at Holy Family).

3/15/20:
Headed out to mass on a Sunday of no obligation - the bishops dispensed with the obligation to go to Sunday mass, which is a first in my 56 years of life. I went although Steph wasn’t happy with me. First time I’ve ever got in trouble for going to Mass! Crowded mass.

Dewine closes restaurants and bars. Company announces 100% work from home beginning 3/23. Steph cancels our housecleaner. We don’t get the grandkids this weekend due to Will coughing and K. being at day care.

Multiple cases in Franklin county now due presumably to more testing.

4/14/20:

Listened to a little of the DeWine press conference and he said he talked to Cameron Mitchell, the great local restauranteur in Columbus, and Mitchell said, “we have the wherewithal to open once. Not twice.” Meaning that he’s not signing up for on-again off-again shutdowns in response to viral conditions. And I think the governor understands that. DeWine said the question is not “when” we’re going to open back up but “how”. He said one thing will be the requirement that everyone going to work will wear a mask. But how can you have an Ohio State football game? Sell every sixth seat? One college in Ohio has already cancelled fall classes.

April 10, 2020

Virus Not as Effective as Alien Invasion

Ohio’s health guru, Dr Amy Acton, is quoted in TIME:
“I used to say if aliens invaded us, it would be a blessing. We’d all finally be on the same team. We’d have this common enemy—well that is now,” she argues.
I think she is right in that it would take a massive external threat to unite Americans. And we’ve seen a little taste of it as for most of us the non-issues of things like unisex bathrooms have dropped off the table. And somehow Congress passed a bipartisan aid bill, although admittedly spending money is a bipartisan proclivity.

But the virus was not a big enough thing (speaking now as the models have radically downscaled) to unite us. The anecdotal sign I look at is my brother-in-law's Facebook feed - if he ever sees things not in terms of politics then I’ll take that as a sign of unity. But, of course, it’s still all politics all the time. To say he hates Trump more than Michigan fans is really saying something for him.

Ultimately people need a scapegoat, need someone to hate (which is part of the point of Good Friday, Jesus offering himself as that scapegoat, becoming the focal point of hatred in order to show us the futility and error in that.) If aliens invaded us, they would qualify as the “people” to hate. But the virus is likely too impersonal to hate and the threat is too small given it kills only 1% and mostly the elderly. And so the polarization and the cold civil war continues.

Funny that Charlie Cook, respected political pollster and pundit, mentioned this topic in a column recently:
Fred Yang, a protégé of Peter’s at Hart Research, observed on Monday, ‘...Maybe the sheer magnitude of this pandemic and the fact that it is truly a national and global experience, might bring us together. BUT …. just like Donald Trump’s winning the presidency in 2016 was a confluence of factors years in the making, I worry that the current divergence of opinion is too wide and borne of fundamental factors (culture, economic status, values) that a big event, however searing, might not be enough to bring the country together, even temporarily.’

And Neil Newhouse, one of the most senior Republican pollsters in the business and another very wise person, observed, ‘Half the voters will believe the president took the right action, and the other half will believe he's failed to meet the needs of the country. Our divisions are extraordinarily deep. This is unlikely to change a thing.’”

April 06, 2020

God Did Not Send the Coronavirus

Fascinating homily from priest in Cincinnati on recent gospel about how Jesus healed a man and how people asked Him, “who sinned? Him or his parents?” and Jesus said “neither”:
This great story of the man who was born blind contains some of the deepest mysteries of the relationship of God and the world and some of the greatest mysteries of human misinterpretation of God to the world.

It is deeply, deeply embedded in the Hebrew scriptures that when God created the world he created everything “good” and yet they observed there was great deal of evil in the world, and they pondered this, and the Spirit moved them, and they began to understand that the source of all evil in the world is the sinfulness of humanity. 
So that throughout the Old Testament it is understood that it is the sins of the people which bring on the disasters of the world: whether emotional or physical of the natural order, the root cause is humanity and its willful alienation from God. This was the heavy burden for humanity to bear, thinking somehow or other in the corporate nature of the people of God they carried a responsibility for the suffering of the world. 
So in the 16th century Christianity did what that rabbis had done in the centuries before Christ, they said in some unconscious way “this is too heavy a burden for us to bear, we will particularize it, we will individualize it.” And in doing so they destroyed the whole understanding of the corporate nature of man’s relationship with God. In this case, the rabbi did not say, “Woe to the world for our sinfulness, for it has caused this man to be born blind.” Instead, “either he sinned or his parents sinned, we can’t be responsible for evil in the world, it is only they who suffer, they are the ones”. In Christianity we did the same thing in 16th century, chiseling to individual, not a corporate faith, we now have “my faith”, “my truth”, none of which means much of anything and has little to do with the words of Jesus Christ and Scripture.

So this fundamental desire to distort the relationship between God and humanity, and to blame either an individual or God for misfortunes in our world, Jesus raises this to the surface and says, “neither he sinned nor his parents, you are wrong”. And then Jesus was blamed for healing on the Sabbath.

What is this for us, in our lives? It becomes very clear to us that each of us bears the corporate responsibility for the bad things that happen in the world. God does not punish us. God allows us to punish ourselves, through our own sinfulness. Any tragedy that afflicts humanity can almost always be traced to a human source. It’s not a vengeful wrathful God, it is our sins that punish us. What war did God start? What disease did God inflict on humanity what of it was not traceable to human ignorance or human malice? Well what about a hurricane in Florida I’ve been asked. God is not the source of harm and evil. We can say, “but how can we start a hurricane?” Well I’m not sure, but we created disorder within the created world and the disorder within the created world punishes us for what we have done. God will rescue us from it, he will save us from it. In the prophecies of Isaiah the lion lays down with the lamb and child puts his hand in the adder’s den. All things are in harmony when humanity is faithful and reunited with its source, the living God. 
For us it’s imperative we accept the Catholic notion of sin and redemption. Otherwise we allow things to worsen. There is no such thing as a “personal” sin, it affects the whole corporate body.