Some COVID Thoughts This Week

May 8, 2020

Dear Family,

"The notion that we need the same type of economic system for all areas of life is ridiculous. For big things like cars, airplanes, computers, etc, capitalism is appropriate and works very well. For public services, education, utilities and (I believe) natural resources, a kind of socialism is the appropriate model. But for things like food, farming, clothing, low-tech manufacturing, etc, the best model is free enterprise (which is different from capitalism)."
—Sally Fallon


With all the talk about Re-Opening vs. Continued Lockdowns, chipper enthusiasm concerning masks as fashion statements, and constant hopeful updates from Salivating Big Business and Government Entities involved in the race to develop vaccines, I grieve for the national conversations that aren’t happening. This Canadian blogger (article is short and worth reading) articulates a path not taken, and some historical context for why we’re instead so focused on The War On Coronavirus:…
“…on the Ontario government’s website telling its citizens what to do about COVID-19, its advice consists entirely of measures designed to prevent people from coming in contact with the virus: stay home, wash your hands often, don’t touch your face, maintain physical distancing and wear a mask when you have to go out. 

“No mention is made of any measures individuals can take to ensure their immune systems are operating at peak efficiency (or as the French scientists would have put it, their terrain is well prepared to mount a defense). It’s almost as though the Ontario government doesn’t believe human beings have immune systems or that they’re of any use whatsoever. The only hope – Ontario seems to believe – is for a pharmaceutical company to patent a vaccine, because that is the only way that human beings can defend themselves against a virus, or acquire immunity.”


Civil Liberties Watch - Don’t Forget About These, Because Soon You May (Temporarily or Not - Remember The Patriot Act??) Miss Them. I don’t mean to imply that Contact Tracing is inherently unconstitutional; however, depending on the ways it’s implemented, the risk is very great that it could become so, without much in the way of collective benefit:…

“In all, 44 states and the District of Columbia now have plans to expand their contact tracing workforce, reaching a total of 66,197 workers — an increase by 30,000 of the number that were planned last week when we first published.

“Public health leaders widely agree that communities need to ramp up their capacity to test, trace and isolate, in order to safely ease up on social distancing measures and allow people to get back to work…”


I fully respect if you have a need to self-quarantine, and if you do, I won’t only offer to wear a mask in your presence. (An analogy I heard recently is that trying to contain virus particles with masks is like trying to keep a six-foot man out of your house by building a sixty-foot-tall doorway.) Instead, I will offer to stay away from you indefinitely. Lockdowns are not designed to protect the most vulnerable; quarantine is, but it isn’t possible for many vulnerable populations in the USA. Hence my anger at imposing lockdowns in so many places around the world, and my continued wish for a USA public health system and approach like Sweden’s.

Sweden isn’t perfect, but their policy is reality-driven, respectful, and is attempting to protect the most vulnerable people while dispensing information so that adults can…well, make adult-type decisions for themselves:…

“Many governors are refusing to lift their COVID-19 shelter-in-place decrees until long lists of conditions are met. They have phrased their recalcitrance in the language of science. As California’s Gavin Newsom put it: ‘Science, not politics must be the guide…. We can't get ahead of ourselves .... I don't want to make a political decision. That puts people's lives at risk.’

“As a matter of science, the governors are wrong. They assume that they are making a tradeoff of a short-term reduction in employment for a long-term reduction in age-specific mortality. They are actually making a tradeoff of a short-term reduction in COVID-19 deaths for a long-term increase in age-specific mortality for working people and their families.   

“The governors have made this error in judgement because they are not taking into account basic facts about COVID-19 and about the mortality risks from mass layoffs and poverty.”


Oh lord, there is nothing like a global financial crisis to make government leaders especially Scared and Ready To Fight Dissent, rather than Discuss Politics - or, dare I suggest, issues of Human Health and Immunity and Decency. We’re supposed to teach our kids to “think outside the box,” “think creatively,” and “problem-solve”, but the example set by People in High Places is: We’re Scared and Confused, So…Forget About Thinking, Let’s Head Toward Totalitarianism!” Toward the end of this article there are one or two FBI agents who speak thoughtfully, but all the rest exhibit sensationalistic thinking and fear while wielding a whole lot of power - in my opinion, a very dangerous combination and no match at all for rational debate.

The extremely simplified politicization of the incredibly complex topic of vaccination reminds me of witch hunts throughout history, and also of when bloodletting was the medical technology of choice. Bloodletting sure had Effects, but was it really a universal public health strategy, suitable for all persons in all situations?? We don’t think so NOW, but back then….

Anyway, I think it’s important to keep tabs on all of this, because when there’s complexity at stake, we risk losing those pesky Civil Liberties:…
“…[This] paper, jointly written by a security consultant and a senior doctor in New York State’s largest hospital network, warned: “The biggest threat in controlling an outbreak comes from those who categorically reject vaccination.”


M., as a historian, notes the out-of-context use by RFK (in the interview I transcribed last week) of the quote by Ben Franklin:…

“…[Franklin] was writing about a tax dispute between the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the family of the Penns, the proprietary family of the Pennsylvania colony who ruled it from afar. And the legislature was trying to tax the Penn family lands to pay for frontier defense during the French and Indian War. And the Penn family kept instructing the governor to veto. Franklin felt that this was a great affront to the ability of the legislature to govern. And so he actually meant purchase a little temporary safety very literally. The Penn family was trying to give a lump sum of money in exchange for the General Assembly's acknowledging that it did not have the authority to tax it.

“…So far from being a pro-privacy quotation, if anything, it's a pro-taxation and pro-defense spending quotation.”


Not that I was an adoring fan of our governor before, but now I’m noting that when it comes to Pandemic Priorities, the man has business interests much further toward the top of his list than people, even while he keeps California locked down in the name of “science”:…
“California Governor Gavin Newsom was elected after promising to tackle global warming and transition the state to clean energy, but last year journalists revealed that his administration was approving fracking permits at double the rate of the previous administration. Newsom soon announced a moratorium on the approval of fracking permits across the state.

“That pause remained in place into 2020 — until earlier this month, when the state was preoccupied with thousands of documented cases of the novel coronavirus and a statewide shutdown that Newsom ordered in response.

“Amid a global pandemic, the scientific panel tasked by Newsom with reviewing all pending fracking applications approved 24 new fracking permits in Kern County, the heart of California’s oil country and a major agricultural hub. The decision left environmental advocates baffled.

“In a region plagued by the kind of air pollution that public health experts are beginning to link to COVID-19 deaths, they questioned why California regulators would greenlight new fracking permits — especially since the state agency in charge of overseeing this process, California’s Geologic Energy Management division (CalGEM), is operating under a new mission to protect public health and safety.”


Meanwhile, we have a xenophobic administration locking down our borders, with immediately disastrous consequences to our food supply, which is vulnerable on a good day (which these days aren’t) and extremely dependent on foreign and not-quite-legal workers to do all the dirty work. Now, the Trump administration has proposed to lower farmworker compensation, which is already in a lower pay grade than most Americans would ever accept for the backbreaking labor that keeps our supermarkets stocked with cheap food.

The Pesticide Action Network of North America asks citizens to contact Nancy Pelosi and urge that this bill NOT be passed:

“Farmworkers are risking their health to keep our food system going without adequate health, safety or financial protections. Meanwhile, this administration has proposed slashing minimum wages for farmworkers on guest worker visas as ‘aid’ to industrial agriculture.

“This proposal isn’t just immoral, it could serve to destabilize our food and farming system by depressing wages for all farmworkers. We should be raising wages and strengthening protections for farmworkers during the COVID-19 pandemic, not cutting wages and slashing protections.

“It’s urgent that you ensure the farmworkers who feed us are treated as the essential workers they are, and that any proposals to cut farmworker wages or slash protections are blocked.”


National Geographic reports on the need to consider ecological health along with public policy:

“It can be hard to contemplate putting energy into environmental protection when global COVID-19 cases have surpassed 3.7 million. But the pandemic is a result of humankind’s destruction of the planet. ‘Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people,’ [authors of a landmark global report] wrote a few weeks ago.

“The authors issue a stark warning: Future pandemics will happen more frequently, will kill more people, and will cause greater economic damage unless we start recognizing the inextricable links between human health and the health of the planet, its ecosystems, and its nonhuman living creatures. This is not a radical concept. The framework of OneHealth, recognized by the CDC, the World Health Organization, and governments and organizations around the world, does just that.

“It’s easy to think—especially for those of us who live in urban areas—that ecosystems are something separate from us. But the coronavirus crisis has shown that even people in the most advanced, developed cities around the world are vulnerable when ecosystems are degraded.”


I very rarely recommend videos, because there are so few of them worth watching when you’re trying to gather information. (They’re great, however, when you’re trying to learn card-handling and how to do magic tricks, according to my son.)

But the link above is to my current favorite episode of Crash Course “History of Science,” concerning the scientific revolution in the time of Copernicus. You might think this has no bearing on our 2020 pandemic, but I found it fascinatingly relevant.

Maybe it’s not just exclusive to 2020 that “national conversations” happen in disorderly, disorganized, and decentralized ways, even in the age of the Internet and More Information Available Instantly Than Copernicus Could Imagine in his Wildest Dreams. Change happens incrementally, and only in retrospect do we (or don’t we) label a moment in time as “pivotal”, “a turning point.” Likewise, our collective wisdom-gathering and ability to See What’s Going On takes time, and does not (for example) lead to an entire population suddenly agreeing that the earth and other planets orbit the sun, or on what to do during a pandemic. Instead, thinking - like life - is messy, slow, and uneven.

At least it’s super interesting! And I guess that could be construed as me being hopeful in this unusual times.


Why is the pandemic leading to food shortages and continuing price increases?

“…at the meat processing facilities there is high rate of COVID-19 infections being reported, including Smithfield Foods in South Dakota, which became the ‘largest coronavirus hotspot’ in the United States. ‘More than 150 of America’s largest meat processing plants operate in counties where the rate of coronavirus infection is already among the nation’s highest,’ according to an investigation conducted by USA Today and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting…”


What It’s Like To Exist In The Age of Information Overload - or, Information Cannot Simply Speak for Itself:…

“…Expertise is not just about knowledge, but also about the capacity to spot errors. Ginn couldn’t see them in his own work; Bergstrom could. The rest of us are more likely to fall in the former group than the latter. We hunger for information, but lack the know-how to evaluate it or the sources that provide it. ‘This is the epistemological crisis of the moment: There’s a lot of expertise around, but fewer tools than ever to distinguish it from everything else,’ says Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina and an Atlantic contributing writer. ‘Pure credentialism doesn’t always work. People have self-published a lot of terrible pieces on Medium, but some of the best early ones that explained stuff to laypeople were from tech guys.’

“Several journalists and media critics have urged news networks to stop airing the White House briefings live. That seems extreme, but it’s an extreme time when a presidential briefing forces doctors to clarify that people should not consume bleach. ‘No matter how many tough questions you ask, it really is not possible to prevent him from spreading bad info that could have very serious health effects,’ says Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU. /People think that more determined journalists can solve the problem—and they can’t.’”  


COVID, tracking apps, privacy, and trust: a comprehensive overview of the possibilities (and why, exactly, Trust-building is equally as important as Technical Spiffiness, and will be much harder to achieve):…


Bill Gates is interested in a lot of causes can seem unrelated, but are united by their Profit Motives. How is Vaccinating the Third World connected to credit card use?? The Gates Foundation and the War on Cash: ‘Financial Inclusion’ in an Age of Neoliberalism:…


M. suggested this interesting-looking blog, but my brain could only take so much. Lemme know what you think, if you read it! “Wrench in the Gears: A Skeptical Parent's Thoughts on Digital Curriculum” is a recent blog post, which discusses “Vaccines, Blockchain, and Bio-capitalism”


How are YOU? I miss you, the real, live, in person, germy, human YOUs whom we haven’t seen in a long time. I appreciate your e-mails in the meanwhile.