And the beat goes on…

I began writing this post early on the morning of Monday, Dec. 27, as Sue and I sat in the Delta SkyClub lounge at Logan International Airport in Boston. We were finishing up a Christmas weekend visit to our daughter, Kim, and her family, starring our precocious three-year-old grandson, Pax. As we sat there, I reflected that an airport is not a very lonely place at any time of day, but at 5am on a Monday, it’s as close to being lonely as it can be.

Saying goodbye to Pax, Kim and her husband Mike the day before was tough. Spending yet another night in the grimy, noisy city at our hotel was tougher, but the best we could do for a flight home was early the next morning.

Airline tickets and three nights in a hotel: a little pricey. A weekend with the grandson: priceless.

I sat there in the lounge with my mask on the side table next to me. Had anybody noticed? After about an hour, no, or at least nobody had said anything. I’d discovered a way to beat the ever-present mask requirements at the airport (and indeed, throughout the Boston area), which are the result of COVID paranoia disguised as science. (A little more on that later). I just kept a drink next to me at all times. In that case, hot chocolate from the coffee bar. Sipping from the cup every couple minutes meant I could safely keep the mask off.

My cup wasn’t this fancy, but its contents still tasted mighty good.

The mask had to go back on once we departed the lounge, and of course had to stay on during our flight. We were allowed to take it off to eat and drink on board the plane, but even that wasn’t safe; a couple days earlier I’d seen a video, posted by an Atlanta site, showing an irate woman aboard a Delta flight accosting an elderly man for not keeping his mask on. When he told her he was eating, she slugged him. I have since read that the woman is in FBI custody. (She wasn’t wearing a mask herself, by the way.)

When will this masking stuff end? Nobody seems to know. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is allegedly the best epidemiologist in the country–anointed so by the media, at least–only calls it “the foreseeable future.” That means, strictly speaking, that we’ll have to keep masking for as far ahead as we can see. And what, exactly, does that mean? Next month? Next year? Next century?

I have had this conversation with pro-masking folks, and asked them the simple question: when will it end? More specifically, what conditions have to be in place before these mandates are lifted? Nobody has a real answer. “They’ll tell us,” is a common response. Presumably, “they” refers to the government. To be more precise, it refers to some bureaucrat, somewhere deep within the bowels of the monolith that sits in Washington, D.C., because sure as hell our elected representatives in Congress have no say in it. Otherwise, one would assume that they would put it to a vote. That is, after all, how things are done in a democracy, are they not?

People are not stupid. They know, or at least a lot of them know, that this has gone way too far, and they’re standing against it, in increasing numbers: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/12/25/covid-public-health-laws-restricted/

As always, the media is quick to politicize something that they insist should not be politicized. Articles such as this will always mention, if it’s at all applicable, that mask mandates are being opposed in counties or municipalities or states that are led by Republicans.

To mask, or not to mask?

The Omicron variant of COVID-19, which we first heard about when we were cruising the Rhine in Europe at the end of November, has caused a surge of new COVID cases throughout America. Despite its relentless criticism of the previous administration during the 2020 presidential campaign, the current crew in the White House hasn’t demonstrated anything close to the high degree of competence they boasted about, when it comes to dealing with the virus. The death toll from the virus (or at least those attributed to it; there’s always a question as to whether COVID is the precise cause of death, or just one of perhaps many factors) was just about the same in 2021, after President Biden took office, as it was in 2020 in the last year of his predecessor’s term.

I’m no doctor and have never claimed to be any kind of expert in epidemiology, but I can read statistics as good as the next guy, which is why I pay attention to the daily COVID page on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s website, http://www.jsonline.com. It doesn’t take an expert in statistics or math to decipher the numbers. They’re up in Wisconsin over the past few weeks, although they’re still significantly below those generated at the pandemic’s peak in November 2020. And there are definite signs that this current wave is on the downward trend, just as the South African doctors predicted when they reported Omicron’s first rush through their country several weeks ago.

Some states and municipalities have maintained, or at least reinstated, strict masking and social-distancing policies since Omicron appeared. We saw it happening in Europe, to the point where the Dutch city of Amsterdam instituted a citywide 5pm curfew just a few days before our boat’s arrival there on December 1st. That night, our ship’s captain defied the city authorities, by whose authority he was technically bound while his vessel was within the city’s limits, and allowed all of his passengers, some 75 of us, to enjoy one last cocktail hour in the lounge, with entertainment by a wonderful trio of classical musicians, and then a final dinner in the dining room. I will never forget the cheers that rang through the halls when the announcement was made that we were going forward. Curtains were drawn in the lounge, the gangway was pulled up and guards were posted at the entry, just in case the Dutch police showed up. All during the performance, I expected to hear, at any moment, the distinctive up-down wail of sirens, followed by the clatter of boots on the pier and then the pounding of fists, followed by rifle butts, on the ship’s entry hatch. But they never came.

This type of terrifying scenario could never happen again, could it? Just because of a virus that has a miniscule mortality rate?
Ask the Australians.

Hyperbole, anyone?

The day after our return, I picked up a newspaper from Eau Claire and read a column by David M. Shribman, former executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Now a syndicated columnist, Shribman compared our present-day response to the COVID pandemic with the response of our recent ancestors to World War II. His conclusion was that we are not nearly as determined as our forebears were, not even close to exhibiting the same level of dedication toward defeating the enemy:

We do not know what is ahead for us in the fight against the virus, nor whether it will last longer than American involvement in World War II (about four years) or, more perilous still, European involvement (about six years). We do know that American attitudes today are far different, and that Americans do not, as (Lawrence) Bresnahan (Boston-area director of the Office of Price Administration) said on the radio in October 1943, “stand ready to accept any inconvenience or make any sacrifice,” even though those inconveniences and sacrifices are, by our parents’ and grandparents’ standards, trivial.

Shribman was right, I thought, and yet he was wrong. It is fashionable among the left in America–that is to say, those who tend to favor strong government restrictions as the best way to fight the virus–to believe that our battle against COVID needs the same sort of strategy and tactics employed on the home front in World War II. In those days, people willingly gave up some of their civil rights and stood together as one, doing what they were told by the government, trusting that this obedience would enable the government and its military forces to defeat the enemy.

The picture he paints of 1940s America is very appealing–everyone pulling together to achieve an admirable goal–yet it’s not completely accurate. He says nothing about the internment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, ostensibly to prevent them from committing acts of espionage, even though none of them were ever convicted of spying on America. The image of determined, forceful businessmen throwing everything they had into the war effort, joined arm-in-arm by their equally-determined employees, also leaves something to be desired. There was price-gouging and profiteering aplenty going on during the war. Future president Harry Truman chaired a Senate committee that investigated fraud and corruption, and it found plenty: https://www.senate.gov/about/powers-procedures/investigations/truman.htm

And, of course, not every American male was eager to march off to war, no matter what the need. Some 72,000 Americans sought to avoid the draft by declaring themselves conscientious objectors; many of their applications were rejected, and more than a few served jail time as a result of avoiding the draft for no good reason other than they didn’t want to go. Nearly 50,000 American troops deserted after putting on the uniform and 49 were convicted and sentenced to death, although only one, Eddie Slovik, actually went before a firing squad. Sorry, Mr. Shribman, but America back then was not as united as you want us to believe.

World War II was eighty years ago, and few people are alive today who have real, living memories of those times. My mother was five years old when the U.S. entered the war. I remember talking to her father, my grandfather, about the war. Grampa Carpenter had a job in a vital industry, the railroad, and was a married father of three, so he was exempted from military service. He did say, though, that everybody on the home front knew they were in for a long, costly war after Pearl Harbor, and a lot of men would be going overseas and many of them wouldn’t be coming home.

“Did you ever think we were going to lose?” I asked him.

“No,” he said, without hesitation. “Nobody thought that. We knew it would be very hard, but we were going to win.”

Shribman equates the Second World War, the bloodiest conflict in human history, with a pandemic. The war was a struggle for world dominance by two social forces, freedom and tyranny, ideals in the minds of human beings who would stop at nothing to ensure that their side would triumph. The virus has no ideal, no philosophy, no thought, be it rational or irrational. It merely exists and does what viruses do, which is to infect a host and replicate. If it causes harm to the host, the virus does not care. It is, as they say, what it is.

Like many others who are obsessed with the pandemic, Shribman cites numbers, and does so in a way designed to cause the greatest worry and fear in his reader. Death is the biggest fear many people have, and so he talks of death, a lot of it. World War II, he says, resulted in over 400,000 American “casualties.” In actual fact, though, what he means is combat-related deaths. A military “casualty” is any member of the armed services who is unable to serve in the line of duty due to “death, injury, illness, capture or desertion,” according to one definition I found. The United States suffered well over a million casualties in the war, but the official total of fatalities, including civilians, was about 419,000, and that total was achieved in 46 months, from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the date of the Japanese surrender. Shribman says the virus “has caused twice that many in half that time.” And indeed, the CDC says there have been just over 834,000 deaths attributed to the virus since the first one was recorded some 24 months ago. What Shribman fails to point out is that the US population in 1940 was about 1/3 of today’s, and so the percentage of war-related fatalities was significantly higher (0.32%) than the percentage of COVID-related deaths in the US today (0.25%). And, of course, that assumes the 834,000 is an accurate number. Some say that COVID itself kills very few people–a healthy, younger individual is extremely unlikely to die strictly of an infection, but someone with “comorbidities” like obesity, heart disease, cancer, and many other maladies, not to mention someone of advanced age, is more susceptible to the virus due to his or her weakened immune system and overall poor physical condition. But others point out that the actual count of people dying “with COVID” or “of COVID,” however you want to phrase it, could be much higher. The science of the numbers, like so much of the science surrounding this virus, is anything but clear.

Whatever. There’s no denying the seriousness of COVID, but I don’t think that comparing it to World War II is helpful. In spite of the hysteria whipped up by our news media over the virus, and fanned into political fury by those wishing to advance their own agendas, there has never been any danger of the Apocalypse. America and the world are not going to be turned into a Mad Max-style wasteland, with a few hardy bands of the immune wandering about, living off canned goods and siphoning gas from underground tanks.

In World War II, however, there was a very real possibility that defeat at the hands of our enemies would end our very way of life. Although we weren’t really fully aware of what was happening in Europe under the Nazis, and for that matter what the Japanese were doing to the Chinese and other peoples in lands they’d conquered, everybody knew that to lose to them would be catastrophic. Imagine, for example, a simple alternate-history scenario in which the Japanese hold off on their Pearl Harbor attack, and it’s late 1942 or early ’43 before the U.S. decides things have gone far enough overseas and gets into the war, as we had done back in 1917, well after hostilities had begun in World War I. That extra year or so might very well have given the Germans time to accomplish their strategic goals of knocking out the Russians in the east and forcing the British to surrender in the west. With all of Europe secured, not to mention North Africa and the Middle East, with its vast oil reserves, and with his cities and factories virtually immune to enemy air attack, Hitler would have had time to let his scientists and engineers complete development of their advanced weapons and delivery systems: jet aircraft, long-range bombers, intercontinental missiles, and most importantly, the atomic bomb. With those weapons, Germany could have dictated terms to the surviving democracies in the Western Hemisphere. This is a theme explored often in fiction, both in books and in movies and TV series like The Man in the High Castle.

High Castle is set in the early 1960s, some 15 years after the Axis victory, resulting in this map of the world.

There is no chance that enemy troops will be goose-stepping down our Main Streets anytime soon, if ever. What I think we stand to lose in the face of the virus, though, is our freedom of thought and of action. When you stop and think about it, nothing the government has come up with has worked, if the desired end result was to crush the virus and get everything “back to normal.” Masks, isolation, social distancing, even the vaccine, none of it has worked as advertised. If any of those things had done the job as predicted, especially in concert, the virus would’ve been tamped down to the level of a mere annoyance months ago. And yet here we are, with the latest COVID variant sweeping across the land, ignoring masks and caring not a whit if the body it infects has been vaccinated. All the latter has done, in fact, is to make the immunized less susceptible to the symptoms of COVID.

Americans are wising up to this, in the sense of many people having come to accept that COVID will be with us, in some form or another, for a long time. This is not smallpox, which has been virtually eradicated worldwide, or other serious diseases like tuberculosis or polio, both of which have been greatly reduced from the levels at which they affected our society back when my grandparents were kids. This COVID thing is different, tougher maybe than those others, although not as serious to the great majority who are touched by it.

About a year ago, CNN news anchor Wolf Blitzer said that “Everybody should be afraid of COVID.” Sorry, Wolf, but I’m not afraid of COVID, no more than I might be afraid of the flu or slipping on the ice and breaking an arm. I take reasonable precautions against the flu and slipping on the ice, and I’ll take reasonable precautions against COVID, too, but I will not let it run my life, and I will not let you or your colleagues tell me what I should be afraid of. I walk with the Lord every day of my life, and I fear nothing.

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