There are now more than a million confirmed cases of infection by the virus that causes COVID-19. Worldwide, the mortality rate is 5.3%. Of course, there’s plenty or reason to believe that it’s less fatal, and that 5.3% ignores the many people around the world who likely have been infected but have not been confirmed (either because of false negative results or because of lack of testing). I spent some time crunching numbers this morning. Not because I think there’s anything that I can learn that others don’t know already, but because it keeps my mind from wandering and I like crunching numbers. In the same way, I’m sharing this number crunching here, not because I think anybody should read it, or take it as some real source of information, but because this site has been a faithful outlet for me to put my thoughts on paper. So here’s what I found.
One of the places where I tend to disagree with other liberals is the defense budget. Attacking defense spending is a common hobby for many liberals. I get the appeal. I don’t like spending astronomical sums of money for the purpose of killing people. It doesn’t sit well with me. But what I’ve come to realize is that the defense budget is so much more than a killing budget. It’s a convenient way for Congress to allocate money to things we need, as a nation, but can’t convince many voters (or even Members of Congress) to support otherwise. How do some countries fight unemployment? They hire lots of people to work for the government. We do that too, through the military. Want to provide education and job training and healthcare for millions of Americans…put money for education and job training and healthcare into the Department of Defense budget and consider it done. Want to spend money on biomedical research, on materials research, on computing research, on all kinds of research…put money into the Department of Defense budget and consider it done.
I have fond memories of emerging technology from my childhood. I remember listening, in awe, as my father put a pair of headphones on me and played a track from Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma with wonderful sounds clearly coming from the left and right, and a bee buzzing in one ear and not the other. I remember my father getting a car phone. Not a mobile phone, not a cell phone, but a car phone. Hard-wired into the car, with a pigtail antenna fixed to the back window and wired through the car to the phone in the center console. We watched the Jetsons and longed for the days when a robot would cook for us, clean for us, and make our lives easier. We had this vision of a world in which automation and technology let us sit by the pool and sip margaritas that a robot would make and bring to us with a tiny umbrella. What we never imagined is that the robots would take away the pool also.
I got a new car a few months ago and it came with a subscription to Sirius XM. I had never had it before, except in a rental, and never appreciated it. Now I have it, and it’s fueling my news addiction. That only matters because it’s directly responsible for me writing something this morning, for the first time this month. A former Congresswoman, a republican, was on CNN. I was listening in the car, and didn’t recognize her voice, nor was I listening when they introduced her and told us who she was. Without the chyron below, showing her name, the piece ended and I was left not knowing who she was. She was asked about the difficulty being a republican in Congress in the time of Trump. She spoke, more frankly than most republicans do these days, about the clear evidence that there was bad behavior by the Trump campaign. She said something like, “honestly, we have to be concerned about the people surrounding the President who were involved with the Russians.” But, in the end, she drew the line and differentiated between what the President (then candidate) knew and did. It’s a funny line to draw, and leaves me with some competing narratives: dueling perspectives…which in my head quickly pivoted to Climate Change. Follow me for the ride.
I do not like politics of fear. I do not like making policies based on fear. I do not like using fear to play with people’s emotions. But, I am afraid. Genuinely afraid. I see a willful erosion of expertise in this country, and I fear the consequences will be worse than we can imagine. This is not a new feeling, but the removal of Brennan’s security clearance made it especially salient this morning. I recognize that this is a punitive act, and not directed at his expertise, but it’s all part of a bigger problem from my perspective.
People aren’t perfect. We’re relatively safe when we idolize fictional characters, because they’re less likely to let us down, but when we idolize real people, we run the risk of being let down by their inevitable imperfection. From Bill O’Reilly to Christopher Columbus to Thomas Jefferson, people do unforgivable things, and we’re stuck trying to balance the good with the bad. What interests me is how people react when it happens.
The idea of white privilege made its way into common culture over the last few years. I’ve gotten into several FaceBook spats about whether or not there’s a certain privilege associated with being white. I think the word “privilege” might put people off, and make them defensive, but when you get to the heart of the matter, it’s really about a sense that the world revolves around white americans. It’s common here in the United States to hear people say that we don’t have accents. Of course some do, but when somebody speaks and you can’t tell if they’re from the north or south or midwest of the United States, they are said to not have an accent. But they DO have an accent, and it’s easy to tell that they are from the US (or Canada). It’s that, in our self-centered world, sounding like “us” means being “normal” and not having an accent. We don’t talk about people having an American accent, like we talk about Australian or British or Hispanic accents. We see it in how we talk about food in terms of “ethnic” and “non-ethnic” also. Restaurants are classified as chinese, ethiopian, mexican, burmese, indian…and then there’s the others. Not “american,” just unclassified. All of this makes it clear that our culture, specifically white American culture, acts as if we are the “norm” and everything else is different. Not bad, but not the norm. But these are small potatoes compared to the biggest of all…
Bad things happen. Tragedies happen. When they happen, it’s good to help those affected, and it’s good to think about ways to prevent those things from happening again. If they can’t be prevented, it’s good to think about ways to protect us from the damage they cause in the future. These seem like normal responses, yet so often, doing these things gets blasted as an attempt to politicize a tragedy. I really don’t like that critique, and the critique itself seems to be more “political” than actually talking about solutions and prevention.
In a somewhat hastily written post yesterday, I noted that some of the issues we grapple with about abortion could be solved by a way to remove the fetus from an unwilling mother, and allow it to gestate without needing the mother.
But what if the choice is this: carry the pregnancy to term, or terminate the pregnancy while others do what they can to save the embryo/fetus? Aside from the gigantic technical hurdle, there are plenty of other issues that need to be resolved (who pays for it? what is the impact on the population? who raises the child after gestation?), but it changes the discussion completely. We could even use this technology to take away what I see as sex discrimination entering into the debate (anti-abortion laws mandating the only instance of violating body autonomy, and it only applying to women). There are folks who think that the biological father should have a say in whether or not the woman terminates the pregnancy…now he can have that say, as long as he’s willing to carry the pregnancy to term (and consents to the implantation of the artificial womb and surgical removal of it and the baby when ready). These are things that could become technically feasible in the future. Again, I somewhat doubt they will, because I don’t see much real motivation for it, but my crystal ball hasn’t worked very well for years (or ever).