Tag Archives: Covid-19

Morality Plays

I think a lot of people have a need for human affairs to be a morality play which far exceeds the extent to which they really are. COVID has got me thinking about this, but so have a number of things.

As regards COVID, I think part of the screaming for permanent lockdown measures reflects morality-play thinking. I have already written that I think it’s partly denial of the fact that it is no longer February 2020 and can never be again. Realities which seem unjust are very hard to deal with (don’t I know it). People turn to denial, to conspiracy theories, and I think to morality-play interpretations.

I should explain here that by “morality play” I mean a belief that events have a moral, and often that this operates at an individual level; we tend to prefer a system in which cause and effect are just, and to prefer a system in which individual actions and their consequences are just. But reality is frequently not such a system in either regard.

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Le vent se lève

Whenever it was, a year and a half ago or 30 years ago, I titled a post “Improv pandemi-coup-cession” which I think was a pretty credible impression of the multiple car pileup of alarming events and chaos. Right now I don’t even know where I would begin to attempt the same thing.

A big obstacle to bothering, with lots of things, is a high degree of confidence that the disruption right now is scarcely more than a brief sketch of the immersive 3D which is on its way.

A nuclear-armed state is moving toward mass invasion of a U.S. ally, accompanied by a global barrage of socioeconomic sabotage, gaslighting and brain-bending trolling.

It is difficult even to comment on the political crisis in America, which except for brief and pretty much meaningless jolts, is continually hypernormalized even as it deteriorates further and further. I actually have a more or less complete manuscript of a book of comment on this, yet it is difficult to do anything with it. I never saw much point to the project, anyway, in the sense of belief that circulating it would really change anything. But now it feels kind of like completing a manuscript on the fragility of Europe’s 19th-century long peace, in August 1914.

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When is democracy out of danger?

I want to return one more time to The Morning email from January 6, and one particular idea: that democrats and especially Democrats should make enormous sacrifice for now, with relief to come “Once the authoritarian threat has receded.”

A lot of people maintain some form of this premise, and for my part I have touched upon this question before. But I feel like it’s worth addressing specifically in these terms.

Setting aside the practicality of still stopping the authoritarian threat to America, at this late hour, what is the “after” condition when America moves our democracy off the endangered list? What does that look like?

This seems like a very important and obvious question, because a lot of us would have said that we entered the “after” condition a year ago, yet here we are.

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2021 Year in Review

At some point, this year, I scribbled the random thought that if 2020 was the year when everything happened, 2021 feels more like a false year when things didn’t happen (though not a year in which nothing happened).

I don’t know. This month I started a year-end letter to a pen pal of some years with “what the fuck.”

When did 2021 even begin? On one hand, it feels (and felt) kind of like everything before Inauguration Day was a collective holding our breath since the previous autumn. The morning of January 20 I had a variety of awful physical symptoms but ultimately concluded that it was just shock at the day actually arriving when the nightmare of President Trump ended. On the other hand, that aside, the nightmare has not really ended.

Personally this was like a good year, in some ways, or at least a prosperous year. This was a decent year for freelancing, including the past several weeks which I expected to be a post-election lull and which have not been. Not only did I replace my car in 2021, with a newer better car that I still really like so far, but somehow my decision to go ahead in early summer rather than wait for the market to clear (lol) actually turned out to be an excellent decision. (WTF?)

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The Republican Party is pro-COVID

I have been thinking about the substantial and, apparently, still growing pro-COVID energy among Republicans.

For one thing, I don’t think any other term is really adequate. When Republicans are simultaneously “antilockdown,” “antimask,” “antivaccine,” “antimandates,” etc., etc., the big picture is effectively pro-COVID. Republicans are pandemic accelerationists.

Masks make a difference. Republicans gleefully want to discourage them, with both policy and stigma. Vaccine mandates have been working really well! Republicans are busily working to thwart them, through preemption or riddling them with exemptions.

Above all, vaccines work, yet the Republican Party is letting crackpot antivaxxers pull it their way rather than making any attempt to celebrate vaccines as a triumph of the Trump administration.

None of this is shocking, it’s just of some interest, if only as a reference point within the stampede of daily events.

I recall, with some effort, a few fleeting days in July when Republican elites were supposedly attempting a new, pro-vaccination message; that went basically nowhere. Among other things, it’s quite obvious that neither Republicans’ voting base nor the party’s middle ranks support that message.

What strikes me is that the overall pro-COVID energy among Republicans seems like a boundary marker between rational sabotage, and irrational self-destruction.

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Provincial Geoengineering

What if states suffering from climate change become, quite realistically, frustrated with waiting for coordinated global solutions and attempt to modify their own local climates?

This is just a hypothetical possibility that occurred to me, yesterday, prompted I suppose by the COVID pandemic and how that’s going. I’m not a climate scientist, or really any sort of expert in the natural sciences or engineering at all. I am a historian and chronicler of contemporary civilization, though, and from that perspective this concept seems very realistic.

Most of this concept is not even new. Any number of schemes for geoengineering responses to the climate crisis have kicked around for many years. As has speculation about the possibility of unilateral attempts, in the absence of global consensus; the harrowing short story collection The Hidden Girl even considers a private attempt at global geoengineering.

Microclimates are obviously not new, though the intersection of climate complexity and anthropogenic rapid climate change is revealing that the results will not be smooth and uniform.

Local-scale response is a well-established concept, also. The urban heat island effect is really a basic corollary of cities, but systems and policies can do a lot to minimize or intensify it, through e.g. choosing more trees instead of blacktop parking lots.

But what about in-between the local and global scale? Might individual nation-states (or federation member-states) try to protect their climates amid the continuing absence of global solutions? Whether or not they can in fact do so, what if one or more decide that they can, and try it?

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COVID Summer 2021

The sense that a Theory Of The Case is generally missing, including from purported leaders, is thriving lately.

I continue to think back on one of the earliest COVID prognoses that caught my eye as one of the best. I wish I had clipped a source URL. But I recall back near the start of all this, someone advising that eventually everyone would be exposed to COVID and (this being way before vaccines) most people exposed would get infected. This was, as far as I can tell, always the theory of “flatten the curve”—even if that escaped people—i.e. don’t all get COVID at once and thereby overload the hospitals, not do this so that you don’t get COVID ever.

With vaccines’ arrival, some theoretical possibility seemed to exist that thoroughly vaccinated societies could achieve that so-much-abused concept, herd immunity.

That’s just no longer even within reach at this point.

As someone else forecast fairly early on, COVID is endemic now. There is no credible scenario for how this worldwide, extremely transmissible virus gets removed from circulation. This is not so much because it’s “mutating around the vaccines,” as ongoing lurid speculation anticipates, as it is because there are a lot of people who will never get vaccinated. Vaccines are available in America. It isn’t really an access problem other than for children or the immunocompromised. For millions of people in this country and many more in other countries, it’s basically just a Bartleby the Scrivener situation.

Few people seem even to be confronting this reality, honestly.

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Late-stage Pandemic

It’s the last week of April, 2021.

It’s five weeks since my first COVID-19 vaccine shot, and one week since my second.

It’s daylight hours in a Groundhog Day limbo, in which time no longer seems to have any meaning beyond the wheel of dawn to noon to dusk to night, a repetitive loop which it’s impossible to define as having any ending or beginning.

That last one might be a dramatic exaggeration, but the feeling is certainly not just me; on Monday ProPublica began an official e-mail with the words “In an era in which time has grown increasingly hazy…”

Yesterday, the CDC made a confusing announcement blessing a few limited unmasked activities for fully vaccinated people, all of which activities people have been doing without masks or vaccination.

Everywhere it seems like this has all just outlived our capacity to sustain it, at least in the sense of an acute crisis during which we sort of hold our collective breath. There are many many caveats here, the most important being that I’m not an expert in virology or public health and you should seek one out if you want expert guidance on the COVID-19 pandemic. For the personal reflections of one 42-year-old mostly vaccinated Very Online American, read on.

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The Consortium Calls It

Friday evening a friend wondered “Are they gonna call the election in a Friday news dump?” I laughed, and had been musing on the same question earlier in the day. Though the notion amuses, the alternative carried out today by “they” is much richer.

Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020 concludes a week which is a microcosm of contemporary America:

  1. Political debate has conceptually been devoured by a sectarian/race war
  2. Bad rules thwart the majority from doing anything effective about the above, or about the bad rules, or about much of anything
  3. In this dysfunction, power defaults more and more to corporate capital
  4. For ordinary people, conditions get worse, intensified by a dangerous natural phenomenon which could easily be controlled by a functional modern civilization, but which in this case is largely allowed to burn as it will because that’s the option most suited to short-term corporate profits
  5. Meanwhile few people even give much notice to any of this, because our information and conceptual infrastructure is hopelessly misaligned with what’s really going on, owing to a combination of senescence and sabotage
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Decline and Fall of Iowa State University

The news, yesterday, that Iowa State University plans to host a massive COVID-19 superspreader event at Jack Trice Stadium feels like a fade-to-black moment.

I was a critic of Iowa State even as a student, and if my early criticism wasn’t always very good, with 20 years’ hindsight I still think that by graduation I was making reasonable complaints. Recent years, however, seem to reveal a trend which makes this latest destructive act less than completely shocking, no matter how appalling it is.

“Planegate” in 2016 might, by itself, have been a one-off fiasco. Yet that same year, Iowa State University of Science and Technology awarded a degree to a contemporary Republican elected official; Kim Reynolds has gone on to demonstrate that category’s dependable anti-science hackery with one of the worst pandemic responses of any governor in the entire U.S.

The following year, Iowa State cooperated quietly and fully with the state government’s Republican hacks when they robbed the university and public of the Iowa Energy Center, so that the utility industry could corrupt and dismantle it. I wrote letters at the time, protesting, but the fix was apparently in.

Seeing Iowa State University now embrace the plague state approach of disastrous buffoonery and reckless denial, right along with Reynolds and Trump, feels like turning out the last lights. The descent into darkness has been underway for quite a while. This is just arrival.

Realistically we have a lot bigger problems so I can’t even feel particularly heartbroken. The Iowa State University of the late 1990s served me well, but I have not had any real relationship with the institution since other than sentiment. I have still barely made any beginning at adapting, mentally, for the different world we’re entering, but a capacity to let go of purely sentimental ties to the past without a lot of fuss is probably the low-hanging fruit here.

I could write more, but probably, the substantive concept to carry forward is simply that there will be more like this. A few months ago a friend texted me at 1 a.m. “it’s time to pick sides.” Iowa State University of Science and Technology has decided to side with destructive recklessness and fraud.

Postscript: Iowa State University did abandon this disastrous idea, which is far better than plowing ahead. But pre-game tailgating went right ahead even as Iowa continues to set new COVID-19 records. As the late Pete Taylor would often say in exasperation, good night!