Let’s Get Real

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Let’s get real for a moment:

  • Nobody likes to wear a mask. They are uncomfortable and hot, especially in the humid summertime of Houston, Texas. We wear masks not because some lawmaker is mandating us to do so, but because it is the right thing to do. Our mask wearing insures a less likely or rapid spread of Covid-19. Sometimes the good of the people as a whole should be more important than our personal desires. We should all mask up and do so because it shows consideration for the people around us.
  • Our medical community is working hard to keep us safe and to provide care for anyone who contracts the virus. Neither they nor hospitals are in cahoots to keep certain medicines or therapies from us nor are they simply attempting to make more money off of our fears of the virus. In fact, they are continually communicating with one another to find the best procedures that appear to work. The fact that our numbers of dying are slowing compared to the numbers of positive cases is a clear indication that they are more and more often winning the battle with Covid-19. To insinuate that they are somehow complicit in a plot to deceive us is not just absurd, but incredibly insulting.
  • We are long past the moment to point fingers and lay blame for the destruction that Covid-19 has caused in our country. At this point who cares if China hid the truth about the virus? What does it matter if we did this or that wrong? We have to begin again from where we are. We need to look forward not backward. We must focus our efforts on finding solutions rather than making accusations. 
  • Anyone who thinks that face to face schooling will be anything like normal is living in a dream world. There will be much ado about masks and social distancing. It will become the new battle between students who push the envelope and teachers who want to protect them. Children will not be able to hug and gather in groups but you bet they will want to try. Just moving groups from one classroom to another will become a difficult endeavor. It is going to be a bumpy ride for sure.
  • Those of us who are making every possible attempt to help keep the level of contagion down get quite frustrated when we see images of people gathering in large groups without masks. We have grown weary of those who continually demand their rights without any concern for those of us who want to get out and about as much as they do. We sense that each time a beach is crowded or a huge party is held the goal of getting Covid 19 under control slips away just a bit more. Those photos of people smiling while crowded together do not delight us. They frighten us into thinking that we will never reach a point of  being able to feel comfortable with them again.
  • There are people in our midst who lost their jobs as a direct result of Covid 19. Most of them were hard working individuals before all of this happened. They went to work each day for the good of their families and they had wonderful plans for the future. Now they sit at home vying for job after job only to learn that they are in competition with hundreds of others. They are not enjoying their new found freedom from lack of employment. They are not thinking how much better it has been to get checks from the government than having to actually work. They have watched their savings dwindle and the bills piling up. They worry that they may lose their cars or their homes. The rest of us should be just as concerned about their security as we are about our own.
  • Every single death anywhere in the world is a tragedy. Just because it does not affect us personally does not in any way make it less horrific. The elderly person who dies will be missed by someone as much as the forty year old who leaves behind a family. The Hispanic who does not make it should cause us to grieve even if his immigration status was illegal. Those numbers that we see represent real people who walked among us and were loved. If we are lucky enough not to be touched by Covid 19 we should be grateful, not uncaring. We should be dedicated to doing whatever it takes to lessen the likelihood of spreading contagion.
  • We need to be willing to be creative in our usual celebrations. That child of ours can have a happy birthday without a big party. I’ve “attended” a virtual baby shower. I’ve witnessed Happy Birthday parades in my neighborhood. I’ve seen images of friends visiting elderly loved ones through glass doors and windows. I have friends who have taken RV vacation trips without gathering in crowded places. I’ve been on Zoom conferences for Easter and Father’s Day. I have “attended” mass every Sunday via YouTube. I’ve received cancellations of parties for graduates of medical school and for future weddings. I have managed to exercise every single day without going to a crowded gym. We can still find ways to be “together” without risking infection.
  • We need to spend less time listening to people running for political offices and more hearing from medical and economic experts who have nothing to lose in speaking the truth.
  • We should avoid theories of hoaxes and attempts to create a fairytale vision of the pandemic. The likelihood that the entire world has joined to make trouble for a single person is incredibly low.
  • We need to support anyone who must return to work by insuring their safety and by doing our utmost to follow guidelines that will help to slow down the spread of the virus. If we really don’t need to do something that involves taking risks, we should consider just staying home. We can do many things to support our local businesses and the economy without setting up situations that have the potential to become virus spreading incidents.
  • We all miss the world as is was five months ago. We all watched that ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Day and made wonderful plans for 2020. We have lost many things like trips, graduations, time with friends and family, freedoms. When all is said and done nothing compares to the loss of health or life or economic security. If we can’t work together to get through this unprecedented time then we are surely doomed.
  • It’s time to get real.

The Trifecta

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Who knew that 2020 would bring us a trifecta of Covid-19, civil unrest, and an election year? Sadly our national response to all of it has turned into a three ring circus. It surely would have been nice to watch our governmental representatives forego their usual baiting and backbiting in favor of just doing the right thing to keep things calm and focused on getting our people and our systems well.

Of course it appears that such cooperative thinking is a thing of the past, something relegated to the World War II era when Franklin Roosevelt was president and George H.W. Bush’s Republican father worked with FDR. Or maybe we saw something similar after hurricane Katrina when George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton traveled together across the country raising funds to help rebuild New Orleans. Anyway we’ve been left to our own resources and luckily there are still heroes quietly working to set things right. It seems that emergencies almost always show us both our dark and bright sides and the good will always rise to the occasion.

At the dawn of 2020 I had to change my medical insurance because my former carrier had dropped the doctors that I see. I had done a great deal of research before choosing the medical team that keeps me as healthy as a seventy one year old might be so I was surprised that my insurance company thought that my loyalty would be directed toward them. I feel the same way about politicians, well meaning friends, personalities and random medical folks who attempt to dissuade me from following the advice of my carefully chosen physicians. I really have no interest in hearing from any of these sources because I know for a fact that my doctors do a great deal of research in addition to treating me and their other patients. If there is some wonderful cure or preventive measure out there I believe that they will find it and alert me to it just as they often do with other aspects of my health. So in the meantime, I plan to stick with the advice that they provide me which so far has been to wear a mask, keep a distance from other people, avoid crowds, stay at home when there is an outbreak in my area, follow proper hygiene procedures, continue to exercise, eat healthy meals, and take my medications.

If by some chance I actually contract Covid-19 I will contact my primary care physician and take his advice on what to do next. So I really wish that those who think they are being helpful with their suggestions would understand that I do not take medical advice from lay people. I stick with the professionals many of whom are in my family circle and among my friends. Since they are highly respected and credentialed doctors and physician’s assistants I count their information as being far more valid and useful than those whose expertise is questionable at best.

When it comes to the our present state of civil unrest it appears that we have mostly chosen sides and instead of making attempts to actually consider alternative ideas we are so tightly wound to our own thinking that we have lost any ability to bring the stand off to a mutually beneficial end. We have become like the differing religious sects in the Middle East who refuse to find ways of coming together. Hopefully we do not resort to all out war like they have.

I have decided that the only way to safely voice my own concerns will be in the sanctity of the voting booth. I do not need to explain my choices nor does anyone else and I will not be gathering my information on the issues and candidates from memes or questionable videos. I do a great deal of research before I make my decisions and I have never been bound to any one party, idea or candidate. In fact I abhor the lemming like behavior that I witness all too of late. I tend to believe that every single candidate has both good and bad ideas and so I weigh the facts and decide from there. I am wary of soundbites and instead look for overall abilities and behaviors. In the past I have voted all over the political map and generally felt quite satisfied with my choices even when my favorites were defeated. I like to go to sleep each night believing that I have done enough homework to make wise choices.

Since so much of the disastrous situation in which we find ourselves embroiled is only being stoked by the very people who are supposed to be our leaders it would be nice if we would all come together on our own to quash the hoax theories and the concerted attempts to drive us apart. We should not be challenging one another to love this country in exactly the same ways or leave. Not even our Founding Fathers thought it was a good idea to be tied to identical philosophies. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson argued about what was best for the nation until the day on which they both died. Some thought that Alexander Hamilton’s nationalization of banking would lead to the demise of the fledgling country. In the end it was the saving grace. In truth no single one of these men had everything right nor were they perfect so why should we suddenly believe that we have unflawed individuals in our midst today who must be followed at all cost or we will all be doomed? It is a dangerous game to blindly follow anyone. We have to be willing to be honest when assessing the character of our leaders. When they are wrong we have to be willing to say so, otherwise we give them permission to be authoritarian. 

I suspect the the rest of this year of 2020 will be as rocky as it has been all along. I fear that our trifecta of problems will only be exacerbated in the coming months as the political campaigns heat up even more. As the saying goes we need to buckle up because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. God help us!

Do the Research and Be Open Minded

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My father gave me the gift of reading. When I think of him I only have the memories of an eight year old child and yet what I recall is profound. My clearest images of him all involve books and newspapers, libraries and bookstores. Even on vacations we would visit little shops filled with volumes of every sort and our souvenirs would be books. My father not only read every book that he owned but he discussed what was inside with a kind of encyclopedic knowledge. His depth of information ran the gamut from humor to sports to science to history to poetry. He was a renaissance man in his tastes and his modeling lead me to also enjoy the search for beauty and truth in the written word. After he died so unexpectedly I suppose that I clung to his legacy by avidly devouring any written material I encountered.

My grandfather gave me the gift of understanding history. Like my father he read all the time but his favorite topics were historical tracts and biographies of great men and women. When I graduated from junior high school he gave me a volume of short vignettes of individuals whose lives had changed the world for the good. He inscribed the book with the suggestion that I should seek to learn from people whose courage lead them to upend the status quo when such actions were needed. He encouraged me to ask questions and have a willingness to stand up for justice.

My debate teacher gave me the gift of open-mindedness. She showed me how to view both the pros and cons of an argument. She taught me to use data and facts to support a declaration. She helped me to be objective and unbiased. She also introduced me to the tools used in the art of persuasion. She helped me to realize that I must carefully unpack any assertion in a search for truth.

My seventh grade English teacher gave me the gift of awareness. She alerted me to the use of propaganda and the rhetorical devices that are designed to create emotional rather than rational responses to events and problems. She helped me to understand how we are often manipulated by the way issues are presented with the purpose of making us angry or afraid.

My college professors gave me the gift of knowledge about things that I had never before known. They taught me to be analytical and showed me the value of asking questions before buying into any theory. They widened my horizons and provided me with tools for rationally parsing and investigating ideas.

All of these people taught me the importance of thinking, testing, verifying. Because of them I am wary of any person who tempts me with emotional group think. I require proof before accepting something as factual and I want that proof from the proper sources, experts. I broker little patience with wild ideas that reek of rhetorical excess. I cringe when I hear ridiculous phrases being repeated like the chirping of parrots. I abhor hoaxes proclaimed as legitimate theories. I demand concrete substantiation.

When our current president was gaining fame and a following for demanding to see a birth certificate from President Obama I thought that we were being duped by theater of the absurd. Somehow Donald Trump made large numbers of people believe that Obama was not born in the United States and was therefore unqualified to be president. In truth the Constitution makes it very clear that if an individual has one parent who is a citizen of the United States then that person is by default also a citizen as well. Since there was no denying that President Obama’s mother was a born and raised in the USA it really did not matter where he was born, but with rhetorical relish Trump made it seem so. His technique was so successful that he has since created one ridiculous hoax after another to seal the support of his followers.

I spend a great deal of time unraveling fact from fiction. Most of the time if something sounds audaciously absurd it is. Some ideas are trickier and more difficult to analyze. When there is confusions even among the experts the ground is fertile for misrepresentation. In such cases I find it useful to tread with caution and follow the science of the information.

Such it is with Covid-19. I do not get my information and form my conclusions from lay people. Instead I look to the scientists and the doctors and then listen to their suggestions for being safe. If the information changes as the knowledge of the virus increases I don’t resent being conservative in my approach to staying well. I wear my mask. I stay home as much as possible. I social distance. I wash my hands. None of those things hurt me but it may be that they have helped someone else. I do not consider it an infringement of my freedoms to care about someone other than myself. I do not believe that the virus was purposely created nor do I think that it will miraculously go away the day after the elections in November. My background and those who have gifted me with a rational approach to the world serve me well but frighten me when I see how many actually believe in the disinformation being perpetrated by trolls and bad actors.

The world is quite complex and we have to be careful of being taken in by individuals whose only purpose is self aggrandizement. We need an educated citizenry if we are to have the leadership that we need. Bear in mind that if something appears audacious, it probably is. Take the time to find the truth. Don’t be tied to a single television network or talk radio show or political ideology. Be open minded. Seek the truth.

I Keep Busy

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I plan math lessons. I teach math lessons. I grade math homework. I write blogs. I cook dinner. I clean the house. I wash the clothes. I walk on my treadmill. I read. I call to see how people are doing. I read posts on Facebook. I check my email. I take part in Zoom conferences, I order groceries. I take drives around my neighborhood. I floss my teeth and take showers and dry my hair. I organize drawers and paint lawn furniture. I feed the birds and watch them in my yard. I plant a vegetable garden and weed my flower beds. I text family members and friends. I watch Netflix and Amazon and Acorn and PBS and Hulu and CNN and CBS and NBC and YouTube. I keep busy. It’s the way I cope and always has been.

When the end of the day draws near and all is quiet in the neighborhood my mind begins to wander. I think about things and thinking about things leads my awareness to worrisome places. We are in new territory and there are so many different ideas and theories being bandied about. Are we humans overreacting, under reacting? Who is right and who is wrong? I feel as though we are all being gaslighted, but by whom? Am I the crazy one or is it them? I have to squeeze my eyes shut and listen to calming sounds on my Echo Dot to shut out the thoughts that make me anxious. If I manage to fall asleep I can begin again tomorrow. I can keep busy again in another rotation of the earth around the sun.

I know that I can do this. It’s how I kept going after my father died. I just kept busy, tried not to think too far ahead, went one day at a time. Things got better just as they always seem to do, at least until the next challenge came along. Whenever my mother presented her symptoms of bipolar disorder I just kept busy. When my husband had a stroke and my city filled with the waters of hurricane Harvey I just kept busy. It’s what I do. It’s how I cope, any yet somehow things feel very different now. My mind tells me to pace myself for the long haul, to be prepared for more bad news before the good news returns. I keep busy in spite of my concerns.

I prefer to listen to the realists, not the ones who attempt to lull me with seemingly false promises. I’m a big girl. I can take the truth. In fact I crave it. Still, I want to remain optimistic about the future even if that future may take awhile to unfold. I like the guy from the federal reserve who believes that our economy will slowly heal in the next many months even as we continue to witness illness and death. He is not attempting to fool me and I appreciate that.

I listen to the scientist who sees this moment as an opportunity to envision the world in a new and better way. I hear the historian note that in other times of pandemic humanity applied its inventiveness to improve sanitation, move toward more equitable living conditions and invent medicines. The darkest hours have almost always led to brighter futures from the lessons that we learned, but then I wonder if we have truly grasped the significance of our foundational weaknesses or if we just want to rush back to the way things were without thought of whether or not we might do things better.

I keep busy. I watch the birds in my yard and notice that there are more of them than I have ever before seen. My plants are greener, more prolific. It is as though nature is happier now that we are not filling the air with our pollution. If we just return to the way we were will the haze of ozone once more fill the sky? Is it possible to reconsider how we live? Did we learn how little we actually need during our lockdown? Isn’t that lovely sound of singing birds worth so much more than the frivolous things that we have sought in the past?

I keep busy but I think of the people who have lost their jobs. I hear that Rick Steves is adjusting the salaries of his employees so that he may keep all of them for at least two years. Why isn’t this a tactic being used by every business, every corporation? Why fire some while keeping others and even giving raises and bonuses in the process. What would be wrong with asking everyone to share in the sacrifice until better days come?  Why must there always be winners and losers?

I keep busy but I know that just because we wish the danger of Covid-19 to be over it does not mean that we will all be safe and sound. Just because we may not know someone who has grappled with the virus does not mean that it does not exist. How is it even possible that so many seem to believe that the pandemic is nothing more than a hoax? How is such thinking even possible when there is no logic to it? How have some managed to conflate being careless with patriotism? In what kind of world do we attack our scientists and medical experts for demonstrating the methodologies that guide their work and prevent emotional bias from tarnishing their results?

I know that Covid-19 has forced us to operate in the present. Today and today and today creeps in its petty pace. I keep busy. It is what I do, but maybe this time I should allow myself to think just a bit more.

The Numbers

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I’ve spent my life teaching young people about numbers. I enjoy demystifying mathematical processes and watching my students grow in confidence when faced with numerical challenges. I don’t believe that there are really individuals who are bad at math. I think instead that some folks just never encountered the right person to help them find an understanding of the logic and processes of math that underpin the workings of nature and the modern world.

Of late we’ve been bombarded with charts and graphs and statistical data of all sorts regarding Covid-19. We hear discussions regarding death rates of the virus and comparisons of this disease with others. It can become confusing and even a bit overwhelming but a few strokes on a calculator reveal some rather interesting information about the effect of the pandemic on our country.

Last week, using the latest information from the Johns Hopkins Covid-19 site along with a few references from Google I decided to do a bit of investigating of my own. I began by determining what percent of the world’s population resides in the United States. There are approximately 7,994,000,000 humans living across the globe. Of those about 382,200,000 are in the United States of America. A little bit of division showed me that our nation is home to about 5% of the people on this earth.

Next I noted that there have been 4,400,688 recorded cases of Covid-19 throughout the world. Of those 1,400,500 have been here in the USA. Another quick bit of division revealed that we have about 32% of the known cases of the virus. I was confounded by the fact that a nation with only 5% of the total population would have almost a third of the cases but I suspect that there are any number of logical explanations for that astounding number. We tend to be a rather mobile population that travels to all parts of the world and is continually on the move within our states and cities. Additionally we have a very modern medical system and in spite of its problems it is generally known for its capability to quickly and accurately diagnose disease. Nonetheless our rate of infection compared to the rest of the world is abnormally high and yet we still have people who are underplaying the effect of Covid-19 on our population.

Perhaps it is because the general story making the rounds is that this novel coronavirus is not any more deadly than the seasonal flu. With that in mind I ran the numbers and found that if I divided the number of US deaths from the virus (84,985) by the number of cases (1,400,500) I got a stunning 6% mortality rate. That is a number far larger than the under one percent figure that many claim is the average fatality rate for this virus. Furthermore the figures that I am using have been recorded in only two or three months as compared with an entire year of flu. We have now lost more citizens to Covid-19 since the beginning of 2020 than we did in all of the Vietnam War. Our percent of deaths does not fare too well when compared with the rest of the world either. In fact our figures represent 28% of all deaths from Covid-19 so far.

I find my calculations to be interesting because they appear to put a lie to a number of claims by individuals and groups who seem to think that what our country is enduring is little more than a grand hoax designed to make our president look bad in an election year. Somehow the numbers tell me that the truth of the matter is that the danger is very real and for some reason our country is not faring as well as we might hope. To believe that anybody would be capable of creating a deception so complexly horrific is incomprehensible.

The numbers regarding the destruction of our economy are just as appalling and maybe even more so, but the fact is that if we don’t very carefully consider the consequences of both dealing with the virus and keeping our country working we will surely face an even bleaker future. We indeed must be willing to talk about the facts without cover up or  recriminations The only undeniable truth in all of this is that we will have to work together, not just with each other here in this country but with our fellow humans across the globe.

Every nation is wounded and hurting. This is hardly the time to boast about our own country’s accomplishments or to isolate ourselves from the great thinking and solutions that are occurring in different corners of the globe. Our battle to save our country and our world is not a matter of who is best or first. Our leaders will have to make difficult decisions that should be based on what is right for the common good rather than what may garner votes in the coming election. All of us must be willing to sacrifice and endure privations and changes for which we are not accustomed. In the end it will not matter who was wrong or who was right in predicting the future, but what will be of paramount importance is how well and willing we are to respond to any new emergencies that arise.

People tell me that they are weary of talk of Covid-19. They want to go back to work, to shopping, to eating out, to going to church, to having parties. They want the coming school year to be business as usual and they look forward to a fall that includes football games and Halloween celebrations. They hope to soon have all of the broken pieces of our lives neatly put back together so that we can bid adieu to all of the suffering and chaos. It’s a dream that we all harbor and with God’s grace Covid-19 will leave us as mysteriously as it came into our midst. Unfortunately based on the numbers it is doubtful that things will be quite that easy.