Doubt Is Our Product

 

“Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”
— from a 1969 tobacco industry internal memo sent by an executive at Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation.

death cult
2. A religious group that requires demonstrations of faith involving the risk of death.
— a definition from Wiktionary.

What the Wiktionary definition of “death cult” overlooks is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a religious group. It can be a political – or more broadly cultural – group, though it will still share many of the same characteristics of a religious group, such as unquestioning devotion to, and faith in, a leader either living or dead, and often scorn for those outside the group, sect, or tribe. The Republican Party has become such a death cult, and particularly that greater part of it which remains devoted to their Orange Leader, their president in exile.


Bernt Notke Danse Macabre
Danse Macabre, a late fifteenth-century painting by Bernt Notke (1440-1509).

 

The denial of science by the Republican Party during the current coronavirus pandemic has been breathtaking, but it is nothing new; it has been building up for about 50 years, with large corporations such as Big Tobacco leading the way in the denial of science in order to protect their interests. For 50 years now, Americans have learned at the knee of their corporate masters to doubt the science concerning the harmful effects on their health of tobacco use, the deleterious effects on their air caused by centuries of burning fossil fuels, and the poisoning of their environment by man-made chemicals such as plastics, pesticides, and herbicides.

For some large corporations, it might be that death is their product, and the politicians and media organizations in their pocket are the salespeople. Gullible people without critical thinking skills are their customers. Viewing the customers that —way strips them of their agency, however, and portrays them as passive receptacles for mind poisons, when in reality they are active participants in their deception because it reinforces what they want to believe. They want to stand science on its head and believe the vaccines for COVID-19 are the real poison in our midst, not the virus.


It’s not all that great a leap from believing there’s no harm for others in second-hand smoke as a tobacco user indulges their selfish pleasure to feeling that wearing a mask to protect others from inhaling a coronavirus carrier’s potentially deadly virus particles is an unnecessary imposition on the carrier, and not a viable public health measure. Smoke, after all, is a visible manifestation of poison, and a virus is not visible to the naked eye.

“I see them! Over there against the stormy sky. They are all there. The smith and Lisa, the knight, Raval, Jans, and Skat. And the strict master Death bids them dance. He wants them to hold hands and to tread the dance in a long line. At the head goes the strict master with the scythe and hourglass. But the Fool brings up the rear with his lute. They move away from the dawn in a solemn dance towards the dark lands while the rain cleanses their cheeks from the salt of their bitter tears.”

— the acrobat, Jof, describing one of his visions to his wife, Mia, at the end of Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 film, The Seventh Seal.




Modern day death cultists are right there with people of ages past, who doubted the existence of anything they couldn’t see themselves unless they could endow it with some religious significance. Republican death cultists go one step further in proudly boasting of their ignorance as a demonstration of faith in their Orange Leader, without a care about where that might lead for themselves and for society at large, as long as they can selfishly satisfy themselves with the notion that their obstructive behavior is a repudiation to those who won’t let them smoke in bars, or keep digging and burning coal, or pour Roundup on everyone’s food, or go grocery shopping for fifteen minutes without wearing a mask.
— Vita

 

Vaccination Nation

 

“What made eradication possible was a really good vaccine and political support. There was a real incentive to do it. You don’t ask a cow if it wants to be vaccinated. You just do it.”
— Ron DeHaven, former CEO of the American Veterinary Medical Association, speaking about the eradication of rinderpest, a cattle disease related to the measles virus.

Rinderpest and smallpox are the only two infectious diseases that have been eradicated around the world. Smallpox is the only disease to be eradicated that infects only people. Eradication of other infectious diseases, like COVID-19 for one, is unlikely because there are alternate hosts in the animal population, and while it may be feasible to vaccinate domesticated animals such as cows to the point of herd immunity, it is unrealistic to think the same can be done for wild animals.


Ruins of 19th-Century Smallpox Hospital - Roosevelt Island - New York City - USA - 01 (41147019525)
Ruins of the Smallpox Hospital built in the 19th century on Roosevelt Island in New York City. Photo by Flickr user Adam Jones.

Cows have another favorable trait in reaching herd immunity besides being easily available for their shots, which is that they don’t subscribe to bizarre, illogical, and unscientific conspiracy theories egging them on to refuse vaccinations, if that was a possibility for them. Rinderpest, like its cousin infecting humans, the measles virus, is among the most contagious diseases on the planet, and the more contagious a disease is, the higher the percentage of a susceptible population must be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity. For measles and rinderpest, that’s over 90 percent.

Smallpox is – was – in the middle of the scale as far as its contagious qualities, but among the deadliest at around 30 percent fatalities. Influenza, with notable exceptions throughout history, such as the 1918-19 Spanish Flu outbreak, is at the lower end of the scale for both contagiousness and deadliness. COVID-19, like the other Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) viruses to which it’s related, is higher up the scale for contagiousness than the annual flu, but it is nowhere near as deadly as smallpox, though deadliness as always is strongly affected by a victim’s socioeconomic circumstances. The poor, as always in any affliction, die in droves, while the better off have access to the best care and are less likely to be infected in the first place.

One by one through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, diseases that had killed hundreds of millions over thousands of years were brought under control with vaccines and other public health measures, such as better sanitation. There have always been people of skeptical of the effectiveness of vaccines or suspicious of the motives of the medical people, often affiliated in one way or another with a government entity, who administered the vaccines. The difference in then from now is that before about 1980 evidence of a world without vaccines was still readily available to everyone, rich and poor, living in the industrialized northern hemisphere or in the largely agricultural southern hemisphere.



In 1947, when the threat of disfigurement or death from smallpox was still very real to everyone, the citizens of New York City lined up for blocks to receive vaccinations in order to stem a possible outbreak.

 

Today, people in richer countries no longer see the effects of smallpox at all, and rarely do they see the effects of less disfiguring, less deadly diseases like measles. If COVID-19 were to leave visible scars on those who suffered and survived, instead of just the internal scars it does leave, one wonders if at least some of the people ready to dismiss the seriousness of the disease and the severity of the outbreak would be as obstinate about complying with public health measures.

If there were still children crippled by polio in every neighborhood, would there still be people who are more willing to believe an insane theory about vaccines they read in their Facebook “news” feeds than the scientific fact of once rampaging infections brought to heel in the past two hundred years? No doubt there will always be some hard cases who can’t be reached through reason, no matter what. The amount of the U.S. population vaccinated against COVID-19 is currently about 43 percent, and it needs to be over 70 percent to reach herd immunity. It will be best to cross that threshold before cold weather sets in again, forcing people back indoors. If it’s not, then COVID-19, a disease that will likely never be eradicated, only controlled, could surge once more, making this summer of relative freedom appear in retrospect like a fool’s paradise.
— Vita

 

Hello, Sports Fans

 

The finale of the National Football League season comes next Sunday with the Super Bowl contest between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, and it marks the end of a season when relatively few fans attended games in person due to coronavirus social distancing restrictions observed by the league’s teams. Attendance at this Super Bowl will be limited to 22,000 fans, in a stadium that can seat over 65,000. For hard core fans used to watching the games in person rather than on television, it must have been a peculiar season.

Crowd in Polo Grounds grandstand; Cubs at Giants - final game (baseball) LCCN2014682317
Crowd in the Polo Grounds grandstand for the final game of the 1908 baseball season, watching the visiting Chicago Cubs play the New York Giants. Library of Congress photo from Bain News Service.

 

To be at a stadium or ballpark for a game is to experience something beyond the game alone, which really can be viewed more intelligibly on a television screen or computer monitor from the comfort of home. The sports fanatic can spend hundreds of dollars for the experience, counting ticket price, parking, concessions, and other sundry expenses, and still the sports fan prefers bearing those costs instead of staying home to watch the game for free or at very little cost. One hundred years ago, there were no such contrasting choices.

At the beginning of 1921, there was no broadcast medium at all involved in bringing sporting events to the masses. In the United States, radio broadcasts of sports began later that year, with the airing of a boxing match on April 11 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a baseball game on August 21 from Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. In both cases, the broadcasting station was KDKA in Pittsburgh. On October 8, KDKA broadcast a college football game. The first American television broadcast of sports didn’t occur until May 17, 1939, when NBC covered a college baseball game in New York City. Hard core sports fans didn’t get to listen to a sports talk radio show until New York’s WNBC started airing one in March 1964.

One hundred years ago, people either bought tickets to see sporting events or read about them the next day in a newspaper. Talking about sports was a first hand endeavor limited to friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers. Now there are several options besides buying tickets for vicariously experiencing athletic contests, and with sports talk radio and television shows and social media, there are many options for sports fans to gab on and on about their obsessions to familiars and strangers alike, both near and far.



One of the subplots from a 1995 episode of Seinfeld involving Patrick Warburton as David Puddy, the boyfriend of Elaine Benes, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Michael Richards played Cosmo Kramer, and Jerry Seinfeld played a fictional version of himself.

 

Social norms of public appearance and behavior loosened after World War II and particularly in the ’60s and ’70s, resulting in sports fans changing over the 50 years from the ’30s to the ’80s from men (they were overwhelmingly men in the stands) who attended the games largely in suits and ties, to people who wore casual clothing, often comprised of the merchandised parts of their favorite team’s uniform. Some went shirtless and painted themselves in their team’s colors. In the 1950s, only little boys and some working class adults wore baseball caps regularly. Now, almost everyone wears one at least occasionally, and many of the caps bear team logos at a price. No one has to grow up anymore (or wants to), and sports merchandisers, who had very little business at all before the 1970s, are counting money in the billions each year now, even without sports fans filling the stands.
— Vita

 

A Twist of Peppermint

 

When Joey Dee and the Starliters had a hit with the song “Peppermint Twist” early in 1962, they were merely combining the name of a dance craze – the twist – with the name of the Peppermint Lounge in New York City, where they were headliners. The band was notable at the time for being integrated, with three white members and three black members. The lyrics of the song make no mention of peppermint candy, either of white twisted together with other colors or of anything deeper than a repeated entreaty to get out on the dance floor and gyrate, a plea few could resist when hearing the tune, forgetting for the moment the different colors of the bandmates together producing such an irresistible groove.

 

Peppermint, the flavor, has always been hard for people to resist, especially when it’s used in candies. Most peppermint candies are sold during the holidays at the end of the year, though it’s not clear why people don’t prefer peppermint’s cooling effect more in summer than in winter. Candy canes, with their indelible association with Christmas, are a big reason for the inflated sales of peppermint candies in December. Hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps for the adults is popular, while children will get a candy cane with their hot chocolate instead of schnapps. Other peppermint candies and baked treats abound over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s celebrations.

1962 White House Christmas Tree - John and Jacqueline Kennedy 1
President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy introduced Christmas Tree themes in 1961 with a “Nutcracker Suite” theme from the ballet by Tchaikovsky. Ornaments included gingerbread cookies, tiny toys and packages, candy canes, and straw ornaments made by disabled or elderly craftspeople throughout the United States. White House photo by Robert Knudsen.

The peppermint plant (Mentha x piperita) contains up to 40% menthol, as opposed to less than one percent found in spearmint (Mentha spicata), and with such a high concentration of menthol there are indications that ancient peoples initially used peppermint medicinally, discovering along the way that of course the addition of sweeteners helped the medicine go down. Since menthol is a proven balm for distressing respiratory and gastrointestinal problems, it makes sense that the most popular incorporation of peppermint oil into sweets would be as a lozenge or hard candy, meant to be sucked over a long time rather than chewed quickly, which would enhance its effectiveness in relieving respiratory or gastrointestinal distress.

Piedmont Candy in Lexington, North Carolina, has been making peppermint candies since 1890, though not candy canes. They don’t use corn syrup, the ingredient which makes candy shiny, hard, and brittle.

All of which may help to explain the popularity of peppermint sweets in winter over summer. Certainly respiratory illness is more common in winter than summer because people are cooped up with each other indoors, where contagion spreads more easily. Gastric problems may be more plentiful over the holidays because of the tendency to overeat then, and to overeat rich foods particularly. A soothing, minty dessert, made with real peppermint oil instead of artificial flavor, may fit the bill in those circumstances the same as popping one of the red and white swirled peppermints, known as starlites, offered in many restaurants at the end of a meal.



Joey Dee and the Starliters perform “Peppermint Twist” on the American Bandstand television program in 1962.

 

As for the crook in one end of a candy cane, all stories aside about its possible religious significance, it was most probably put there for the purely practical purpose of making it possible to hang candy canes on Christmas trees. The same practicality most likely applies to the red and white twisted colors, along with some secular aesthetics, because they add visual interest to the candy and contrast well against Christmas greenery. Until the 20th century, peppermint candy sticks had been plain white. There is nothing inherently red about peppermint. It’s nice to imagine there may be something more profound about an object such as a candy cane than meets the eye, but really any deeper meaning can be found in eating it, not in looking at it.
— Vita

 

The Breakdown of Consensus

 

The lack of capacity for critical thinking among some of the American electorate is nothing new. The French traveler Alexis de Tocqueville famously noted it in the late 1830s in the two volumes of his book, Democracy in America. Almost 130 years later, the American historian Richard Hofstadter remarked upon it in two of his works from the early 1960s, Anti-intellectualism in American Life, and The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Both of Hofstadter’s works still apply today in complementary fashion as the 2020 election nears and Clueless Leader and his cult followers on the far right drop in greater and greater numbers off the edge of reality into the realm of psychotic fever dreams.

Fake News Image
Mike Caulfield’s “Four Moves and a Habit” method for the detection of Fake News online. Infographic created by Shonnmharen.

The great difference between now and the early 1960s, when Hofstadter wrote about the propensity of some people for ignoring facts that didn’t fit their world view, is that those people now have access to the internet and to social media, where they can spread their diseased notions like a contagion. Rumors that once took days or weeks to spread, and in the process may have fizzled out when confronted by facts, now spread in minutes and hours in a continuous onslaught that drowns outs facts. For those too intellectually lazy to engage in critical thinking, there has never been a better time for finding spurious rumors to prop up their dangerously bonkers ideas.

Most of the rumor mongering conspiracy theorists with dangerously bonkers ideas are now, and have always been, on the far right of the American political spectrum. It’s an ongoing feature of American life that the ruling class demonizes the far left because they rightly suspect the far left would overturn the cushy lifestyle of the ruling class if they could, and to help them turn the focus of hatred and suspicion upon the far left the ruling class has always had willing allies, or rather dupes, among the far right. Useful idiots.



These are the kind of people who adhere to QAnon conspiracy theories about the evil character of Democrats and Antifa partly out of credulity since they want to believe the stories, and partly because it titillates them that most reasonable adults, and particularly liberals, are outraged and appalled by the stories. For a third of the American electorate, an incapacity for critical thinking is displayed as a badge of honor, not of shame.

Too many right wing delusionists are willing, even eager, to use violence when they don’t get their way. In this they are aided and abetted by the ruling class, who use them as a cudgel against the far left and anyone else who questions the established capitalist order. Terrorism in this country has almost always come from the far right, not the far left, and for nearly four years now the current president has winked and nodded at right wing terrorists in this country. He has filled a powder keg with dangerous fantasies and then recently lit the fuse with his call out to right wing terrorists ahead of the election.

A sketch from a January 1979 episode of Second City Television, starring Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, and Dave Thomas. In 2016, 52% of white women voted for the Republican presidential candidate, someone who would be incapable of understanding this SCTV sketch as satire.

For Richard Hofstadter in his examination of American history there have been breakdowns in what may be considered the consensus of political views reconciling economic and cultural differences (though he himself chafed at being lumped with the post World War II era “consensus” historians), but only one failure of consensus, and that led to the Civil War. Perhaps hope can be found in the realization that the truly dangerous right wing terrorists in this country are fewer in number than they would have everyone else believe. If the current president somehow gains four more years in power, however, that glimmer of hope may go dark because more violent reactionaries will become ever more emboldened, growing their numbers to become a visceral threat, sinister and close.
— Vita

 

In the Time of the Virus

 

Schools around the country have either started the fall semester or are about to, some opening their buildings to students and others not, and everywhere there is confusion and apprehension about the changed circumstances due to coping with the coronavirus. Will students, especially the very young ones, be able to maintain their concentration when learning remotely? If they attend classes in person, will they endanger themselves and everyone in school as well as at home because of failure to maintain the new disciplines of social distancing, mask wearing, and frequent, conscientious sanitation?

 

Back in 1918 and 1919 during the worldwide outbreak of the Spanish Flu, remote learning meant home schooling. Social distancing was barely understood, and other measures to contain the deadly flu were haphazardly implemented from locality to locality. Where city-wide rules went into effect, such as in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where officials closed the schools and banned some public gatherings (notably excepting saloons), the contagion’s effects were limited in comparison to places like Boston, Massachusetts, where public life went on much as before.

Rosana.Educaçao
Rosana Martinelli, mayor of Sinop, a city in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, meets with schoolchildren in May 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic gripped that country. Photo provided by Rosana Martinelli.

Schoolchildren, however, are a special case, then as now. Besides having a limited understanding of what’s at stake and the measures necessary to protect everyone from the coronavirus, many are incapable of respecting boundaries. Children, the younger ones particularly, by nature lack social control. For proper development, children need social contact of all kinds, whether that means actual touching or merely being in the presence of other children and adults. Can children, especially the very young, be expected to sit still and apart from each other for six hours or more every day, never getting close enough to play and roughhouse with each other?

The experiment of returning children en masse to in-person learning from teachers in school buildings is bound to fail. The primary reason for trying it out is to mollify those right wing supporters of the current president who are clamoring loudly for schools to reopen for a number of reasons, but mostly to do with denying the reality of the pandemic while somehow boosting their cult leader’s chances of reelection in November. The experiment will fail before November, and the school boards responsible for catering to right wing extremists can then say that they tried. Meanwhile, thousands of people will fall ill unnecessarily and some will die, sacrificed to the experiment.

An episode of Pocoyo called “Don’t Touch!” wherein Pocoyo, a very young boy, tries and fails to restrain himself from touching, demonstrating a lack of self-control natural to small children. Narration is by Stephen Fry.

There are other people, surely, with reasons for wanting the schools opened for in-person attendance. Working class families, for instance, many with only a single parent, have managed with great difficulty the extra burden of their children staying home more than usual. Those are the people most in need of assistance now, both financially and by having school districts reach out to them with help in keeping their children safe at home and learning. Family circumstances have changed in the century since the Spanish Flu outbreak, when it was more likely that one parent would be home during the day.

It would not serve today’s parents well to have their children exposed to risk at school, where they might easily pick up the coronavirus from classmates and then bring it home to their families. Working class parents already expose themselves to risk because they cannot afford to quarantine at home, but most go out in public to work, many of them in low-paid service economy jobs with few, if any, health benefits. Keep the kids at home for now, where being out of touch during a pandemic can be a good thing.
— Vita

 

Respectfully Yours

 

“Where words fail, music speaks.” — Hans Christian Andersen

 

Divan-of-Hafiz-Binding-Gul-u-Bulbul
Binding of a Divan of Hafiz, from April 5, 1842 in Iran. Original lacquer “gul-u-bulbul” (flower-nightingale) motif with gold, red, and black decorative frame. The metaphorical relationship of the nightingale (active lover) and flower (passive beloved), frequently used in Persian poetry, especially by Hafiz, serves as an appropriate theme for the binding covering this manuscript.

The French musician and composer Camille Saint-Saëns wrote incidental music in 1901 for a play called Parysatis, based on a novel by the French archaeologist and explorer, Jane Dieulafoy. The play, about an ancient Persian queen and produced in 1902 for a summer festival in the southern French town of Béziers, has not stood the test of time as well as Saint-Saëns’s music.

 

“Le Rossignol et La Rose” is a musical piece for wordless voice in Act II. The title in English is “The Nightingale and The Rose”, and refers to Persian symbolism around love. There is a peculiar 1888 short story by Oscar Wilde titled “The Nightingale and The Rose” which is unrelated to music for the play Parysatis or to the play itself. Wilde wrote his story ostensibly for children, but its deeper themes are really beyond their understanding. Reading Wilde’s story is nonetheless instructive about love because of how he frames respect as an integral part of love.


Natalie Dessay sings “Le Rossignol et La Rose”, by Camille Saint-Saëns. Is the song sorrowful? Joyful? That probably depends on the mood of the listener. The pacing lends an air of melancholic contemplation. The song contains within it, in other words, the varied emotions of love itself. Incidentally, Ms. Dessay has sung the lead role in Igor Stravinsky’s 1914 opera Le Rossignol (The Nightingale), notably for a trippy French film adaptation in 2005 which aired on American public television. Stravinsky based his opera on an 1843 story by Hans Christian Andersen.

Without respect there is little in love beyond shallow self-interest and the words spoken sound out hollowly, like an echo. Giving respect to another is as essential as giving love, indeed is at the heart of love. Where there is little or no respect, there is little or no love, no matter the words uttered. Respect is demonstrated, is shown to another as well as to oneself. Understanding and remembering this is crucial if love is to deepen and widen beyond the initial merging of two souls, where the two converge to form a third part all its own, its own world composed of and known only to the two lovers, like two circles partially overlapping. With respect comes trust, and with trust comes the will to acknowledge fears and the courage to not run away. And then there is music, bringing love ’round full circle by singing directly to the heart and soothing fears.
— Vita   “Music fills the infinite between two souls.” — Rabindranath Tagore


“Southern Cross” a 1982 song by David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash.

 

Quackery Daiquiri Doc

 

Here’s a punny old joke:

A doctor made it his regular habit to stop off at a bar for a hazelnut daiquiri on his way home. The bartender knew the doctor’s habit and would always have a drink waiting. But one day the bartender ran out of hazelnut extract, so he substituted hickory nuts. When the doctor arrived, he took a sip and exclaimed, “This isn’t a hazelnut daiquiri!”

“No, I’m sorry,” the bartender replied. “It’s a hickory daiquiri, Doc.”


Animal Life and the World of Nature; A magazine of Natural History (1903) (18011899630)
A Lifebuoy Soap advertisement that appeared in a 1902 edition of the periodical Animal Life and the World of Nature: A Magazine of Natural History.

No one with any amount of sense can possibly take seriously the quack nostrums for coronavirus floated by the Snake Oil Salesman-in-Chief at the propaganda rallies and petty grievance sessions otherwise known as his press conferences. And it’s difficult to feel sympathy for those of his cult followers foolish enough to swallow his advice along with his every word, as mean-spirited and spiteful as are the words spewed and the behaviors exhibited by many of them. The ones who deserve our sympathy when they gullibly believe the irresponsible suggestions made by Clueless Leader are the naive, the innocent, and the truly stupid.

Who could have imagined a time when the national leader of this country would behave so irresponsibly that children and the mentally incompetent members of the populace should be shielded from him lest they act upon his remarks and harm themselves, and possibly others. It’s not just his medically unqualified suggestions for attacking the coronavirus that can lead people astray, but things he has said in the past encouraging violence and continues to say to this day. He is a threat to public health and well-being on many fronts.



There is a long history of quacks and snake oil salesmen having their moments of holding a portion of the public within their spell, and that will surely continue because enough people are willing to believe almost anything, and to back up their beliefs with their money. To have such nonsense emanating from the leader of a wealthy, powerful nation, however, is dangerous and disheartening, even sickening. Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil may be morons, and they are certainly capable of giving bad medical advice in the interest of bettering their television audience ratings and swelling their pocketbooks and egos, but neither of them is capable of swaying a significant minority of the populace to hit the streets in an armed insurrection, or to swallow or inject poisons. That kind of influence has always been exercised by cult leaders, and not by mere quacks or by responsible national leaders.
— Vita

 

Equal Application of the Law

 

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
Matthew 6:5, from the New International Version of the Bible.

When state and local governments include churches, mosques, and synagogues in their lockdown orders due to coronavirus, it might at first glance seem to be an infringement on religious freedom, but such is not the case. It would be an infringement if government singled out particular institutions which were in almost every way like other institutions except for their religious character. In this public health emergency, however, the only concern government officials have with religious institutions is the one characteristic they share with some other institutions, which is how they typically gather together large groups of people, a characteristic more conducive to spreading coronavirus than to tamping it down.


Congregating for the purpose of religious worship is no more under attack in these coronavirus lockdown orders than assembly for the political purpose of voting. This hasn’t stopped some religious leaders from loudly claiming they and their congregants are being persecuted by government in general and by the Democratic Party in particular. It hasn’t taken long for the coronavirus to become politically as polarized as everything else in our society. The virus itself has not expressed a political preference and, like past viruses, attacks everyone equally.

No one is denying religious freedom to churchgoers, only the freedom to go to church in large numbers at one time. Congregating has always been an important element of religious ritual for many people in many religions, but a public health emergency supersedes the wish of some to carry on as always at the expense of and to the detriment of the many. People can still pray, and in most places they can still gather to pray in groups of less than ten or thereabouts.


Réplique du tombeau du Christ à Pâques 2017 dans l'église Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis
Replica of Jesus Christ’s tomb at Easter 2017 in the church of Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis, in Paris, France. Photo by Tangopaso.

Some pastors don’t see it that way. They are pastors of Southern Baptist churches, by and large. They are led in their right wing political views and gullible belief in hoaxes concocted by their devilish foes in the center and left of American politics by people like Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. For these people, churchgoing is perhaps even more a social bond than it is a religious experience. They go to see and be seen.

Church is also a place where they reaffirm to each other their political bond, which is conservative at least, and right wing more often with each passing year. Taking away their church gatherings of dozens or hundreds of people in close proximity to each other is seen by them as prying apart the social and political bonds which are more important to them than the religious bonds affirmed in regular churchgoing. Their pastors can grandstand about supposed government and leftist persecution of their religious institutions, but their real worry is loosening the social and political bonds cemented regularly in seeing and being seen by their fellow congregants.
— Vita

 

It Hurts All the Same

 

It’s no surprise MAGA Mussolini has called the imminent danger of a coronavirus pandemic a hoax, nor is it a surprise his MAGA followers swallowed that lie and called for more. They always do. These developments have become so predictable that they no longer warrant the bother of linking to the news stories about them. All the rest of us can do, those of us who live in the fact-based world, that is, is resist the implementation of damaging policies by those who live in the fantasy world of MAGA hate-based politics.

 

J. Bond Francisco - The Sick Child - 1991.9 - Smithsonian American Art Museum
The Sick Child, an 1893 painting by the American artist J. Bond Francisco (1863-1931).

The great surprise is how well scientists and doctors have done in the past 100 years in restricting another pandemic like the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 and 1919, which killed 100 million people around the world. The Spanish Flu came on the heels of the close of World War I, and after it had finally flamed out it had claimed more lives than that most horrific “War to End All Wars”. That was the way the balance had worked throughout history, with battlefield deaths generally being outpaced by the communicable diseases unleashed in the gatherings of large armies and refugees. The later twentieth century holds the dubious distinction of tipping that balance toward human mayhem as the major cause of death in wars.

What is most remarkable about the efficiency of modern science in preventing the kind of communicable disease pandemics which have periodically scourged humanity is that scientists and doctors have done this despite the huge increase in population at the same time worldwide travel has skyrocketed in volume and speed. More people than ever before are moving faster and more frequently from one part of the world to the next, and all the while they are sharing untold numbers of germs both dangerous and mundane with local populations.

In the taking over of the New World by European colonists only two and more centuries ago, those sorts of introductions – though at a slower pace – led to genocidal destruction of the indigenous population through their exposure to an array of unfamiliar diseases. People more often lived in lighter concentrations then than they do now. Travel was certainly far slower, and most people then lived their entire lives in the familiar surroundings of one city or of a handful of farm villages.

The great danger now is the introduction of an unfamiliar permutation of a familiar virus or bacterium. And yet for 100 years the world’s scientific and medical professionals have forestalled the disaster that could easily overtake us if they weren’t vigilant. Calling their sincere efforts a hoax helps no one, and acting on such misinformation would amount to carelessly flipping a lit cigarette butt onto dry brush.
— Vita

 

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