Telework Journal: Irrational exuberance

Another week working from home kicks off with a few changes.  My wife is also working remotely but is spending this week helping her mother who just got out of the hospital, so I am working from the house by myself, unless you count the two dogs.  They are not working at all, except for pouting because I won’t feed them treats all day long.

The “new” in the “news” is coming from here in Texas and other locations where people are ignoring stay-at-home warnings and social distancing recommendations to express their…their what, their unhappiness with the pandemic, I guess.  I don’t know anyone who’s pleased with the situation, but some folks are taking a threatening stance to “demonstrate” their desire that government officials ease restrictions that have—no doubt about it—cost millions of Americans their jobs and others their businesses, in an effort to fight the spread of a deadly disease for which we don’t have another effective weapon.

Let me get this straight.  There have been some 42,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States to this point, out of almost 800,000 confirmed cases.  When the medical experts called for social distancing and self quarantine to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, they warned that if we didn’t take these drastic steps there could be deaths in the hundreds of thousands.  Right now it seems there will be far less than that…emphasis on “seems,” since nothing’s for sure.

And people are taking to the streets, wearing their camouflage and carrying long guns, making the argument that the relatively few deaths suffered so far, an amount comparable to a season of the flu, are prima facie evidence that the dramatic actions taken to curtail COVID-19 are not needed?

No.  It’s because of those actions—the social distancing, the restaurants and bars and all manner of places of business shut down to prevent us from infecting each other with a virus for which we have no vaccine and no immunity—that we have not had the hundreds of thousands of deaths that had been predicted.  They are arguing that the results of the preventative actions they oppose are evidence that those actions are no longer needed (if they ever were), but it’s the opposite: the results of the actions they’re protesting are pretty clear proof that the actions were successful, were necessary, based on the best medical evidence as interpreted by the medical experts.  The same experts who are warning us that if we’re not patient, if break this quarantine too soon, the virus will surge through the population.  Listen to the doctors, not the other dopes.

Trump is angry that “he wasn’t told” there was a problem?  No one mentioned the pandemic, huh?  Is that the same pandemic that he told us he knew all about even before everyone else did?  That pandemic?  Jeez…

Some perspective on landing on a comet

The world hasn’t seemed very excited that the European Space Agency landed a probe on a comet last week, me included—even after learning that it bounced, twice (when it wasn’t supposed to have bounced at all), before settling down.  Landing on the moon in 1969 was much cooler: first of all, there were people involved, and second because the moon is something we all know and Comet 67Pwhatchamacallit is not.  There has been little sense of the scale of this achievement, until now: thanks to @TLBKlaus for providing this excellent graphic on Twitter.

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Now you’re talking my language…

Dear Pat Ryan,

I just thought I’d check in to see how things are going with you.  Some of us have gotten a little curious because we haven’t heard much of anything from you in a while now and we started to wonder what was going on.  I mean, if you say you’re going to write a blog, it is customary to actually write something from time to time.  You know, something to make the customers realize that you’re not stone dead, or ignoring them, or “too busy with work and other things” to be bothered keeping up with your commitments.  C’mon, just six damn posts in the last four months?  What’s the deal?

I mean, fercryingoutloud, in just the last few months you’ve passed up the chance to say something about:

You’ve sort of led people to believe that you cared about civil liberties and the whole gay marriage thing, or were at least interested in the subject, but when

you observe radio silence.  I mean, you gotta understand why the people would at least wonder if you’ve given up, or converted or something.

You even let this great picture on Twitter go by without any acknowledgement!

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So anyway, I’d just like to say I hope you get your shit together and try to be a little more regular contributor in this space, or the owners may start thinking seriously about changing the name up there at the top of the page.

Watch Cosmos, be less dumb

I wouldn’t be much of a television professional if I didn’t watch a lot of TV, have an opinion on all of it, and insist on sharing that opinion even when you don’t ask.  But I do; I do; and even though you didn’t, here goes.

I hope you’re watching Cosmos.  If you’re not, you can catch it online here as well as on Fox and a few of the Fox-affiliated networks; next new episode is Sunday night.  Astronomer/rock star Neil deGrasse Tyson is an engaging if slightly self-absorbed host for a journey of the imagination that’s not only exploring out in space, but back in time.  This version takes full advantage of the capabilities of the medium in the modern day and tells a great story.  I don’t find it as enthralling as the original with astronomer/rock star Carl Sagan back in 1980, but it’s not fair to compare the two, not for people like me who saw the Sagan series when we were young and the things he talked about were actually new and unknown to us.  For me, it had the advantage of provoking wonderment in a way the current version just can’t; I hope it does for the kids of today.

The new series, produced by Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan, Seth McFarlane and others, is providing easy-to-follow explanations of some difficult scientific concepts.  The writers and producers have found a way to lay things out so you can understand the concept in the same way you eat an elephant (one bite at a time); it’s not scary to learn new things here.  I particularly liked Episode 2 for the explanation of evolution by natural selection.  Anyone who didn’t watch that show with a preset determination that evolution is for atheists could grasp the basics; yes, you’ve got to give up the notion that the Earth is only 6000 years old and that people and dinosaurs lived side by side, but you will understand what the scientific terms “evolution” and “natural selection” really mean.  It should be required viewing for the members of the Texas State Board of Education, that’s for sure.

If you prefer yours in a handy graphical form, here’s a swell chart from Reddit user SlipperyFish done for The Infographics Project (thumbnail image via Thinkstock).  Thanks to Upworthy for the link to this short answer to a perennial favorite dumb question:

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A rich vein of loopy

Even though the easy and obvious answer should be easy and obvious (duh), a disturbingly large percentage of our fellow Americans aren’t satisfied with taking the easy way.  Good for them, I say: it demonstrates their exceptional American characteristics of ingenuity and perseverance to come up with these unconventional answers, while generating easy laughs for us lazy slobs whose consciences take no offense when we just skate by, exercising nothing more mentally rigorous than logic and reason.

Public Policy Polling conducted a poll in late March that asked people about conspiracy theories, ones “well known to the public, others perhaps to just the darker corners of the internet.”  What did they find?  A rich vein of loopy:

  • 4% believe shape-shifting reptilian people take on human form and gain political power to manipulate society and control the world (probably thinking of Mitch McConnell on this one)
  • 5% believe Paul McCartney died in 1966 (the rest of us think he’s on another world tour)
  • 11% believe the U.S. government allowed the September 11 attacks to happen
  • 13% believe Barack Obama is the anti-Christ (huh?)
  • 14% believe the CIA was instrumental in creating the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s
  • 15% believe the medical and pharmaceutical industries create new diseases to make money off of treatments

(As for the 29% who think aliens exist—what’s wrong with the other 71% of you?)

Just so much harmless kookery, right?  Yes, but what about the 20% who believe the government is hiding a link between autism and childhood diseases, or the 37% percent who believe global warming is a hoax?  Those people act on their beliefs to the detriment of the futures of both their children and the planet they share with the rest of us.  What does it say about our society when, more than ten years after the fact, 44% still think that our then-president took the nation to war on a personal vendetta against Saddam Hussein, and another 12% aren’t sure?

What about the people who had elaborate explanations for the Boston Marathon bombing the day after it happened, before anyone but the bombers themselves could possibly have known the truth?

For starters, I suggest you check out the Bad Astronomy blog on Slate, where Phil Plait recently vented a little about the march of antireality in general and just today about the links between the anti-vaccine nuts and the measles outbreak in Wales.  He has a clear-headed approach and a clean writing style that I think you’ll appreciate.

After that? I don’t know for sure…perhaps we can all get some good advice from the 14% who believe in Bigfoot, or the 9%, like Gen. Jack Ripper, who are convinced that fluoridation of our water isn’t just about dental health.