Wasted away again in Omicron-aville
Like many raised in the Great Depression tended to hoard their whole lives, many in the COVID era will camp out here and never leave. Plus: defending the bailey, and "Get Back" on Disney+.
The “Omicron” variant has spread from South Africa, via…a Portuguese professional soccer team. The AP reports that 13 members of the Beleneses soccer club tested positive for Omicron after they traveled to South Africa. Dr. Anthony Fauci briefed President Biden on the new variant, then told CNN he needed more data before recommending a travel ban; afterward Biden signed a travel ban, citing Fauci’s advice. Now Fauci says Omicron is inevitable: it will “invariably spread all over.”
This all goes to show that nobody really knows anything about the future, except that it will be pretty much like this, over and over again.
Omicron will feed the fears of those who are determined to camp out in COVID land forever, with masking, social distance, fear, and blame as their constant companions. It will, at the same time, feed into the crazy conspiracists who claim the entire pandemic was a hoax. Those of us who remain a little concerned, but have the sense to understand the vaccines for what they are, and also possess a basic understanding of the balance between a new variant’s spread, and its potential for lethality, are not freaking out.
Let me share my layman’s knowledge of how the human body defends against viruses. Haha, no. Instead, watch this video, produced for students by Kurzgesagt. To sum up, our bodies identify viruses by their external features, and vaccines stimulate us to produce antibodies using either deactivated forms of the virus that look like the real thing, or “messenger RNA” that tells our body how to program the antibodies. In either case, the antibodies don’t care how lethal or spreadable a virus is, only what it looks like inside your body.
When researchers talk about “mutations” and “transmissibility,” they are really talking about how different the virus looks to your immune system, and if it looks different enough, then the vaccines and your existing antibodies will not do the job right away—and you’ll get sick. It also means while the virus is multiplying inside you, you’ll be contagious and spread it to others. This is the basic worry about all COVID-19 variants.
It is also the basic worry about every strain of flu that hits annually, and any other virus floating around the world. The thing about flu strains and COVID variants is that they do tend to mutate a lot, which makes it hard to focus on one vaccine to end them. This is why you are encouraged to get annual flu shots. The problem with COVID is that it has shown itself to be much more “transmissible” than the flu, which means, in the absence of countermeasures (including effective vaccines), it will spread with a R0 (R-naught) value in excess of 2.0. For each person infected, over two more will be infected with the virus. That’s why we had to lock down for half of 2019 and most of 2020.
Some people react in the same fear every time there’s a variant, whether we know (a) if it’s more “transmissible” than the original COVID-19 (which also gives us a clue how effective the vaccines would be against its spread), and (b) if the virus is as deadly as the original (which gives us a clue as to how different it operates inside the body). The worst cast is that Omicron is highly transmissible (and therefore “immune” to current vaccines), and also highly deadly (which means our natural immunity based on antibodies against the original don’t work and our bodies need to start over).
If Omicron is the worst case, then we will need to lock down again, at least until there’s an effective vaccine. But we don’t know. Every variant until now has had the potential to be a worst case, but it hasn’t worked out that way. The people who research viruses, determine what they look like, and how to mass produce a tweaked version of various vaccines to fight them, will give us some guidance here. But fear is powerful, and many people, like the generation who grew up during the Depression who spent their lives hoarding, will cling to lockdowns, masks, and every other countermeasure, whether it’s needed or not.
Governments have reacted with panic, triggering a market slide. Everyone’s afraid that the world’s economy will come once again to a screeching halt, and simultaneously afraid that if we don’t stop the world, the next variant will kill another few million. But nobody really knows, so all of this is just theater for now.
Oh, and one more thing. The WHO has been using Greek letters to publicly identify COVID-19 variants. This has never been the practice of researchers, who have their own system (“Omicron” is actually B.1.1.529). It’s more for the newspapers and media so they can report things in a more “dumbed down” manner. But the next letter in the Greek alphabet following the previous variant, known as Lambda, is Nu. The letter after that is Xi. WHO skipped both Nu and Xi, and went on to Omicron. Why? The New York Times explains.
“‘Nu’ is too easily confounded with ‘new,’ and ‘Xi’ was not used because it is a common last name,” a spokesman, Tarik Jasarevic, said on Saturday in an emailed response to questions about skipping the two letters.
The organization’s policy, he went on, requires “avoiding causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional, or ethnic groups.”
You see, Xi happens to be the name of the president of the People’s Republic of China. That’s not lost on anyone, or on Sen. Ted Cruz. Perhaps a world-eating Xi variant might be a bit too on the nose for those who call COVID-19 the “China virus.”
Paul Nuki @PaulNukiA WHO source confirmed the letters Nu and Xi of the Greek alphabet had been deliberately avoided. Nu had been skipped to avoid confusion with the word "new" and Xi had been skipped to "avoid stigmatising a region", they said. All pandemics inherently political!
In any case, WHO is taking no chances with names, and the rest of the world is taking no chances at all. Some of us will, unfortunately, choose to wear masks in public for the rest of their lives because COVID-19 is moving from pandemic to endemic to the world. It’s another virus that will be with us forever. We can either live in perpetual fear, or move on.
Defending the bailey
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about race, religion, and logical arguments lately. I read a rather interesting piece by writer Ben Sixsmith (behind a Substack subscription, I’m afraid), called “In Defence of Being Closed-Minded.” (Sixsmith is a Brit, so he spelled “defense” correctly, such as Brits do.)
Of course, how justifiable it is to close one’s mind on these occasions depends on the value of one’s premises. If you are going to be prejudicial you had better have good prejudices. If you dismiss someone arguing that vaccines are inherently bad, for example, you have more than a hundred years of mankind using vaccines while lifespans lengthened and childhood deaths decreased behind you. If you dismiss someone arguing that cloth masks and lockdowns are not especially efficacious, on the other hand, what long history of success can you point to? (You would have quite probably agreed in March 2020.)
There are some situations that I agree, being closed-minded is not a bad thing. Murdering babies, experimenting on live, healthy humans, manufacturing sex toys in the image of children for “minor attracted” individuals to pacify themselves with, are all good examples of things which I feel utterly confident in saying “no, hell no” to without opening my mind to counter arguments.
But there are other circumstances that present themselves as opportunities to abuse logic and rely on logical fallacies. For example: experience. The old saw says that “my experience trumps your argument.” For certain matters, this is undeniably true. A friend of mine was recently proclaimed cancer-free a year after the Mayo Clinic doctors told him to get his affairs in order. Nobody had ever survived the particular cancer ravaging his body, until him, that is. They could only shrug. No amount of argument, statistics, or studies on cancer can ever convince my friend that God did not heal him in a supernatural way. That’s how faith operates.
Extended to Christianity, the experience of salvation many times transforms a person in a way that’s rather external and public. My own salvation changed me in radical ways that were visible to everyone. Nobody can argue with me that it was some kind of psychological break or a mass hysteria event that happened 2,000 years ago echoing in my subconscious. If you’re going to argue atheism to me, you’re too late.
Yet, Christians recoil in horror when the Salvation Army adopts a rather “Critical Race Theory” version of racism. Their definition precludes racism operating from Blacks upon white people.
Tammy Bruce @HeyTammyBruceIt is extremely unfortunate to see the @SalvationArmyUS get sucked into the disaster of Critical Race Theory & woke politics. Those cancers know no bounds. “This holiday season the Salvation Army wants a donation — and a 'sincere apology' for white racism” https://t.co/kxJ43iZvYl
While I disagree with this definition on its face, I think the general thoughts on critical theory being based in the lived experiences of people is not as easily dismissed. Black people in America have a definite story to tell, and regardless if its told by millionaire NFL players, rappers, or poor urban Blacks, there is a shared experience regarding how people are treated based on skin color. There is also a shared element of 400 years of treatment as a lesser race. These things exist, experientially, regardless of how much better things are today, statistically, economically, legally and culturally.
When white evangelical Christians cling to the experiential aspect of salvation, and 2,000 years of church history of martyrs persecuted for their faith to support it, yet reject the racial experience of Blacks in America, these Christians are engaging in a motte and bailey logical fallacy. They rush out to condemn critical theory for using experience as the basis of racism, and retreat behind the bailey on issues of faith like salvation.
But if you retreat behind the bailey, you have to defend the bailey. Too many Christians are unprepared to do so. They instead rely on the arguments of others, which is another logical fallacy—the appeal to authority. Let me just say it this way. Experience has an authority of its own, when it is borne out in human history and current events.
We cannot fall into the trap of appealing to authority in defending the bailey when we rush out to man the motte. It’s better to practice intellectual honesty in all things. Racism is evil. It’s okay to be closed-minded about the existence of racism, while remaining open-minded about the value of experience.
I still disagree with the Salvation Army’s definition, but I’m just fine with their openness to discuss racism as a topic for faith-filled discussion.
One last thing: Beatles “Get Back”
I have watched 1 1/2 episodes of “Get Back” on Disney+. I thought the last bastion of culture that Disney had not corrupted would be the Beatles, but I was wrong. Disney did not corrupt it—rather, Peter Jackson has elevated it using nothing more than the 60 hours of original film footage, and 150 hours of audio, taken during the planned documentary surrounding the “Let It Be” album.
Watching the manic genius of John Lennon, and the technical perfection of Paul McCartney, while seeing the birth of “Get Back,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” and other classics is gripping, fascinating, and wonderful.
It’s worth the nearly nine-hour investment if you’re a late-era Boomer like me, or anyone who cares to see what the best rock-n-roll band in history looked like when they weren’t in front of thousands of screaming fans, or part of stock footage from the Ed Sullivan Show. If you have Disney+, this is must-see in my book.
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