Tag: coronavirus

Taking a Moment, Even a Long Moment, Might Be In Order These Days

As a child of the ‘70s, I enjoyed wild freedoms, including roaming around by myself at a very young age. I would load my red Radio Flyer wagon with stuffed animals, books, a tea set and blankie to head down to the mossy banks of a brook behind our neighbor’s back garden. No one could find me tucked away in my hidden oasis, but I could hear my mother calling me when the time came to go home.

And now, we all need respite from COVID-19. If we avoid it, perhaps we can mitigate the spread. For example, right now, instead of going to the Houston Rodeo tonight, I am looking forward to curling up with a book. Is that bad for the economy if we all curtail outings? Sure, but the alternative of an overloaded healthcare system and widespread illness is something we want to avoid or alleviate.

The current warning from VP Pence, as I type, is that the threat to the “average American” is low while the elderly are the most vulnerable. Well, a lot of us have immune systems that are somehow compromised. Ever hear those TV ads that say “such-and-such can inhibit your ability to fight infections”? Yep, that’s me. I had two sinus infections the past few months and I do not want to risk getting this novel coronavirus. (Good for the surgeon general for including immunocompromised people in his list of people at risk.)

So, Mr. B. and I loaded up on pantry supplies last weekend. Plus, we have a freezer full of venison, thanks to our successful deer hunt in January in Laredo. Now, I plan to make veggie stews with beans and frozen vegetables and then add ground venison as we go. I also have lots of pastas and rice to combine with the venison. Would I rather go out to dinner? Sure! But, maybe hunkering down for a while will be a good thing.

Maybe I will set a goal of reading two books per week. Maybe I will create a whole bunch of new venison recipes!

Seriously, we need to try to get in front of this disease outbreak. At this writing, Italy has shut down everything. It’s a smaller county and the spread there happened quickly. It seems as if there could be more coordination and maybe more conservative measures taken here. For the moment, local governments, universities and private companies are deciding what do to for their citizens, communities and employees on a voluntary basis. I am not advocating for the imposition of martial law, but there could be a happy medium between that and gently suggesting local governments do what they think they need to do. Even proponents of smaller government recognize the benefit of a some basic federal government functions, such as national security and say, coordinating the management of a pandemic.

The time for soft-pedaling is long past. The problem is inevitable. It’s already here. What leaders can do is mitigate and educate. (For perspective, a microbiologist in this blog contrasts COVID-19 with far worse diseases we’ve contended with, historically.)

A leader should be forthright and manage people’s expectations. Shoot, a really good politician would figure out a way to come off like a hero in a crisis by really doing good work. There is an old adage about there are some people who merely aspire to be versus people who aspire to do. Which style do you prefer?

For a leader, the question is what are you going to do about it? The answer should not be easy in the face of a challenge. The mayor of Austin explained to Texas Monthly his tough call about cancelling the South By Southwest (SXSW) festival, which is usually a huge economic driver. And, while the illness is likely coming anyway to Austin, there may have been a temptation to carry on as business as usual. But, this local leader realized the objective is to manage, not worsen, a public health crisis. It’s always about managing problems not exacerbating them. If we collectively make the right calls and cooperate, we can ideally minimize the effects.

For me, tonight, that means curling up in my favorite chair with a good book and a glass of wine as the grown-up version of hanging out on the banks of the brook with my red wagon supplies.

The Sage Leopard, thesageleopard@gmail.com

Free to a Good Home: When Bad Ideas Run Amok in the Free Marketplace

As a fresh-faced kid in journalism school, I readily embraced the idea of the free marketplace of ideas, where theoretically the best ideas would prevail. Freedom of speech would ensure that all those great ideas could be easily disseminated.

Uh huh. Perhaps too easily, given we now have an angry digital mob overrunning the free marketplace of ideas, turning over the tables of purveyors of legit information and screaming fire in the theatres. You see this from everything from the 2016 and on political disinformation campaigns to the coronavirus cures for sale online.

See also: when did death threats become so fashionable? Why are so many people inclined to spew bad ideas across the digital realm? Back in the old days, not that long ago, the preponderance of information was disseminated by newspapers and TV news and was filtered. That is to say that there were gatekeepers. I am arguing that was a good thing because it limited exposure of the general public to snake-oil salesman and foreign state-sponsored propaganda. Sure, bad and malicious information was out there, but it was at what used to be called the fringes.

There no longer is any fringe. Heck, I logged onto NextDoor to read about a lost dog and a bunch of people were sharing false info on coronavirus. They were downplaying the risks, of course. Considering I am on a drug that can render patients more susceptible to infections (this disclaimer will sound familiar if you have watched TV in recent decades), I am not taking medical advice from the people of NextDoor or Doctor Google.

For quick reference on COVID-19, I like to check this CDC page and this World Health Organization page. I signed up for text alerts from my county government and I follow legit news outlets (see Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, our local Fox News affiliate, etc.). I do not care what random Uncle Crazy on NextDoor says. Except I do, in that the easy flow of bad information is so damaging to our society and democracy. As an aside, please don’t inject silver to attempt to cure COVID-19, which is one of the modern day snake oils being cracked down on by the FTC and FDA, according to the Washington Post. Do not make fun of the pandemic on the floor of the House of Representatives, only to find yourself exposed at a political function and under self-quarantine.

Amazing that this tweet has not been retracted.

Do not claim it’s no big deal and not as bad as the flu when we have not seen the extent of it (ahem, you know who). Do not assert this is overblown by the American liberal media when foreign governments are imposing travel restrictions – Italy just locked down all travel there and school is closed until April 3 – and responding appropriately to a new virus that has killed many at an alarming rate. Should we all panic? No. Should we all be concerned and careful? Yes. Absolutely. Here’s today’s tally from WHO: global cases, 109,578 confirmed, including 3,994 new in the last 24 hours, and 3,809 deaths, 225 new in the last 24 hours.

Meanwhile, a crowd on NextDoor is actively arguing for and against caring. Those pitching the bad ideas say you could also die from a snakebite (see snake oil sales), the flu, from a vaccine, or from being aborted. Or, they are contending for most people, it’s a mild reaction. As for the latter notion, that is something close to something that even CDC says, but for many people, it’s dangerous.

Now, there is another dynamic at play with the peddlers of bad ideas. They fancy themselves contrarians who know better than conventional wisdom. They want to tear down the institutions that promote subject-matter experts because the falsity peddlers would never qualify as real experts. For that, they would need to be smart and educated. Instead, they find some quack with inflated credentials and cite them as an expert. This puffery could extend to themselves.

The question now before us is whether people will return to embrace truth from experts and cast aside the falsity peddlers. How much truth can be ignored when people around the world are sick from a novel virus, markets negatively respond to supply chain disruptions and lowered demand for some key products and the flow of business slows? This outbreak might give many of us the chance to break out and away from bad information.

The Sage Leopard, thesageleopard@gmail.com

Sage Leopard News Read Roundup: Voting, Cheating and the Virus

There’s a lotta hand-wringing going on with Democrats and opinion writers who are covering the 2020 campaign for the party out of power over Bernie, who emerged triumphant out of the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, but who is polarizing within the left. You can read that everywhere. But, scant attention is being paid to the GOP primaries. What Republican primaries?, you might ask. Well, Trump is not the only Republican on the ballot in some places, including New Hampshire, which also primaried for the GOP last night. Former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, who you might remember ran for VP last time as a libertarian, got 9.1% of the vote. This showing was characterized as “surprisingly well” by The Week. The Washington Post reported the count from 91.6% of the precincts as 124,394 for Trump and 13,207 for Weld. Even Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman who has bemoaned Trump’s personality and called his supporters cultish, came in with 898 votes. Two other candidates I never heard of had similar showings. On the whole, New Hampshire, while early in voting is too small to be too much of a harbinger. Are you voting in a Super Tuesday state? Texas’s Democratic and Republican primaries are March 3 and early voting is February 18-28. Remember, there are candidate for positions other than president who are in primaries for both parties, such as congressional districts. One district in the Houston area has several Republicans vying to be the party’s nominee after the incumbent announced retirement. Whatever your political leanings, you should research your ballot ahead of time and check out the candidates and issues – state, local and federal. This is true for primary and general elections. For fellow Texans, I recommend you check out this voting guide from the Texas Tribune.

There’s a lot of concern about the breakdown of trust in American institutions, ranging from our government to the media. It’s therefore a bummer that this concern extends to baseball. The cheating scandal over our hometown team, the Houston Astros, definitely deflates fans and enthusiasm. The Washington Post now reports that its hometown team, the Washington Nationals, knew what the Astros were doing with sign stealing and were able to overcome it to win their own World Series championship. Sadly, the Post reports, the cheating by the Astros was widely known inside baseball. Kudos to the Post for revealing a remarkable story of how the Nationals gathered what they needed to know about the Astros’ scheme. For locals, it’s sad because winning the World Series in 2017 was the emotional uplift this whole region needed after the deluge of Hurricane Harvey. If you missed it, The Sage Leopard chronicled the craziness of living in isolation within the Addicks Reservoir pool for several days during and after the storm. You can read about that here.

There’s a lotta reasons I haven’t gone on a cruise (although I have not ruled it out), including getting sick and/or stuck at sea. Another cruise ship in Asia is seeing that reality play out due to understandable concerns about the spread of coronavirus. Holland America’s Westerdam was denied entry to four countries (Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand) and the U.S. territory of Guam. The cruise line now hopes to drop off passengers in Cambodia and fly them home from there. Meanwhile, the outlook for the virus remains unknown, according to the World Health Organization, CNBC reports. The virus’s disease now has a name for classification purposes: COVID-19. The virus is named SARS-CoV-2. How much do you want to bet we all just keep calling the epidemic “coronavirus”?