Category: current events

The Power of Political Unity

Say one thing for the Republican Party right now: you may think many of them are pandering sycophants to Trump, but they have definitely learned the power of banding together to get things done. It’s something I wish Democrats could figure out half as well. There were many things Trump did over the course of his presidency that I wasn’t keen on (to say the least), but his party rallied around him to get even the things they didn’t really agree with all that much done. Today, you still have many Republicans who are so beholden to Trump that they seem to have to see what he wants done before they take any actions themselves.

Of course, it can be argued that the reason they’ve all gotten so good at sticking together is because they’re becoming more and more of a minority with each passing year. In that situation, they have realized that unless they all stick together, there’s no chance they’re going to get anything accomplished for the foreseeable future. Paul LePage is running for governor here in Maine again. He won twice before, each time due to the fact that a third party candidate had come along and split the opposition vote enough to let LePage come out with the W. I am (naturally) concerned that might happen again.

Look at what the Democrats are up to right now in Congress. Biden has an agenda he’d like to push through. They have control of both houses, and they could use the very same shenanigans the Republicans used to get things pushed through when Trump was president. However, they show a consistent reluctance to do anything of the sort. Instead, they bicker about whether it’s too ambitious or not ambitious enough. And in the middle of all that squabbling, nothing ends up getting done at all.

I could pick apart the things they’re trying to get done that I like, and the things they’re trying to get done that I don’t, but on the whole, I’d rather they get something done than just sitting around arguing with each other. Of course, this isn’t to say they haven’t accomplished anything. Many different stimulus bills made their way through during the pandemic, and the third one certainly came under their watch. But as far as making any real lasting changes to pretty much anything, they seem to be laser focused on letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

It just feels to me in many ways like the Democrats think they’re still playing a game of chess when their opponents moved on to boxing a few years ago. And so Democrats hem and haw over moves on the board, even as Republicans just beat them silly with their fists. “Don’t ditch the filibuster!” Democrats cry. “We might need that when we’re in the minority again.” Meanwhile, Republicans have shown a willingness to do literally whatever it takes, including making up rules and guidelines on the fly, to get whatever they want done. Supreme Court vacancy pop up at an inconvenient time? No problem. Just make up a new “guideline” for when you want to consider the new nominees. Is that guideline inconvenient in the future? No problem! Make up a new reason for why you can ignore it.

Of course, the larger concern for me is the seeming inability of our country to have any meaningful compromise around issues that all of us (or most of us, at least) recognize are problematic. Instead, we yo-yo between big conservative talking points and lukewarm Democrat dithering, with the country moving more and more toward the conservative side, simply because they’re the only ones out there who have their act together enough to push for specific changes.

I also want to stress that it’s not just the politicians who have a problem with this. The Republican base is much more organized and unified than the Democrat base is. All you have to do to recognize this is see how many Republicans have been willing to vote for and support a candidate they personally don’t care for at all, just for the sake of getting some of what they want done. If Democrats (the people, not the party) would show a readiness to swallow their own personal agendas for the benefit of “what can we actually get done,” then I think they’d have a lot more success.

Ironically, I think that would also cause Republicans to start playing by the rules better as well. If they know they’re up against a real opponent, then they might be more cautious about making that opponent irate. Instead, we’ve got a playground bully running rampant, and no one’s organized enough to stand up to them.

Anyway. I don’t know that I have any other point here other than to complain. It’s not like I like what Republicans are doing, and it’s not like I’d like more of it to happen on both sides of the aisle. But as long as this is the reality we’re living in, then I don’t see much of an alternative. Any suggestions I’m not seeing?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

COVID Then and COVID Now

Yay. Another COVID topic. I know that’s just what you all want to read. (Not really. I know from my blog statistics that these COVID posts don’t get many views these days. And yet I persist.) However, I was looking at COVID numbers today and thinking back on where we were a year ago. The contrast was surprising, and (unfortunately) disheartening.

Come with me, back to Maine in mid-August of 2020.

The university was ramping up for a return to in-person classes. Masks were required everywhere (indoors and outside on campus), we had strict social distancing caps on all indoor spaces, we had a testing plan to test all on-campus students and 10% of everyone else every week, and the popular bet was that we weren’t going to last longer than the beginning of October before we had to go fully online. I was feeling quite discouraged. You probably were too. After all, we’d just gotten through our second big spike of COVID a few weeks before: cases had been up to 40 per day on average, almost as bad as May, when it was in the 50s. The current 7 day average was 21 cases per day in the state, but our hospitalizations had been steadily falling, down from 97 people hospitalized in May to 34 hospitalized now. The two spikes had resulted in death rates of 2 people per 100k per day. Yes, the current rate was .1/100k, but I was still very worried about what might happen when we all started getting back together in person.

Compare that to today. An indoor mask mandate just returned to campus, but there are currently no social distancing measures in place, and I would say people feel generally positive about the prospects. After all, there’s a vaccine mandate in place for students (and one in discussion for staff), and Maine is already at 65% of its population being fully vaccinated. Better yet, Maine right now has the lowest number of COVID cases (per 100k people) of any place in the country. We made it through last year, we can make it through this year. Right?

Not to be the bearer of bad news, but let’s just take a look at the actual numbers right now. Last year we were at 21 cases per day on this date. This year? 172. Last year we were at 34 hospitalized on average, but right now we’re at 98. Last year we were at .1 deaths per day per 100k. This year we’re at 1.1.

When you look at the actual data, we are in a much, much worse position now than we were a year ago. And that’s in Maine, with one of the highest vaccination rates and lowest COVID rates in the country right now.

I understand why it feels so much better now than then. Maine went through January, after all, when we peaked at 625 cases/day, 248 people in the hospital, and 12 people dying per day. It’s all relative, and we’re far off from where our numbers were at their worst. But then I remember that we’re still in the summer, and we’ve got that lovely stretch of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s on the horizon, when everything went crazy.

The good news is that we do have more experience with the virus. We know how effective wearing masks can be, when everyone does it. We’re not worrying about fumigating our mail or our groceries anymore. The vaccines really are helping, particularly with the death and hospitalization rates, but the Delta variant is not messing around.

I really (REALLY) do not want to go back to being at home 24/7. I want my kids in school in person. I want what normalcy we can scrounge up. But to get there, we need to be following basic common sense precautions. My church’s leadership recently came out with a statement on masks and vaccines:

To limit exposure to these viruses, we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible. To provide personal protection from such severe infections, we urge individuals to be vaccinated. Available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective.

It is perhaps telling of our times that this statement, given by the group church members believe are literal prophets of God, has resulted in . . . less than enthusiastic responses. It appears to vary by location and local leadership, according to this article in the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve read some of the justifications members are giving for not wearing masks and not getting vaccinated. Typically they’re falling into the “if the Prophet really wanted me to do it, he’d make it a commandment and not a suggestion.” (To which, if you’re a devout church member, I’d simply remind you of D&C 58:26–“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.”) Personally, I read it and decided to mask up when I can’t socially distance. Even in Maine, where the rates are “so low.”

To hear some people talk, masks must be made out of acid or something. For me, the question shouldn’t be “do I want to wear a mask and vaccinate or not?” It should be “do I want to go to another home quarantine or not?” I would also remind even those who have already had COVID that getting the vaccine is still recommended for them as well, as the protection it gives is stronger than the natural protection they have. (Again, sort of like saying “I don’t need a seat belt because I’ve got air bags in my car.” I’ll take both, thanks.)

Anyway. I’ll get off my soap box now. I know half of you agree with me, and half of you don’t, and I also realize practically nothing I say will make a difference. The main point of this post was to share the realization I had when I compared the COVID stats today with those from a year ago. I’m very grateful for the vaccine, as I believe those numbers would be much, much worse than they are without our high vaccination rate.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

On Doing Your Own Research

It seems these days more and more people are encouraging each other to “do the research” so they can be properly informed about a subject and make their own decisions. As an academic librarian, you would think I would be thrilled with this newfound desire to delve into research. Instead, I’m left scratching my head.

The problem is that what I mean by “research” seems to be quite different than what many other people think it means. Perhaps a lot of this stems from the fact that I believe different levels of research are appropriate for different projects.

For example, if you’re interested in finding out where you recognize that guy in that movie from, then doing a quick search on Wikipedia or IMDB makes perfect sense. It’s a simple question with a simple answer. The stakes are relatively low. What’s the worst thing that happens if you turn out to be wrong? You look foolish at a party? I think we can all live with that. Likewise, if you’re interested in different Big Foot sightings, you can no doubt find no end of web pages that will regale you with any number of them. Again: very low risk if those sites end up being wrong. Worst case, I suppose you head out to where some of the sites swear Big Foot visits all the time, and you waste a weekend searching for him in vain. (Hmm. Or would the worst case be that you actually find him and are torn limb from limb? Maybe this was a bad example . . .)

When the stakes get raised, the importance of the quality of the research goes up dramatically. Say you’re writing a paper for your college biology class. In this case, citing Wikipedia as your main research source isn’t nearly as appropriate. You’d want to be using academic, peer-reviewed journals to persuade your professor that you really have “done your research.”

(A quick aside, as I recognize not everyone knows what a peer-reviewed journal means. In essence, it means that for an article to be published in that journal, a scholar in that field does extensive research, writes it up, and submits it. The editor of the journal then sends that article on to other scholars in the field (anonymously, so they have no idea who wrote it). Those scholars then evaluate the research and its findings, ultimately recommending that the article be published, be rejected, or be revised. No article makes it to print without being verified by other experts in that field. Thus, this research is far more reliable than anything else you’re going to find online.)

If, when people said “do your research,” they meant, “go scour through peer-reviewed journals for a while and come back when you’re better informed,” I might feel a bit more comfortable with the suggestion. But that’s not what they mean. The research people typically end up doing consists of reading articles by reporters, watching YouTube videos, reading websites around an issue, and asking their friends. Worse yet, they’re typically doing this in an effort to prove that what they want to believe is actually the truth. (Pro tip: never start your research with your mind already made up. These days, you will almost always be able to find someone who says you’re right, and it will be that much easier for you to mentally dismiss anyone who disagrees with you.)

What’s particularly alarming in these instances is the ultimate worst case scenarios if the “research” people have done turns out to be wrong. With pandemics and climate change, that can result in millions dead and entire areas ruined for decades to come.

Let’s say for a moment that I decided to do some real research into vaccinations. As a trained reference librarian, I know how to sift through sources to find and evaluate the best research. Let’s say I spend 100 hours combing through the various studies before I come up with an opinion. Even after all of that, that “opinion” isn’t nearly worth as much as an actual expert in the field. Why? Because while I’ve spent 100 hours of my life doing this, that person has spent decades of their life becoming familiar with the field and its nuances. Knowing how to effectively discern between a good study and a bad one. I realize there is no way I can compete with that sort of background.

Ultimately, when it comes to issues like “is the vaccine safe?”, no amount of research I’m going to do is going to be able to reliably contradict the general consensus of experts in the field. And that’s if I’ve done everything right. Science is self-correcting. Researchers do studies. Those studies are evaluated and replicated. They learn from their past mistakes and findings. Through that process, better and better information rises to the surface.

The science on climate change or COVID or the vaccines might have been up for debate decades ago (in climate change’s case) or a year ago (for the others), but the more you see those expert opinions aligning, the more solid that science becomes. Yes, you still might find some studies that contradict the consensus. But those studies will in turn be evaluated. If they prove correct, then the consensus will change. If they don’t, then they’ll be dismissed. In issues like these, the currency of the study is vital to knowing how much credence to give it.

If I come down with a series of symptoms that seem alarming, I will undoubtedly do some “research” to find out just how alarmed I should be. I just can’t help myself. But I know better than to assume three hours of WebMD scanning is going to help me in any meaningful way. To do that, I need to go to an actual expert. A doctor. And even then, I might get a second opinion.

So for issues like the safety of the COVID vaccine, I wish the general public would realize that “doing the research” isn’t really going to help them at all. Or rather, it won’t help them nearly as much as simply listening to the experts in the first place. Right now, Florida is averaging 19,000 cases each day. Their earlier peak was just under 18,000. They have 13,000 people hospitalized with COVID. (Their earlier peak in the first wave was 12,000.) And still they have a governor who’s insisting masks are an option, not a necessity. People who believe the vaccine is more dangerous than the disease. 617,000 Americans have died of this so far. (The worst recent yearly flu death total for the US is around 61,000.) The global death total is coming up in 4.25 million. It’s almost certainly much higher than that.

Not all research has the same weight. Please get vaccinated now.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Olympics: COVID Style

I’m a self-confessed Olympics junkie. Whenever they’re on, I just can’t resist watching them. It doesn’t really matter which sport, and while I generally cheer for the USA, I also root for Germany and Slovakia, and I’m a sucker for any come-from-behind, underdog story. So you would think I’m really looking forward to tonight, when the opening ceremonies kick everything off. (Well, technically it’s already happened, but I generally go for watching the evening highlights. Why? Because I’ve watched the live feeds before, and while NBC’s coverage frustrates me from time to time (since it ignores some sports and usually focuses just on the American angle), they do a very good job of giving context to the sports. Without context, they aren’t nearly as impactful.)

But instead of being 100% hyped, I’m . . . unsure how I feel. On the one hand, Olympics! Yay! But on the other hand, this is going to be an Olympics with very few spectators, held in a country where 83% of the people said they didn’t want them to take place. And that was back in May! It feels in many ways to me like the rest of the world is just sort of forcing the Olympics down Japan’s throat. The country’s at the start of a third wave of COVID, and there have already been multiple reports of athletes coming down with the disease.

I look at rates around the world still, and right now things look like anything other than “COVID is over.” I know people don’t want to go back to masks and social distancing, and I also realize that many people in America are convinced the vaccine is part of some government ploy, but what in the world are we going to do? In the US, my best guess is “nothing.” People will refuse to go back to masks and quarantine. People will refuse to get vaccines. Unvaccinated people will begin to be hospitalized in droves and then die, and then maybe that might convince the unvaccinated that they really maybe better change their mind.

Or maybe that scenario will be totally wrong, and I’m worrying over nothing. For the moment, I’m vaccinated and almost all the people I know are, so I feel somewhat at ease, even if I’m still worried this all results in vaccine-resistant strain of the virus. (Wouldn’t that be fun?)

But I digress.

How can the Olympics do anything but hurt Japan? They get almost none of the tourism dollars. None of the spectator dollars. They’re forced to do something they don’t want to do, and they’re going to lose around $20 billion for that privilege.

So where does that put me? Probably watching to see how they go, but also hoping that things don’t get too bad? I’m going to watch them, because if everyone boycotts watching them, what does that do? It makes what Japan is going through even more terrible. To have them do it all anyway, and then have it all be for nothing? That sounds horrid. But I’m really hoping NBC or the IOC or someone is doing things to help the country out, because this feels very wrong to me, no matter how excited I may want to be to watch some good sports drama.

What do you think?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Billionaire Spaceflight

I watched Jeff Bezos go to space this morning. An eleven minute ride that cost a purported $28 million to buy a seat at auction. After they landed, the people covering the event (which was being broadcast by Bezos’ company) called the four people who had gone up “the latest American astronauts,” or something like that, which struck me as an ill-fitting description. What, exactly, had these people done?

Bezos had paid to fund the whole thing, true, but the entire Apollo program cost around $100 billion in today’s dollars. Bezos has twice that, so he’s got the wherewithal to fund things better than NASA did back then. He also has the benefit of doing it all fifty years later, with technology that’s much more advanced than anything that was around back then. Does that make him an astronaut, or a passenger?

The flight was guided completely by artificial intelligence. The vehicle is totally autonomous, from what I gathered. It rockets up more than 60 miles into the air, then jettisons the rocket that got them there. It guides itself back to land on the ground, and the capsule floats down later on. I don’t believe the people in the capsule did anything other than look out the window. Does that make them astronauts? Was Laika an astronaut?

I don’t mean to dismiss the feat. These sort of trips (like the other one Branson did a week or so ago) mark an important turning point in the way we interact with space. If a bunch of millionaires want to use their money to buy tickets on rockets, thereby funding more efforts to develop more things in space, then that seems like a pretty good way to get it done. As these trips become more commonplace and more accessible, it brings other things more into reach as well.

The Space Race was funded by fear. Fear that the United States would fall behind the USSR, both militarily and technologically. But once that competition was over, with the US coming out “victorious,” the public goodwill behind the program just wasn’t enough to sustain it. There hasn’t been money to support it from government coffers, so (realistically) if we’re going to keep expanding our reach and exploring, it appears ventures by companies is the way to go. How will that affect the ultimate end product? No idea.

I’ve seen a number of comments about people mad at Bezos, or disparaging him for doing something that wasn’t a big deal. Wasting his money where there are so many other immediate problems that need solving. But I don’t see it that way. The remarkable thing about these feats isn’t that someone successfully went up to space and back in a short 10 minute journey. It’s that multiple companies are far enough along now that voyages like this are possible. I’m very excited to see where things head from here, and I can think of many worse ways for Bezos to spend a chunk of change. In the long run, I think these efforts might well pay off in ways we can only dream of for now.

Of course, I’ve also seen plenty of comments saying they think the whole thing was a hoax, and that Bezos never really went up at all. To me, those comments are a constant reminder of how much we need science in our lives. Logic. Reason. Some people appear to have given up on it entirely, preferring to believe anything that’s more convenient for them. (Why it’s more comfortable to believe the earth is flat and we’ve never been to space is beyond me, but stressful times cause different people to react in very different ways.)

Would *I* go to space right now? I don’t think so. I certainly wouldn’t want to spend that sort of money (if I had it available.) I’m just super comfortable with other people spending it. In a way, it’s like the lottery, except I don’t have to worry that people who don’t have sufficient funds are being essentially taxed to line the pockets of the few (and pay for some local needs of the many). I am mindful of the potential impact these sort of flights will have on the environment, but I also believe they’ll lead to potential solutions to the those same problems. The fact that they aren’t carbon neutral right at the beginning seems to me to be a poor reason not to do it.

But maybe I’m just way too much into space exploration.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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