Cargo Container Feast and Famine

 

America (and likely China) is experiencing a cargo container feast and famine. Ryan Petersen, CEO of Flexport, deserves an “A” for effort with his influential Tweetstorm. He gets the problem, the choke point, right. Peterson is able to be a catalyst for discussion leading to real solutions because he is not in one of the positions being blamed: shipping companies, dock managers and workers, trucking companies and truckers, or government. However, Peterson shows the limits of his knowledge in his suggested means to the end of getting trucks to the cargo terminals with empty trailers. Let us consider what he wrote, how things work, and who is actually in a position to lead an integrated solution to this short- to medium-term logistics problem. Hint: politicians touring and talking “infrastructure” spending are not part of the solution.

Prelude for context

I have seen this problem before in a much more localized, smaller, but far more critical circumstance. I saw the problem of container management, writ large, in the context of war. All containers were trucked north from ports in Kuwait to a corps distribution center just north of Baghdad. From there, containers were either opened, with the contents reconfigured to smaller loads for infantry and armored division customers, or sent onward as a container in a supply convoy to a unit in central, northern, or western Iraq. Each container had a tag that would respond to a short-range interrogator, allowing precise tracking of the movement and location of each container, with associated manifest, list of contents.

Sound fairly simple? The containers started stacking up almost immediately. The problem was only solved by a ruthless senior commander driving staff and commanders with twice-daily meetings capturing the movement of every trailer, by twenty-foot equivalent, and whether it was loaded with cargo or available for a load now, tomorrow, or the next day. Complicating matters, containers, pallets, and specialized roll-on/roll-off flat racks had to be retrograded, returned from customers to be filled at some point in the logistics network. The commercial containers were the property of some civilian transportation company, so Uncle Sam was facing financial penalties if some captain or sergeant decided they would make a nice office or sleeping trailer.

A few terms

TEU: twenty-foot equivalent units, a standardized container size that helps planners and operators match truck trailer or rail car length to loads. A forty-foot flatbed semi-trailer or chassis will hold two TEUs. Specialized railcars may carry two TEU in length stacked two high, so potentially four TEU per intermodal railcar.

Intermodal: transportation by more than one mode: sea, land, and air.

Intermodal container: ISO standardized container, durable property reused for many shipments, made in twenty- and forty-foot lengths, one or two TEU.

Chassis: a specialized steel framework semi-trailer designed to accept and secure intermodal containers.

Per diem:  a charge paid when intermodal containers are not returned by the end of the allowable free time to its origin or to another location as previously agreed.

Demurrage:  a charge paid when intermodal equipment (semi-trailers and containers) is stored on terminal property.

Ryan Peterson’s bright idea

Did a Twitter thread just save Christmas?” Short answer: no. Credit to Ryan Peterson for focusing on fixing the problem, not the blame. He started doing so at the beginning of this past summer when he asked, “whose fault is the current ocean freight market crisis?” His answer: “nobody’s really,” meaning the problem lays across components of the global or regional logistics environment.

Today’s situation is comparable to a rush hour on Monday morning: It’s everyone’s problem. Global demand has peaked, and capacity is not sufficient to deal with it. This is exacerbated by the fact that one fourth of all vessels are waiting in queues at the ports.

As a global logistics industry, we’re all in this together to try to dig out: shippers, forwarders, ports, carriers, and technology platforms each play a vital role in the ecosystem and must work collaboratively to create solutions to our problems.

[…]

The simplest solution is to make sure you’re fully loading every container. Flexport’s machine learning technology digitizes packing lists including all the dimensions of the cartons inside our containers. What we see is that across all the full containers we ship for our clients, they are on average only ~70% full. The carriers might not be able to fit more containers on their ships, but shippers can fit a lot more inventory in their containers if they pack them smartly!

From this point in June, we get context for Ryan Petersen deciding to scout out the Long Beach port problem.

Ryan Petersen @typesfast
Yesterday I rented a boat and took the leader of one of Flexport’s partners in Long Beach on a 3 hour of the port complex. Here’s a thread about what I learned.
6:39 AM · Oct 22, 2021

The ports of LA/Long Beach are at a standstill. In a full 3 hour loop through the port complex, passing every single terminal, we saw less than a dozen containers get unloaded.

There are hundreds of cranes. I counted only ~7 that were even operating and those that were seemed to be going pretty slow.

It seems that everyone now agrees that the bottleneck is yard space at the container terminals. The terminals are simply overflowing with containers, which means they no longer have space to take in new containers either from ships or land. It’s a true traffic jam.

Right now if you have a chassis with no empty container on it, you can go pick up containers at any port terminal. However, if you have an empty container on that chassis, they’re not allowing you to return it except on highly restricted basis.

If you can’t get the empty off the chassis, you don’t have a chassis to go pick up the next container. And if nobody goes to pick up the next container, the port remains jammed.

With the yards so full, carriers / terminals are being highly restrictive in where and when they will accept empties.

Also containers are not fungible between carriers, so the truckers have to drop their empty off at the right terminal. This is causing empty containers to pile up. This one trucking partner alone has 450 containers sitting on chassis right now (as of 10/21) at his yards.

This is a trucking company with 6 yards that represents 153 owner operator drivers, so he has almost 3 containers sitting on chassis at his yard for every driver on the team.

He can’t take the containers off the chassis because he’s not allowed by the city of Long Beach zoning code to store empty containers more than 2 high in his truck yard. If he violates this code they’ll shut down his yard altogether.

With the chassis all tied up storing empties that can’t be returned to the port, there are no chassis available to pick up containers at the port.

And with all the containers piling up in the terminal yard, the longshoremen can’t unload the ships. And so the queue grows longer, with now over 70 ships containing 500,000 containers are waiting off shore. This line is going to get longer not shorter.

This is a negative feedback loop that is rapidly cycling out of control that if it continues unabated will destroy the global economy.

Alright how do we fix this, you ask? Simple. And we can do it fast now,

When you’re designing an operation you must choose your bottleneck. If the bottleneck appears somewhere that you didn’t choose it, you aren’t running an operation. It’s running you.

You should always choose the most capital intensive part of the line to be your bottleneck. In a port that’s the ship to shore cranes. The cranes should never be unable to run because they’re waiting for another part of the operation to catch up.

The bottleneck right now is not the cranes. It’s yard space at the container terminals. And it’s empty chassis to come clear those containers out.

In operations when a bottleneck appears somewhere that you didn’t design for it to appear, you must OVERWHELM THE BOTTLENECK!

This was inevitable, because the disruptions of manufacturing and draw-down of domestic warehouse inventories, together with Chinese domestic policies pushing locales to consume an annual allotment of electrical power early, created massive surges in supply, beyond the usual monthly and seasonal pattern. From a combination of causes, Chinese manufacturers are surging loaded containers to the specialized, very deeply dredged, ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The large difference between east-bound and west-bound containers is overwhelming the long-established system.

Just shunting empty containers off to some massive holding yard out of Indiana Jones will not smooth out the container cycle. The shipping companies need their empty containers back, to carry back to China for the next round of loading and transporting. The lack of smooth retrograde may already be causing problems in China, although we will not hear about this predictable problem until there are noticeable delays at the port of origin. Keep the full container cycle in mind as we read through the rest of Ryan Petersen’s Tweetstorm.

Here’s a simple plan that @potus and @GavinNewsom partnered with the private sector, labor, truckers, and everyone else in the chain must implement TODAY to overwhelm the bottleneck and create yard space at the ports so we can operate again[st]

1) Executive order effective immediately over riding the zoning rules in Long Beach and Los Angeles to allow truck yards to store empty containers up to six high instead of the current limit of 2. Make it temporary for ~120 days.

Good idea, but does each truck yard now have the specialized equipment to get past two high and manage stacks up to six high? If you are moving one container at a time from chassis to stack, you are likely using a reach stacker. The Army Reserve and Army National Guard have reach stackers, called rough terrain container handlers (RTCH, pronounced “wretch”) in small material handling detachments. However, if you are going six ISO intermodal containers high, you will quickly find yourself in need of a 6/9 high empty container handler. The RTCH and its civilian counterpart just will not do at this extreme limit.

This will free up tens of thousands of chassis that right now are just storing containers on wheels. Those chassis can immediately be taken to the ports to haul away the containers

2) Bring every container chassis owned by the national guard and the military anywhere in the US to the ports and loan them to the terminals for 180 days.

Dude does not have a clue, has not asked about, US Army capabilities in the region, nay, west of the Mississippi. Why would you loan old-style flatbed trailers, of the sort on which you see all manner of cargo secured? The moment they are loaded and hauled away by a civilian truck, they become part of the problem, as they will come back loaded with another empty container. On the other hand, the Reserve and Guard have the ability to operate the temporary container yards next proposed.

3) Create a new temporary container yard at a large (need 500+ acres) piece of government land adjacent to an inland rail head within 100 miles of the port complex.

From the facts already given in this Tweetstorm, you must have enough container yards, or enough control inside each yard, to separate containers by cargo shipping owner. Remember, empty containers must end up being loaded onto the appropriate container ship, not jumbled and randomly loaded into the first available container ship steaming for China.

4) Force the railroads to haul all containers to this new site, turn around and come back. No more 1500 mile train journeys to Dallas. We’re doing 100 mile shuttles, turning around and doing it again. Truckers will go to this site to get containers instead of the port.

This is exactly backward, given as fact the preceding tweets and the container cycle explained above. Turning the railroads into a local shuttle service creates a requirement for yard management, qualified container handlers, specialized equipment, and maintenance and life support (portapotties, water, food). Additionally, you are tying up the port railheads with a new and temporary shuttle service, while dumping all those empty containers in yards from which they will have to be loaded onto trains and sent to the appropriate port and pier. Never mind, there is no federal executive power to order any such thing. Oh, and the free time on the containers will run out while they sit ignored in the temporary container yards, triggering per diem charges unless the US government also negotiates this. But, let’s work with this.

Running a container yard and tracking container movement on a large scale is a real capability the Army Reserve and Guard bring to the logistics fight. Flip the flow in Petersen’s proposal. Establish temporary container yards, but make them empty container staging yards. Establish separate yards or sections inside a yard dedicated to each pier or to each shipping line at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. That way, the containers are stacked up ready to be loaded out on truck or rail going directly to empty ships positioned to return the containers to China. The truckers would drop the containers short of the ports, and possibly stage at the temporary yards, stretching their legs while waiting for a call forward to the port to pick up loaded containers.

5) Bring in barges and small container ships and start hauling containers out of long beach to other smaller ports that aren’t backed up.

This is not a comprehensive list. Please add to it. We don’t need to do the best ideas. We need to do ALL the ideas.

The circulatory system our globalized economy depends has collapsed. And thanks to the negative feedback loops involved, it’s getting worse not better every day that goes by.

I’d be happy to lead this effort for the federal or state government if asked. Leadership is the missing ingredient at this point.

Doing ideas that help

Call the general, not the CEO. If the current administration, if the Congress, is serious about helping unclog the two-way flow of intermodal containers through southern California, they should already have directed the Department of Defense to task a senior logistics headquarters to provide several courses of action to restore normal circulation of containers. The 79th Theater Support Command is right there in the Los Angeles/Long Beach area, headquartered on Joint Forces Training Base Los Alamitos. They are in the business of planning and executing operational level logistics, so are in the best position to assess the situation in the western United States.

Get on board. The Tweetstorm actually tips us to a bigger picture. Look again at “No more 1500 mile train journeys to Dallas.” Why are the trains going to Dallas? Because movement of intermodal containers from sea to deep inland is most efficiently accomplished by rail. A “Panamax” ship could pass through the Panama canal with up to 13,000 TEUs. This is well below the capacity of truly massive container ships plying the route between China and southern California. If a portion of a very large shipment is intended for deep inland distribution, rail makes far more sense than over the road trucks. So, why all the trucks?

The trucks carry containers to local and regional customers, large and small. They are supposed to get cargo to the customer faster than waiting on a train to be loaded, then arrive at the nearest rail yard, then unload onto a truck. Because of the huge container backlog at the ports, this efficient system is temporarily failing. The railroads have already picked up on this problem. Union Pacific, Port of Long Beach (POLB), and the Utah Inland Port Authority (UIPA) reached an agreement that should take significant pressure off the trucking container yards at the ports.

 “The direct, regularly scheduled rail service connecting the Port of Long Beach to Salt Lake City will allow cargo destined for all of the Intermountain West to be rapidly evacuated from terminals in Long Beach to Salt Lake City for further distribution throughout the region. Much of this cargo traditionally moves to Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and Idaho by truck, and thus must be removed from the port terminals one container at a time. Reengaging this direct rail service will allow removal of blocks of containers at a time.”

[ . . . ]

Millions of TEUs of international goods are imported to or exported from the Intermountain West annually, but only 10% of this cargo currently moves by rail.

This will take pressure off the trucking container yards in both directions. Trucks will pick up cargo and then return empty containers to Salt Lake City, with trains carrying hundreds of containers at a time back to each Port of Long Beach on-dock railhead. With growing restrictions on trucks in California, the fleets of trucks and independent operators outside of California may benefit from a permanent shift to inland intermodal ports.

The Port of Los Angeles is linked with both Union Pacific and BNSF. Now moving only 35% of the intermodal containers, there is plenty of room for increasing train loads.

Five modern on-dock rail yards and a sixth yard – a multipurpose staging and storage facility – serve the Port’s full complement of seven marine container terminals. The network operates 24/7 and links to the Alameda Corridor, a dedicated rail expressway that connects the docks to the transcontinental rail system for cargo to flow nonstop between the Port and markets throughout North America.

The Port’s rail network also consists of the near-dock Intermodal Transfer Container Facility (ICTF) and five off-dock mainline rail yards – three operated by Union Pacific Railroad (UP) and two operated by BNSF. The UP East Los Angeles Yard and the BNSF Hobart/Commerce Yard near downtown Los Angeles, approximately 24 miles north of the San Pedro Bay ports, handle the majority of the intermodal cargo.

Stop government-created work obstacles. Increasing flow by going to longer port hours will only work if the truckers or train crews are met at the other end with warehouse crews ready to receive the containers. Is the trucker dropping the full semi-trailer and picking up an empty container on another chassis, or waiting for the container to be unloaded? Is the warehouse open and ready to receive the cargo? Running 24-hour operations requires staffing with qualified personnel for three shifts a day. So, is the government making this harder or easier within the legal U.S. population?

Make ocean carriers ship-shape. There may already have an underlying problem between the companies that own the containers, ports, and truckers. The issue of returning empty containers was raised in 2020 at the New York-New Jersey Port. The affected parties came to a three-point agreement that outlines the possible problem at any port.

  • Ocean carriers should do their level best to ensure that empty containers are returned to the terminal in which they came from.
  • Marine terminals should be responsible for notifying truckers more than 24 hours in advance if they can accept or reject an ocean carrier’s empty containers.
  • Ocean carriers should provide more access to customer service reps who can help truckers to sort out issues they are having in returning containers.

So, there is some set of business rules or practices that changed recently and caused container return delays. It may be that the ports will need to apply more pressure to ocean carriers and shipping companies to take back containers. However, I suspect this will start self-correcting, as the ocean carriers need those containers back in China in order to make money on the next load and the next after that. These containers are not at all like a box from USPS or Amazon. They are durable property, costing thousands of dollars to make. Indeed, there is a business of maintaining and repairing intermodal shipping containers. Just making new shipping containers is not the answer.

Container manufacturers, mostly concentrated in China, are expected to churn out 5.4 million new containers this year, about double their pre-pandemic output, according to Drewry Shipping Consultants. But those efforts are being hampered by shortages in raw materials, such as steel and lumber, as well as welders.

Stuff those containers. Get American exports fired up. Stop stifling American business and workers with artificially high fuel costs, in the name of the environment, and work restrictions, in the false name of public health. An empty container returning to China is not making money. The growing number of empty containers on U.S. docks is a sign of growing import/export imbalance. Government officials at every level must take their feet off the brakes on our economy, on our lives.

Stop the plandemic

The ports have handled similar total TEU volume in recent years. Just look at the Port of Los Angeles container statistics since 2016. Even with over 9 million TEUs annually, there was no significant backlog. The number of ships stuck at the ports is unprecedented.

The size of the logjam is unprecedented. Before the pandemic, the ports hadn’t seen a backlog greater than 17 ships, Kip Louttit, head of the Marine Exchange, previously told Insider. But in the past few months, it’s been common to find around 100-plus ships lingering around these ports waiting to berth.

It is not just consumer demand driven by government edicts, since the total volume this year does not appear to be much different from 2019. Politicians and bureaucrats, first do no harm!

For a view from the ports in the news, here are the ports own reports:

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Less than five years ago President 0bama was still in office.  Do you remember that?  What difference does it make today?  So much is changed since then.  Even Pres. 0bama is indisposed to talk about it.  Even if one accepts that Russia Collusion did take place, and the election was on the up and up […]

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Imagine a time when the American medical establishment was disinterested in science, with patients dying because doctors were hamstrung by misguided, deadly hospital protocols. In callous disregard to available facts, these administrators – self-assured in their intellectual superiority – watched while life-saving treatments were left untried, or worse, banned; the doctors who promoted those life-saving […]

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Fear of Things No One Is Afraid Of

 

Ok.  So President Biden, the Democrat Party, and major media outlets all agree that the greatest threat of domestic terrorism comes from right-wing militias and white supremacists.  That’s what they say.  Well, ok.

As the Rittenhouse jury deliberates, the National Guard has moved several hundred troops nearby, to handle possibly violent riots after the verdict is released.  Well, ok.

So I presume that the leaders of the National Guard are thinking, “Ok, if Rittenhouse is found innocent, Black Lives Matter and Antifa will be upset, but they’ll use peaceful and legitimate means to air their grievances.  No problem.  But if he’s found guilty, the right-wing whackos out there are going to start burning down fast food joints and attacking bystanders.  We’d better be ready.”

Ok.  Maybe.  But I really, really, really doubt that.

It’s amazing that leftists in general, and the Biden administration in particular, can maintain such an obvious absurdity as a central thesis to their worldview.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, is more scared of right-wing militias than they are the organizations that burned American cities on the nightly news all across this country for several months last year.  The head of Black Lives Matter bought mansions in white neighborhoods – she obviously understands which groups are dangerous.  And I’ll guarantee you that the National Guard in Wisconsin does as well.  Regardless of their politics, I’m sure they know where the real threats are.

But then we have the daily drumbeat of fear coming from the left and the media.  Fear of something that no one is afraid of.

When the success of a political movement is dependent on convincing everyone to be afraid of something that no one is afraid of, you would think that that political movement would have very serious problems.

On the other hand, this worked well for Stalin (no one was afraid of the Kulaks), Hitler (no one was afraid of the Jews), and Mao (no one was afraid of farmers or teachers).  So, I suppose that distracting from real problems by stoking paranoia about a straw man is not a new technique in the field of politics.  Particularly the politics of leftists and tyrants.

So, ok, it often works.

But geez – it looks ridiculous.  Everybody knows why the National Guard is there.  But the real threat is something else – something just out of sight.  Really.

Right.  Ok.  Got it.

No wonder fear of COVID was such an effective tool for the left to gain power.  Fear sells.

I love people.  I really do.

But human nature has real downsides…

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In a surprise to no one here on Ricochet, it turns out that: “Blue states are the problem” …“Blue states are where the housing crisis is located. Blue states are where the disparities in education funding are the most dramatic. Blue states are the places where tens of thousands of homeless people are living on […]

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Dr. Atlas Talks About Fauci, Dr. Birk, et al.

 

Tucker Carlson talked with him about working with the COVID task force.

I have never worked with people at this level in my career, and I’m not saying at a high level, I’m saying at a low level … I’m not sure these people could have been assistant professors where I worked.

I’ve noticed this on a more lay level about Fauci. He’s a politician not a scientist. In my own sideline as a historian about GPS, I’ve read and heard lots of nonsense from eminent people. I reviewed in 2018 a documentary about the origins of GPS. When I posted it on Amazon, it had about a dozen reviews all of which gave it five stars. I gave it two stars.

The lack of critical thinking by our supposed experts is scary.

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More shennanigans in the KeyStone State: https://www.newsmax.com/politics/election-fraud-2020-whistleblower-pennsylvania/2021/11/17/id/1045154/ Regardless of how you feel about the 2020 Presidential race, there are things like this that make more and more voters lose faith in the integrity of the system . . .

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San Francisco City Council Wants a Name Change

 

See the source image In an announcement today, the San Francisco City Council is asking the San Francisco Giants to rename their ballpark. Klepto Park is the proposed name change to honor the hardworking shoplifters in San Francisco.

Walgreen Park was suggested, but Walgreens’ future in San Francisco seems to be disappearing, as stores are closing due to theft losses. Safeway Park was in the running, but Safeway has cut back on its hours due to theft in San Francisco. This drew some criticism from council members. Council critics felt that limiting the hours for shoplifters that like to sleep late placed them at a looting disadvantage.

The city council also requested that after each stolen base, a special fireworks display be provided by the Giants, and the most prolific shoplifter in the city receive a lifetime pass to all Giants games.

It was suggested that during the offseason, the field could provide a temporary campground for the homeless.

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The swinging brass on this guy.  Florida Gov. DeSantis trolls President Biden, will sign bills limiting vaccine mandates in Brandon, FL BRANDON, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign a package of anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate bills into law Thursday in Brandon, Florida – a thinly vailed jab at President Biden.  

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According to this local “news” organization, Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, running to be the Demoncrat nominee for governor of the great state of Texas, has no “real” competition in the primary: Beto O’Rourke has this advantage over Abbott: He has no real competition in the coming primary and can start his race against the governor […]

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It’s time to play the music / It’s time to light the lights Podcast title: “No dumb Questions”.  I get it, every question is welcome. It’s better than calling it the “Cosmopolitan Globalist” or similar.  Story of how some un-named person thought that John Boehner drinking a Bloody Mary “at an event” was “pretty damned […]

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It looks as if the creator of the Harry Potter series isn’t welcome in Howarts anymore: https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/why-is-j-k-rowling-not-involved-in-the-hbo-harry-potter-reunion/ I wish Rowling would flip a giant middle finger to all those now-woke people who became rich and famous from the Harry Potter movies . . .

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Big Tech, the Death of Medicine, Censorship, and Pregnancy Loss; or, How Covid Ruins Everything

 

I just got a YouTube notification that a physician I follow, Suneel Dhand, who posted a new video titled “Dr. Peter Doshi Capitol Hill video REMOVED by YouTube.” I had watched the referenced video featuring Dr. Doshi, in which he pointed out the inconsistencies in the arguments used for the current push for vaccine and mask mandates.

Dr. Dhand had shown Dr. Doshi’s video in the context of his own video raising similar concerns. Dr. Dhand is by no means “antivaxx,” but favors a multifaceted approach towards treating and preventing Covid that does not coincide with the one-size-fits-all vaccine or nothing. Dhand has also been a strong proponent of ongoing discussions in the name of scientific rigor, that there is no “settled science.”

To blindly follow what a few people are saying would fly in the face of the most basic of scientific and medical reasoning. However, YouTube removed his video stating it violated community standards. He appealed its removal and received word that they would not budge from their position.

This is one of many videos that has been struck for not following the party line. YouTube is censoring scientists and physicians acting in good faith. I fully understand that YouTube as a private company can do whatever it wants. It does fall under the umbrella of big tech companies that are using their social media presence to censor free speech, and it now extends to censoring genuine scientific debate. Do these companies fall under the heading of monopolies? Do we have any ground to stand on to step in and demand they uphold freedom of speech?

Debate and discussion have been foundational to science and medicine since they became fields of study. It is how these fields grow and develop, through constant reexamination. Instead, we’re seeing science shut down in favor of a narrative that has been chosen by a few. The doctors raising questions about Covid treatments, vaccines, and masking are being silenced regardless of their political bent.

Dr. Vinay Prasad, a self-avowed Progressive, has come out loudly against the label of “misinformation” for anything that doesn’t support the vaccine or nothing position. In fact, after listening to Prasad speak in his videos, one starts to wonder if he really is as progressive as he claims. I’m heartened to see physicians speaking out against censorship and trying to uphold the critical thinking that has been a hallmark of medicine for centuries. I am heartened because my own experience with the physicians I work with has been so disheartening.

When Covid first hit, my hospital, like so many others, shut down elective surgeries and minimized inpatient hospitalization in an effort to stop the spread and keep beds open for the flux of Covid patients that must be on the horizon. My service, cardiothoracic surgery, only did elective cases for lung cancer patients and those with critical heart disease. We went from having 30+ patients on our list at any given time to three or four. The five of us advanced practice providers (PAs and NPs) were repurposed temporarily, and I was sent to manage patients in the Covid ICU alongside our colleagues in critical care and pulmonology. This was a brief sojourn of a few weeks, and we were back to our normal service.

Months later, no longer consistently caring for Covid patients, I asked a few of my colleagues in critical care if they had read any of the literature about Ivermectin, which had just come out as a possible cheap and safe treatment. I was told, “the CDC doesn’t endorse it, so we won’t consider it.” Only one critical care physician had taken the time to read the available literature. I was shocked that the physicians I worked so closely with and trusted would choose to not even read the studies to decide for themselves.

As the months went on, it became increasingly clear that the majority of doctors I work with are not reviewing the literature themselves, but rather going along with whatever the CDC and their colleges/associations say. My favorite doctor, a strong conservative normally suspicious of anything that smacks of collectivism or socialism, told me during surgery one day that I just needed to get the vaccine because “everyone is going to mandate it, and you won’t be able to go anywhere or do anything without being vaccinated, so you might as well get it.” He said this in July after the vaccine mandate was announced at hospitals across my state. I have not gotten the vaccine because I have had Covid, and natural immunity is a thing, despite what the CDC says. I have seen healthy doctors in their thirties lining up to get their Pfizer vaccines and subsequent boosters, despite the fact that Covid has a less than 1% mortality rate for that demographic. I’ve also seen doctors who had native infection roll their sleeves up to get the vaccine afterward.

While we are being beaten over the head to get everyone and their dog vaccinated, only a small group of physicians are talking about risk stratification and mitigation. When the delta strain took over, the headlines in my in-basket from medical email blasts read “Delta variant more likely to kill those under the age of 50” and “Covid deaths amongst young people highlight need to get vaccinated.” Not working in the Covid ICU consistently anymore, I was unsure about these claims. But I started hearing rumblings about the risk factors these young people had that made them susceptible to death from Covid.

I was sitting in the critical care NP office one day when one of my friends in critical care came in to call one of the large tertiary hospitals, trying to see if they would accept the transfer for a 35-year-old woman who was in the Covid ICU maxed out on her ventilator settings and getting worse. “Hi, I’ve got a 35-year-old lady with Covid. She completely maxed out on the vent, and her sats are continuing to drop and she’s increasingly difficult to oxygenate. I was wondering if you guys would be open to putting her on ECMO? She’s pretty healthy, just has diabetes and hypertension … her BMI? 45.”

Ah, there it is. My coworkers and I had noted that the young patients with Covid we were putting on ECMO in a last-ditch effort to save their lives were all very overweight. Not just overweight, but morbidly obese. A five-foot, six-inch woman would have to weigh 250 lbs to reach a BMI of 40. When I surveyed nurses and NPs in the Covid units, they all said the young people that are dying from Covid all have BMIs over 40, and often also have diabetes and hypertension, or other comorbidities.

No one is talking about this. One’s weight, blood sugar, and blood pressure are all things that can be controlled and modified. A study also showed that 97% of those who died from Covid were deficient in vitamin D. Again, something that can be addressed. But no one will talk about these things. Instead, we have vaccine mandates and a singular focus on the vaccines, even though you can still catch and spread Covid after being vaccinated.

The blind following of whatever the CDC says, the abandonment of critical thinking, and the lack of a multifaceted approach to treatment and prevention have almost destroyed my faith in the medical community. In fact, I’m almost to the point of wanting to leave. I’m not blind to the dangers of Covid, not in the least. I experienced a stillbirth in February at 33 weeks gestation. It was caused by a combination of tight nuchal cord and clot in 50% of the placenta leading to placental insufficiency. I was worked up for clotting disorders after I delivered my son, and have none. We do know, however, that Covid has a significant embolic aspect to it. At the time, I read one study that showed an increase in clots in the placentas and umbilical cords of women that had Covid during pregnancy. Even though we know this, OB/GYNs are not treating Covid-positive pregnant women with full or even partial anticoagulation. Of course, I’ll never know, but I wonder if my son would be alive today if my Covid infection had been treated differently.

Next week, Mustangman and I fly back to Portland to spend the first holiday with his family since we moved cross-country. We wanted to get together with our good friends while we’re there. The first question they asked was if we were vaccinated. I told them that Mustangman is, and I had Covid. They will only get together with us if we can find a place that has outdoor heated dining because of my unvaccinated status. They do not believe that natural immunity is a thing when it comes to Covid. We are unsure if we will be able to see our friends. Covid ruins everything.

Gratitude Is the Basis for Ethics

 

Androcles, a young Roman slave, sought escape in the wilderness from his unhappy life. Finding respite in a cave, he found himself face to face with a lion. The beast was anxious only for the removal of a thorn from his paw. Upon its extraction by Androcles, the lion submitted to the man, caring for him. After being captured as a runaway some time later, Androcles was sentenced to death-by-mauling within the coliseum. However, the lion let loose upon Androcles was one and the same who had benefited from the slave’s earlier kindness.  Instead of attacking the defenseless man, the lion lay at his feet, whereupon both were released by an astounded Roman governor.

The story of Androcles and the lion prompts this question, “How does gratitude change us?” I believe that gratitude is one of the chief pillars of life. Gratitude says that we give acclaim to Someone outside ourselves. Our response to this outside gift-giver is the basis for ethics: doing right by how we live. Doing right is proper response to gratitude. Doing right is based on remembering we live because of the gift given by Another. Doing right is a small response to a large endowment. Gratitude caused the apostle Paul to exclaim about Jesus, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” To acknowledge life as a gift of God, one’s whole focus and concentration is moved from ourselves to One outside ourselves.

Disciples of Jesus as Lord bow the knee to their Sovereign Savior both in response to Who He is as well as what He has done. Following His instructions is the least we can do to show our gratitude. “Androcles and The Lion” teaches the lesson that doing what is right is first motivated by someone doing right by us. Gratitude is the basis for ethics.

For Truth in Two, this is Dr. Mark Eckel, President of the Comenius Institute, personally seeking Truth wherever it’s found.

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Things That Make You Go Hmmm…

 

I wonder if there are any Democrat voters out there today wondering to themselves, “Hmmm…  I read The New York Times and watch CNN every day.  To stay informed.  But as it turned out, I was misinformed about the Duke Lacrosse players, the Russian collusion thing, the Covington kids, the Kavanaugh accusations, Jussie Smollett, and a bunch of other stuff.  I even went to some protests and carried some signs before later finding out that I had gotten bad information.  From those that I seek information from.  I wonder if, just perhaps, I’m being misinformed about this Rittenhouse thing?  If so, I wonder if I should reconsider where I get my information?  Hmmm…”

For some reason, I suspect that very few Democrats are contemplating the foundation of their worldview, despite repeated and obvious evidence that perhaps they are making decisions based on flawed information.

Perhaps I’m wrong.  Perhaps something will happen that will open their eyes to their own deception.  Perhaps this Rittenhouse trial will be that something.  It could be, I suppose.  Right?

Is Kamala on the Way Out?

 

There are reports of infighting between the Biden and Harris camps. Lots of opinions about Joe (Jill) freezing Kamala’s eventual ascendency. Even a tip to Fox News that they should brush up on the Vice President appointment process in the event of a Vice Presidential resignation. So is Kamala on the way out?

Yes, and no. Joe (Jill) is ill-served by having a VP that people actually might prefer over him (them). And if Kamala quits, that’s exactly what will happen. So Joe (Jill) wants a perpetually wounded Kamala holding the space but not being a meaningful alternative to Joe (Jill). The tip to Fox was likely meant to continue to stir the pot rather than be a legitimate heads up. But the chessboard is being shaken, so we’ll see.

What Happened to Clothes?

 

In the prophetic movie Idiocracy (watch the key part here! – NSFW), all the idiots in the future wear Crocs. The writer said, “I thought the worst thing that would come true was everyone wearing Crocs.” Life imitates humor.

From bottom to top: once upon a time, not so very long ago, people wore hats. All people — from dock workers to railway-layers — wore hats. It was a part of being fully dressed. Indeed, it was a reflection on the person in every respect: class, job, status, etc.

That was a long time ago, of course. Daily wear of hats was abandoned by most people during my lifetime.

Today I noticed that even in my straight-laced orthodox Jewish community where people wear suit jackets (and usually hats) all the time, classy footwear has been totally abandoned. Gone are most formal shoes. Black sneakers are common. And so are – gasp – Crocs. For formal Sabbath wear.

The top went first. The bottoms are gone. And all the middle is on its way out. People wear pajamas in public.

Clothes still have meaning, they reflect on the wearer. But what people choose to wear today does not say anything good about the wearers. The emperor has clothes, but they make him look like he belongs in a movie that takes place in 2505.

The Limits of the Law, and Getting Led Down Rhetorical Alleyways

 

Was Kyle Rittenhouse acting in self-defense when he shot Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber, and Gaige Grosskreutz on August 25, 2020? That is the question the jury will have to answer. That is the only question the jury has to answer. The trial as envisioned by most news outlets and Twitter will, or at least should, settle an array of other questions. Should Kyle Rittenhouse have traveled to Kenosha that evening? Was he planning on being a vigilante? Does he suffer from a hero complex? Is he a good person?

Those asking these questions aren’t stroking their chins while deep in thought, they aren’t poring over the evidence, they aren’t asking. They’ve long had their answers—the trial is just a formality. These questions are interesting in a philosophical sense. They are irrelevant to the trial. Kyle Rittenhouse is not my friend, acquaintance, family member, coworker, employee, lover, or peer. I’m in no need to assess his character, judgment, intellect, or moral compass. He isn’t in the news because the country sees in his case grist for a hearty debate about ethics. He’s in the news because it is being decided whether the state will use taxpayer money to keep him locked in a cage for years.

Since the trial started, progressive commentators have shed the prosecutorial skepticism that was once a mainstay of liberal thought and which made the ACLU the bête noire of tough-on-crime conservatives. There was uproar when Judge Bruce Schroeder forbade the prosecution from referring to the men shot as “victims.” No one disputes Rittenhouse shot them. If he shot them in self-defense they are not victims. Referring to them as such before the verdict is begging the question (in the original sense of the phrase).

A similar outcry was made when Judge Schroeder ruled against entering into evidence Rittenhouse’s connections to the Proud Boys. The criminal histories of Rosenbaum, Huber, and Grosskreutz were also barred from discussion before the jury. Though it betrays their hypocrisy, progressives can’t be faulted for not objecting to the latter despite their complaints about the former. The criminal records of the three men are not justification for shooting them. Rittenhouse did not know Joseph Rosenbaum was a registered sex offender and, even if he had, he would not have the legal authority to mete out capital punishment.

Progressives understand this principle. After George Floyd was killed, they shot down anyone bringing up his rap sheet. They were right that the law isn’t exclusive to only the most upstanding citizens, that you need not be sympathetic to be a victim. They understand the principle but are selective in applying it. Hence they deem relevant a video of Rittenhouse punching a woman (filmed prior to the shooting in August), but not Anthony Huber’s felony convictions for strangulation and suffocation. A principle selectively applied ceases to be a principle.

A lot of the pushback from the right addresses the tangential arguments at the object level. I refuse to get dragged into these rhetorical alleyways. They’re dead ends. Are the Proud Boys white supremacists and, by association, Rittenhouse too? I don’t know enough about the group to say. Nor do I care. Arguing over it would concede that the point is relevant, as if being racist forfeits basic rights. A fundamentalist Muslim holds beliefs I and most on the left, right, and center find deplorable. If hooligans attacked such a Muslim in the street, it would be sick to expect him to take the beating because I don’t approve of his homophobia and support of blasphemy laws.

As the trial went on and it became clearer how weak the prosecution’s case was, greater focus was put on Kyle Rittenhouse as a person. Some admit he was in the right legally which comes with the usual brainstorming to come up with laws broad enough they could prevent this specific event from happening again. This flows from an unconstrained vision of government and the law where it doesn’t merely proscribe specific behavior but determines the good and bad people, the deserving and undeserving victims. The thought that maybe Justice should peek under her blindfold sometimes is a dangerous one. Did Rittenhouse reasonably fear for his life when he pulled the trigger is a straightforward question, certainly more so than the question of whether it was advisable for him to attend the protest or whether he hoped to be attacked. Those bring a high level of subjectivity and with that bias. It’s a strange precedent to want from the people who argue society is inherently racist.

Now for my disclaimer that juries are made of people, and have the flaws that come with that. They can be swayed by superficial factors like charisma and good looks. Some jurors are dumb or prejudiced. The justice system is set up to minimize the effect of bias. The state can rule on whether Rittenhouse is guilty of murder. It is outside their purview if I would want to buy him a drink or have my nephew look up to him as a role model. I am not going to debate every life choice he made before arriving in Kenosha, WI, as I wouldn’t argue about whether George Floyd should’ve used a counterfeit $20 bill or taken Fentanyl. I do not have to be his cheerleader to defend him. My only concern is whether he broke the law. That is the only matter of public interest.

Lived to Tell the Tale…

 

Marine A-4 Skyhawk.

When I was a student Naval Aviator in flight training in Kingsville, TX, in the late ’70s, one of my flight instructors was a Marine A-4 Skyhawk pilot. His call sign was “Lucky”. We wondered whether he was good at cards or in Vegas. Then one day he told his story and we understood. That call sign was well-earned. By all the normal laws of physics and chance, he should have been singing with the heavenly choirs. Instead, he had lived to tell about it and was trying to make sure that no one else ever repeated his mistake.

Captain Lucky earned his Naval Aviator wings and transitioned to the single-seat A‑4 Skyhawk flown by the Marines. The Skyhawk was subsonic, had less range, and carried a smaller payload than its larger Navy contemporaries but it was durable, agile, and fun to fly. The Marines used it for short-range close air support of the ground troops. The planes would be “forward located” at an airfield close to where the ground troops were operating and when needed, they could scramble and arrive quickly to make the enemy’s day less pleasant.

Captain Lucky joined his first Marine Corps squadron shortly after the end of the Vietnam War and like all freshly-minted Marine Skyhawk pilots, he still had a lot to learn. The Skyhawk’s mission was to drop bombs and break things. It had a relatively primitive bombing computer and bombsight and you needed a lot of practice to reliably and accurately deliver the unguided bombs and rockets on target. Pilots trained as frequently as the squadron budget and scheduled practice target areas’ availability permitted.

Senior pilots briefed and led these training flights of two to four aircraft. On a typical daytime training mission, the aircraft launched in formations of two aircraft but at night you launched alone and flew to a nearby rendezvous point to join up on the Lead aircraft. The Flight Lead aircraft flew a 25-degree angle of bank left-hand turn with the three o’clock position of the circle located at a designated distance and compass direction from the briefed navigation beacon (ex: radial 150 @ 25 miles.) Lead’s first responsibility was to stay at the briefed altitude and airspeed at the rendezvous point until all aircraft were joined up.

The remaining aircraft flew to the rendezvous point, looked for the lead aircraft, and joined up. The advantage of a multi-plane formation was that the Lead aircraft could do all the navigation and radio communication while the other aircraft just flew formation, maintaining their position by lining up the leading edge of the wing and the trailing edge of the rear stabilizer (Each aircraft type used slightly different alignment points.). The multiple aircraft close formation wasn’t used in a combat area where enemy fighters or ground defenses (Surface to air missiles) were present. Instead, we used a more widely-separated combat formation that allowed every pilot to visually scan for threats in all quadrants. These ground-attack aircraft typically did not have an air-to-air radar capable of detecting enemy aircraft. The pilots depended on their eyes and those of their wingmen – very much the same as in both WWI and WWII!

Marine A-4D Skyhawks in formation.

To join in formation, the wingman flew first to align with the Lead aircraft’s wing leading edge, and then moved closer until he could look straight across the trailing edge (back) of the horizontal stabilizer (horizontal tail).

This is a little harder than it sounds depending on the lead aircraft’s position in the circle when you spot it. Without getting too technical, you maneuver your aircraft to get inside the lead aircraft’s turning circle and then, using a combination of Lead-Pursuit and Lag-Pursuit, you fly to the inside of his turn to cut him off while maneuvering to stay behind his wing line. But staying on his wing line while maintaining your altitude and airspeed takes practice, especially at night and over water. (Here’s a Wiki article describing Lead and Lag pursuit curves in greater detail.)

Turn circle geometry

One night Captain Lucky (then a 1/LT) launched with three other Skyhawks to practice their night bombing. They were flying out of a Marine Corps Air Station near Beaufort, South Carolina and the rendezvous point was over the bay at 3,000 feet below a low cloud layer. As the junior pilot Captain Lucky launched last so when he arrived at the rendezvous point the other aircraft were already joined up on the Flight Lead. Captain Lucky began his rendezvous. It was pitch black under the overcast – no stars or moon to illuminate the horizon. There were some scattered lights from ships but that just made it harder because in the low visibility you couldn’t tell whether they were ships or stars and it was disorienting if you didn’t trust and fly your instruments.

He focused on flying into the proper position to start the join-up. It was hard to see the proper alignment with the wing because of the multiple aircraft already rendezvoused. He worked hard to maintain his airspeed while trying not to lose sight of the other aircraft. This was much harder than any previous flights.

Suddenly Captain Lucky woke up. It was as dark as the bottom of a coal mine. Where did that thought come from? What the heck! The Skyhawk wasn’t airborne. It was motionless, upright (thank God), and quiet except for the sound of water flooding into the cockpit, coming up through the floor. He still wore his oxygen mask and could breathe but his feet and legs were already underwater. The cold water must have been what awakened him. He thought – I flew into the water and I’m sitting on the bottom! and How do I get out of here?!

He tried to remember the Emergency Procedure for escaping an aircraft underwater. Was there one? Should he try to eject? Nobody expected you’d survive crashing into the water as he’d done. He figured the closest procedure was the one for “ditching”. He quickly released his four shoulder harness and lap buckles and thought about the order of the next steps. If he got these wrong, he’d never make it.

First, with one hand on the life vest inflation toggle, he took a deep breath and with the other hand, pulled the canopy eject handle. This released the latches and pushed the canopy open enough for him to escape. The water immediately rushed in as he inflated his life vest and he prayed he wouldn’t get stuck on anything as he exited the cockpit. He kicked clear of the cockpit and felt himself rising to the surface. He remembered to exhale as he ascended to prevent bursting his lungs. Within a few seconds, he was bobbing on the surface of the bay.

Night sea rescue.

The details of the subsequent rescue were a little fuzzy – at least in the retelling a few years later when Captain Lucky told the story to me and my fellow flight students. No one could explain how he survived flying into the water at almost 250 mph! I guarantee that his cautionary tale on how Not to do a night rendezvous left a lasting impression. We never forgot his two lessons: “Altitude is Life!” and “Always Watch your altitude!!”

On What’s Right in the World

 

“He will take … He will take … He will take … He will take … He will take … and you shall be his slaves.” — Samuel

The world is not right.

But the world is consistent; it has never been right, so when it is wrong, at least it is consistent. A few days ago, I went to Ace Hardware to pick up a couple of bolts for a cardboard mast. That mast represented something that is right in the world, or at least a group of parents and children who are seeking after something that is right, something that is also consistent, truth alongside all that is wrong in the world. I set the bolts down on the counter and reflexively leaned around a very silly piece of quarter-inch plastic that hung in front of the register to speak with a woman who reflexively pulled a very silly piece of cloth down from her face to ask me what was not a very silly question. Yes, of course, I have a reward number, and yes, of course, my son would love to pick a Dum Dum from the basket (“And may I have two, for my brother?” yes, of course!). It was a beautiful day, which we observed, and apart from the silly piece of cloth and the crick in her neck from leaning around the silly piece of plastic, which I almost swatted at the way a person would swat a fruit fly, why is this stupid thing even? Oh, yes …  of course. I told her, as she pulled the silly piece of cloth back over her nose, “Please don’t do that on my account; I’d much rather see your face.” She smiled and commented that last night she was shopping at Fred Meyer and saw a great many faces, that it felt nice, and that maybe this was almost over. No, I said. “They,” and I swatted again at the silly plastic gnat, “will never let it be over. It will end when enough people decide that they are going to show their faces, regardless of what anyone else says. This has been illegal from day one, but rights are meaningless if people don’t assert them.” She smiled again and said, “I sure hope so.”

My 10-year-old unwrapped one of the suckers. I wish Jay Inslee would take a long walk off a short pier.

Well, that’s what Mom and Dad think. Remember, you’re not allowed to have opinions —

— until I’m 21.

Until you’re 30. It doesn’t help you any to repeat what Dad says if you don’t understand why I said it. Until then, you have a lot of learning to do. That’s why math is so important.

Math is boring.

Math is important because it is true and because it is unchanging; it remains true no matter what people call it, no matter what people say about it, and regardless of whether people accept that it is true. Math is also important because it trains your intelligence. How does it train your intelligence?

… getting good at math?

Understanding how to be good at math. Anyone can memorize the solution to a particular problem, especially if you’re given the answer, but it takes intelligence to understand the process. If all you do is memorize the solution — assuming the solution is correct — you will only ever be able to solve that same exact problem. But what happens if the question changes slightly? What happens when you encounter a new problem, and you don’t have an example in front of you? That’s why I’m always telling you don’t just repeat what someone else did; understand why it was done, not just so that you can solve problems that you’ve never seen before, but also so you can identify when things have been done incorrectly. It’s the same with everything else in the world. You always need to ask why … not to contradict … but you ask why because if you don’t know why something is done, you’ll never be able to do it yourself. Are you listening to me?

Yeah … there’s a Mini Cooper!

The world is not right. And there are, perhaps, not enough people asking why. Or — maybe — not enough people correctly identifying why. We came home and bolted together the great big cardboard mast. It attached to a great big cardboard boat — the Mayflower — down at the school, for a play about Thanksgiving.

I recently read about an article — I did not read the article itself — that is another one of those little gnats that you swat at almost habitually, wondering where on Earth? But they’re incessant, they seem to be breeding like … feeding on some rotten something, somewhere, and where on Earth did they come from? It was about Thanksgiving, and it was about the first Indian tribe that helped the pilgrims and still regrets it 200 years later! Or, at least, some distant relative was cherry-picked to express 200 years’ worth of supposed regret on behalf of his ancestors; maybe the same one they found to be outraged about the Washington Football Team and that awfully insensitive chop down in Atlanta. Never mind the fact that this little team — not just the Indian, but the author — sits comfortably, in good health, using technology never dreamed of 200 years ago to freely express thoughts that very well might offend some on behalf of some other offended. Irony is lost on the comfortable.

Seems a lesson in how to learn all the wrong lessons. If it was politically salient, I might expect the same author to write about how the most important aspect regarding the discovery of penicillin was the shocking and frankly disturbing fact that Alexander Fleming was a slob! Did he have children (inquiring minds want to know) who were likely exposed to the growth of harmful mold inside a damp home? Leaving aside the very real possibility (these inquiring minds will get to the bottom of it) that the man was a smoker, it remains a very real possibility that he might likely have crossed to the other side of the street on a dark night if he happened upon … well … and we celebrate this man? Disgusting.

If the only thing we learn from Thanksgiving is that nomadic and somewhat primitive societies (which were sometimes quite savage and sometimes quite civil) cannot survive unchanged the rise of technology, mobility, and the ability to sustainably maintain property, and that even technologically advanced societies are sometimes quite savage and sometimes quite civil, then all we have done is discovered again that the world is not right, which is a constant we already knew, and we’ve learned nothing. That is, if we’ve learned anything. But if we believe that the nomadic and somewhat primitive society was always civil, and that the technologically advanced society was always savage, then we have done much worse than simply having learned nothing; we’ve denied the constant that should have been our starting point. It takes a whole lot of arrogant ignorance to believe in the noble savage; it takes an extraordinary effort in being wrong to draw from history the only lesson that doesn’t require any history to learn and to misapply it in so fantastic a manner to reach the conclusion (or to come around full circle to one’s presumption) that while perhaps the world is not right, and perhaps the world was not right back then, it is only wrong because it fails to understand the height of enlightenment that have attained. What can I learn from pilgrims who barely survived the winter, and what do I gain from Fleming when I don’t need a moldy sandwich?

So what does this mast have to say about Jay Inslee?

That we should throw him out of the boat?

Why? The mast says the same thing that Dad was saying to the checker … that rights are not worth the paper they’re written on if we fail to assert them. It also says that facts do not exist simply because some government body declares them to be so, and that they do not disappear simply because some government body denies them. It says that, at some point, people need to declare that enough is enough — and ignore the tyrants.

The world will never be right, but in this moment, it feels particularly unwell. I am amazed and discouraged by the willingness of such a large number of the U.S. population to give up its own critical thinking, to blindly accept propaganda, to adapt so quickly to a change from a free population to one whose various governments barely even pay lip service to the feeble justifications for their massive power grabs, and to willingly linger there, asking no questions.

At a kid’s basketball game this weekend, I found a water fountain that had not been covered by plastic wrap (the drinking portion was indeed covered, but not the bottle fill station), and as I filled a bottle of water for my 7-year-old, a masked teenager expressed his surprise that the fountain was operational. I asked the teenager why the fountain had been shut down. He said, “Because of COVID.” I asked why? He didn’t know. I asked if COVID spreads through water fountains, and of course he didn’t know, but it did not seem to him that such a thing was likely. I asked if there is no rational explanation for how shutting down all of our water fountains is going to stop the spread of COVID (if such a thing is even possible or desirable), why are we shutting down all of our water fountains? He said it seemed like nonsense. And, if asked the same questions, surely the hundred other people in the gymnasium would agree that it seems like nonsense. But every one of those people walks by a fountain that is covered by plastic wrap in order to buy a disposable bottle of water from a teenager behind a table. The same teenager who has touched every other bottle of water, countless ones and fives and twenties, bags of chips, candy bars, the damp mask that he has dutifully breathed into for the past several hours. We adapt not because we honestly believe that this is somehow better, somehow safer, than drinking from a fountain. We adapt because we do not know how to do math, and we only ever learned how to copy the example.

This morning, I participated in a meeting, online, via Zoom, regarding important issues that could best be resolved in person, face-to-face. Each week, I spend hours in a virtual courtroom, which possesses all the convenience of multitasking and savings on dry cleaning and a whole slew of problems with what used to be universally accepted as constitutionally protected and vitally important rights with respect to the meaningful disposition of justice … Unless you’re scared, I guess. Then … unless you’re used to it. And now, well, why even question it? This has been going on for 20 months and is now the status quo. It is harmful, and it is as useless as all of the masks, the plexiglass, the floor markings, the signs on every door, and the plastic over drinking fountains … and it persists. But all of that is habitual. It is bad math. It is false. And though it persists, it cannot last.

* * * * *

The most important lesson from that cardboard Mayflower mast is, quite simply, that it exists. It is the second lesson from the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The less interesting first lesson involves the corruption and arrogance of government officials; the idea that each, including the king, secretly knows of his own ignorance and stupidity. But the second lesson comes from the people. For whatever reason, whether insecurity or fear of punishment, the people very quickly adapted so that the lie became universally accepted and might have gone on forever — but truth exists independent of its recognition, and once the truth was spoken, it spread like a wildfire that could not be contained.

Last year, in response to the senseless and hysterical actions of our state government, my wife and I homeschooled our children. They have never worn face masks, and what is now being accepted (though slowly and increasingly ignored) as “the new normal” has always been something of an oddity to our kids. When confronted with a teammate wearing a mask during baseball, my 10-year-old didn’t tell him it was stupid or pointless; he asked “Why?” and was met with a blank expression. The private school where they attended in the past proved to be spineless, and we have not looked back. This year, the kids attend a new school — a classical school — that is affiliated with our church and therefore subject to no state regulation. Last week, the kids did a play about Thanksgiving, which featured a giant cardboard Mayflower, a great many facts about the pilgrims and their settlements, a turkey chase scene, and positive messages about maintaining your faith and helping those in need. When they are older, they will surely learn even more about the brokenness of our world and of humanity, and it would be foolish to suggest that they are somehow immune from that reality if not explicitly taught to dwell on the negative.

There are 48 students at the school. On Friday, my wife had drinks with a friend whose son was a classmate of our oldest son at the previous school. She works in the medical profession and is someone with whom I have “argued” over COVID for the past nearly two years. She has very slowly come around to my side, and the straw that has broken the camel’s back is the push to require wholly unnecessary vaccination for children. There is now a lengthy waiting list for our school, and it is likely to double in size next year and still have a waiting list. The school is not just growing, it is blowing up.

Yesterday afternoon, the pastor and I spent some time talking and walking around the church/school building discussing various areas to target for improvement. We discussed the fact that there were two families out last week with COVID, and what struck me most about this conversation was the fact that it felt very nearly the same as one we might have had in years past about families being out with the flu. No announcements, no closures — nothing to hide, and certainly nothing hidden, but the reality is that while obviously the families were courteous in staying home, there was no irrational response (just as there hasn’t been with this group of people for the entire year). Awhile back, the pastor said something to me that I thought was very interesting. He said that he felt almost bad when visiting with friends from over in Seattle and Bellingham. They had related their ongoing struggles with the pandemic and had attempted to empathize with what they imagined to be his plight, asking “What must it be like to attempt a church plant during a pandemic?” His somewhat guilty-feeling response was that it was actually quite easy. He just ignored the pandemic. The church is thriving. There are no sermons about wearing masks to protect your neighbors, there are virtually no masks (we see one or two some weeks, generally from newcomers), there is no discussion about COVID, no prayers about COVID, no worry, and certainly no panic. There have been families that have gotten COVID, and they simply stay home while sick. In this little community, COVID is indistinguishable from the flu, both in the actual impact that it has on individuals and in the response that it elicits.

But it is a community that essentially began in September of last year.

It is correct to observe that the world is not right, just as it is foolish to take that observation as anything more than recognition of an eternal truth. Recent emergence of groups like the Brownstone Institute and the chorus of intelligent scholars and doctors who have dared to contradict the official government narrative is proof, though, that there is still right in the world, as is the resistance of governors like Ron DeSantis and countries like Sweden, which stand in so stark a juxtaposition to tyrants in places like Australia, California, Oregon, and Washington state that history will be unable to avoid notice.

Several months ago, my wife was feeling very discouraged, especially because of the way that our lives have been impacted by mandates and government coercion but also because of what she has been reading, from the socially imposed tyranny of cancel culture to the government mandates, changes in education, growth of government intrusion, and the seemingly unstoppable leviathan that feels like it is crashing through our lives. I put it to her thusly: “Remember the Roaring ’20s?  The Depression ’30s?  The war-time ’40s and the post-war ’50s, the hippie ’60s, the inflationary ’70s, recovery ’80s, tech-boom ’90s? We are going through something right now that will be just as easily identifiable for its craziness, its reactionary tendencies, its unique manifestation of group think and human stupidity … and just like everything else, it will pass.” I pointed out that our kids will remember this as a strange time but one that they mostly experienced from the outside; that, apart from our jobs, we have been able to structure our lives in such a way that those naked emperors have very little to say about what we do, where we do it, and with whom. And I pointed out that there is a growing number of people who see the way we’re living and are drawn to it. The reality is that truth, no matter how much we pretend that it doesn’t exist, is very real and very present, and it will always emerge. We can declare that math is racist or that the observation of any fact that contradicts the “official truth” is misinformation subject to censorship, but two plus two will always equal four. People will always be able to discover this truth, and those who know it, those who teach it, will be at an advantage. The world is not right, but the world has never been right. Its people reject truth out of insecurity or fear, in need of comfort and control, and they quickly adapt to a new nonsensical status quo, comfortable for a time.

The world is not right, but there is right in the world.  The nonsense is still nonsense, and the truth is still truth, and there will always be those seek it, and those who speak out.

Using Confabulation To Defend Against Cognitive Dissonance

 

I had a fascinating conversation with a patient today. Very pleasant 81-year-old woman who is always a joy to be around. She grew up in a wealthy family in New Jersey, married a wealthy man, and is comfortably wealthy and reflexively liberal, like she’s supposed to be. Just the nicest person you’d ever want to meet. She asked how I thought COVID was likely to go in the next few years, and I first said that I don’t know of course, but then I said something like, “I think it will gradually get less dangerous, like all other viruses do. But I really don’t know, because this has behaved very differently than other coronaviruses, and other viruses in general. I don’t know where it came from, and I don’t understand how it works. If this was intentionally developed as a biological weapon, then I have no idea how this will go.”

She asked if I thought it really was a biological weapon, and I said, “I don’t know. But if China is developing biological weapons, then we have very serious problems. Problems a lot worse than COVID. I wouldn’t trust Obama or Trump or Biden or anyone else with biological weapons. I certainly wouldn’t trust Xi with them.”

Without missing a beat, she said, “Can you believe that Rittenhouse boy? He had this big, silly rifle that he’s not nearly old enough for, and he comes in from out of state pretending to be a tough guy, hoping to shoot some protestors. I can’t believe that he’s about to get away with murder.”

I just looked at her for a second and then said, “Well, um, OK, but I don’t think the Rittenhouse kid is likely to threaten Western civilization with biological weapons. * pause * But China might.”

She looked away and mumbled, “Well, yeah … “

What a strange conversation.

In Alzheimer’s disease, we call that confabulation. The Alzheimer’s patient is in a conversation, loses track of what is being discussed, gets confused, and starts talking about something that he knows about. So you’ll be talking about the weather, and all of a sudden, he’s talking about World War II or something. Their confusion and discomfort drives them to reach for something familiar and comfortable to them. Very common in Alzheimer’s.

After her blatant example of this, I’ve started to notice that this is very common in leftists, as well. If the facts don’t fit with their desired narrative, they start talking about transsexual bathrooms, or racist microaggressions, or systemic oppression, or whatever. Regardless of what we were talking about before. The topic doesn’t matter. Or at least, the topic doesn’t matter once they realize that they’re losing track of what they want to be real. Their confusion and discomfort drive them to reach for something familiar and comfortable to them.

My leftist brother-in-law does this. I’ll make a comment about how unseasonably cold it is, trying to avoid talking politics with him by talking about the weather. He somehow senses that weather is innately political, so he makes a comment about Charlottesville. It’s very rare to have a conversation with him that does not involve Charlottesville. It gets more surreal every time.

He’s just confabulating, I guess.

The world must look very strange to Alzheimer’s patients. And to leftists.

Odd that they develop similar methods of dealing with their cognitive dissonance.

Or, perhaps, it’s not odd at all …

Member Post

 

  Joe Biden wants his “Build Back Better” program to change America in much the same way that FDR’s programs changed American Society back in the 1930’s. Well, let’s see how Joe Biden is doing compared another part of FDR’s legacy, the Four Freedoms speech.  Looks like it’s going about as well as the rest […]

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