Public Trust at Stake in the COVID-19 Crisis


An article in the Washington Post, explains some things about the comparison of COVID-19 to the flu. There’s a more accurate way to compare coronavirus deaths to the flu (by Christopher Ingraham May 2, 2020) explains that flu deaths are estimated based on confirmed reports.  The confirmed reports are much, much lower, as a result, than the number of flu deaths the CDC reports.

As an example, he author cites to the 2018-2019 numbers published by the CDC. Confirmed flu deaths were 7,172 , from which the CDC estimated between 26,339 and 52,664 deaths for the year. They do this, apparently, to account for what epidemiologists believe is a sever under-count in the confirmed deaths.

(If you want to know how this works, you can refer to the abstract, Estimating influenza disease burden from population-based surveillance data in the United States, published March 4, 2015.)

Does anyone see an issue with this in light of what we are learning about the reporting of COVID-19 deaths per the CDC guidelines?

The writer cited to the 63,259 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 (as of May 2, 2020), and speculates that estimating COVID-19 deaths in the same way would result in a number that is “a full order of magnitude” more than the estimated flu deaths. (Today, as of this writing, there are now 87,841 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the US according to the Johns Hopkins Resource Center.)

The author says the comparison “gets complicated as soon as you realize that flu mortality is not reported as a tally but as an estimated range, which is far different from the individual counts, based on testing and diagnoses, used for COVID-19”. He assumes, as well, that “COVID-19 deaths are probably underestimated”.

But are they? Someone would have to compare the CDC guidelines for reporting flu deaths and compare those guidelines for reporting COVID-19 deaths. I am not an expert in these things, so I will leave it to someone else, but I will address the way COVID deaths are reported below.

The author goes on to highlight how tricky it is to do the comparison. People usually cherry pick the figures that seem right to them: the figures that support what they feel is correct. What else is a non-expert in these things to do?

Thus, the author says, we should trust the experts. When the experts don’t agree, we should trust the consensus. That’s science, right?

More or less, that’s true, but we have a crisis of trust right now that is being exposed by the current epidemic. “Science” or not, people don’t trust the experts. We can speculate all kinds of things about the psychology and sociology of “those people” who don’t trust the experts, but I see some reason to be legitimately concerned, even without giving any credence to crazy conspiracy theories.

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It Never Should Have Come to This

Remains of Berlin wall, detail of old concrete wall, Germany

My family, on both parental lines of ancestry, have been in the United States for generations, and some of them for centuries. Still, the current immigration tension hits home with me. All my family were immigrants (unless I have some Native American blood in my ancestral lines, though I am not aware of any).

We live in a nation described as a “Melting Pot”. Various streams of immigration have occurred over the relatively short history of colonization that characterizes our past. The English, the Spanish, the French were the first streams of immigrants. At various times the Irish, the Chinese, the Italian, the German, the Puerto Rican, the Vietnamese, the Mexican and many other people groups have added to that stream.

I am neither a blind patriot nor a self-loathing radical when it comes to this nation’s history. This is no time for naked idealism. Our past indiscretions in the way we treated Native Americans shouldn’t be brushed under the rug, but the great Democratic experiment that has been a shining city on a hill to the world should not be discounted either.

The truth is nuanced. The truth is messy. Idealists doesn’t necessarily create falsehoods (though sometimes they do), but they emphasize the truth that serves them and ignore the truth that doesn’t. We should not be blind to any portion of the truth. As a wise man once said, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it” (or something like that).

The aspects of that experiment that shine a light in the world include the bedrock value of freedom and a welcoming attitude toward the streams of foreigners who have come here to make a better life. This has been a land of opportunity, if not always perfectly available to all, that is still exemplary in the world despite its warts…. until recently.

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Facebook Censorship — Navigating by Faith

Dude with duct tape


“We all have a conscience and a desire and need for the cleansing of “our consciences.

This was the theme of an article I posted (linked below) on another blog I operate. I went to post the article on Facebook and got this message:

“Your message couldn’t be sent because it includes content that other people on Facebook have reported as abusive.”
Please read the article and let me know what you think about the Facebook message. You don’t have to like the article or agree with any of the ideas, opinions or conclusions that are expressed. In fact, I would like to hear from those who don’t share my perspective of the world. Whether you like the article or not, though, please respond and express your thoughts about the Facebook censorship. Thank you!

Linked article: God is the Fulfillment of the Desires He Built into Us — Navigating by Faith

Thoughts on Thoughts and Prayers


The phrase, “thoughts and prayers”, has become a touchstone of controversy in recent years. The phrase has become repeated so often that the meaning is stretched thin. In modern society in which social media provides instant, ready knowledge of the trials and tribulations that face people to whom we are digitally interconnected, the phrase has become trite.

Diagnoses of cancer and other health maladies, deaths of family members or friends and other circumstances that bring the pain and suffering of others to mind often evoke responses that include thoughts and prayers. It’s a polite, but increasingly empty, thing to say. Particularly in response to all the offerings of thoughts and prayers in response to mass shootings in the last few years, a backlash has even arisen against the use of that phrase.

I assume the sentiment includes the implication that something needs to be done about the problem, and thoughts and prayers don’t get done whatever it is that needs to be done. One CNN article observed after the Parkland shooting, “Among the earnest pleas for social and legislative action, the aftermath of each successive shooting inspires more and more memes and cynical jokes.” (How ‘thoughts and prayers’ went from common condolence to cynical meme)

The point, with the mass shootings, which is well-taken, is that offering platitudes isn’t enough of a response to such a systemic, serious societal problem. “The further [the phrase, thoughts and prayers,] is embedded in our post-tragedy lexicon, the more it’s mocked as a form of civilian slacktivism….”

Of course, part of the problem is that we can’t agree on whatever it is that needs to be done. For as many cries there are for more legislation to limit guns, there are calls for more guns to arm law abiding citizens to combat the lawless ones. In that context, the critical, cynical snarky remarks about thoughts and prayers expresses one particular political persuasion that promotes tougher gun legislation.

When powerful politicians (who are in a position actually to “do something” about the problem) offer thoughts and prayers, while deflecting talk of gun controls and opposing attempts at more effective gun legislation, the phrase takes on a “form of political obfuscation” that sparks the ire of people who want change.

On the other hand, that cynical response often looks like a shotgun blast, implying (or assuming) that all people offering thoughts and prayers oppose gun legislation (and have no intention of doing anything about mas shootings). It conjures up the stereotype of the gun-toting religious conservative.

God, country and guns may be one characterization of a particular political platform, but it certainly doesn’t include all the people who offer thoughts and prayers. Not all “religious people” are of the same color. If we are going to heal and advance as a nation against the scourge of mass shootings that has scarred our societal landscape in the last several decades, we need to bridge the gaps between people of good will and stop burning bridges.

In fact, I suspect that our growing insensitivity, incivility and lack of respect for people who “don’t think like us” contributes to the socio-psychological environment that spawns mass murderers. I don’t think that connection is a leap, though I can hear the counter voice in my head accusing me of “blaming the victims”.

If there is one thing that is sacred in modern American society, it is victimhood. I know that’s a snarky comment itself, but let’s be real here. I am not blaming the people who got shot. They didn’t “deserve” to get shot.

We have to get past the binary political attitudes. We can’t get anything done that will affect a real societal change by objectifying, vilifying and pissing off half the population. We need to find common ground.

My hope is to start building a bridge with this piece by offering some thoughts on thoughts and prayers and suggesting some ways to work together, rather than against, each other. So, first my thoughts (and prayers).

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Fighting the New Cold War


As someone who tries to look away from the news that bombards me from every public and private corner, like a train wreck impinging on my better instincts, I catch bits and pieces of the news on a continual basis – kind of like an unwanted stream of consciousness – that I would rather ignore. But I can’t. Trump, of course, is lurking in just about every news corner.

Trump and Russia are two of the most persistent and pernicious news themes today. Trump is mentioned together in nearly every news story on Russia’s meddling in American politics. I don’t think I am speaking out of school to say that Russia’s meddling in American politics is fact. We are beyond that question, aren’t we? But there is more to this story than Trump.

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Responding to the Journalism Crisis


Yesterday I was involved in an “animated” discussion about immigration triggered by “the caravan” that is making its way to the US border. I have read the “suggestion” by people on social media that we should carpet bomb the caravan, that the caravan is being funded by George Soros and is full of criminals and terrorists. I’ve also read sources debunking some of the extreme claims made about the caravan.

The reporting is all over the board. That is problem, not just in regard to this “caravan” issue, but in general. Because journalism has all but thrown off the façade of being unbiased, people don’t trust journalism anymore. We are experiencing a journalism crisis in the United States today.

As the “conversation” played out on my social media page, one person demanded a source for the claims that the caravan was trumped up and funded by people like George Soros and infiltrated by criminals and people who have been deported many times before. When another person posted a Western Journal article (with the headline, Reporter Proves Trump 100% Right), the first person responded this way:

“I guess I should ha [sic] said credible evidence. A statement from an independent reporter for a right wing paper trying to spread irrational fear does not work for me.”

With a headline like that, who wouldn’t be suspicious of its content? (Unless you want to believe that Trump is 100% right.) The headline is classic clickbait. It’s designed to attract the people who want to believe every word, and it is meant to get a reaction from the people who don’t want to believe a single word.

Is this what journalism has come to?

But, I also had to cringe at the response. While I understand it, the response reveals a deeply flawed, knee-jerk reaction mentality that is just as unproductive as the clickbait headline (which is intended to provoke the reaction). We have gotten so that we dismiss anything out of hand that comes from “the other side”.

It happens both ways. People will say the same thing about CNN or MSNBC or other sources. For that reason (and others), it’s a no-win argument. It might make sense to distrust a source that is clearly biased, but bias doesn’t mean that the reporting is inaccurate.

Stripping away the opinions, the factual statements are either true or untrue – but the truth doesn’t depend on the bias of the source.

Putting it another way, it’s wrong to dismiss the statements of fact in an article out of hand just because we distrust the source. The accuracy or inaccuracy of the factual statements have nothing to do with the source. So, how do we respond?

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