“Forgiveness. The ability to forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life.”
“Based on my own experience, I believe the brain is as soft and malleable as bread dough when we’re young. I am grateful for every class trip to the symphony I went on and curse any night I was allowed to watch The Brady Bunch, because all of it stuck. Conversely, I am now capable of forgetting entire novels that I’ve read, and I’ve been influenced not at all by books I passionately love and would kill to be influenced by. Think about this before you let your child have an iPad.”
“It is deeply concerning that governments, as well as public health authorities appear not to have adjusted their COVID-19 strategies to take account of the large and growing body of scientific data that shows that COVID-19 is not the deadly threat that was originally thought.”
— Canadian forensic scientist Renata Dziak (trained in immunology and microbiology and the mother of two children)
All the studies I can find that are supposed to convince me of the importance of mask-wearing to prevent COVID transmission are observational studies mixed with statistical projections. These are the same sort of data that brought us such importantly flawed and ultimately extremely damaging-for-public-health mandates such as “We must promote low-fat diets for all Americans.” Observational and similar studies provide us with myriad topics to research further, but they do not (and cannot) prove cause by association.
Yet over and over, our media and statisticians and politicians like to pretend that observational studies entitle them to create public health mandates for all. (Actually, a 14-year-old’s class project reportedly gave us the 6-foot social distancing rule! No further study needed, I guess?)
The political distraction provided by The Mask Debate is so freaking frustrating to me! At a time when we (meaning those with money and power, steering our social order) could focus on proven ways to improve public health (provide clean water, fresh food, clean air, and emergency services and healthcare for all citizens), dismantling systemic inequality and racism and providing reparations, pushing toward ecological sustainability instead of collapse, and/or learning about and fostering our collective immune system function…we have instead been handed this bone: Wear masks, pray for a vaccine (and don’t be scared of the incredibly fast-tracked and profit-driven nature of the development of same! Big Pharma cares ONLY about your safety and health!) stay six feet apart, bicker amongst yourselves about how well your neighbor is doing with his social-distancing, and don’t forget to self-police those who aren’t social-distancing well-enough.
We (meaning those same aforementioned pundits in power) would rather you don’t ask questions concerning other countries who are doing better than ourselves. Why does Japan have so few COVID deaths despite no western-style lockdowns? Why did Sweden fare just as well as its locked-down neighbors? Why did Norway have similar death rates to other Scandinavian countries while not-enforcing mask-wearing? Why do all of our industrialized nation counterparts have better healthcare systems, that cost less and have better outcomes, than we do? Why are American blacks and Latinos dying at a much higher rate than whites? Why does the virus affect populations in different geographic regions so...differently? Why do we continue to gloss over the very important fact that North American COVID deaths up through early June continue to reflect the same curve as Italy: _over 95% occur in persons with one or more serious pre-existing conditions_? Why do American public policies continue to promote the idea that COVID is the most important risk to focus on above all other risks, and that enforcing non-evidence-based COVID-avoidance strategies is more important than reacting to every other epidemic, ecological disconnect, and challenge facing our country today?
“Why not just wear a mask and feel good about it?” my dear friend asks me patiently. “It’s a little thing we can do! And it’s easy!”
Because: I think the likelihood that a fabric mask will keep others or my family safer is incredibly minuscule, and I hate doing things that don’t make sense and distract from the real issues. Plus, there are good reasons not to wear a mask, such as: oxygen! (See below.) Why can’t we work together on the Big Stuff that Matters?
Selfishly - possibly beside the point but definitely part of why I’m bitter - I wonder: why is it still considered a Fringe Pursuit that I have spent the last decade working my a** off, trying to improve the health of my family? If we’re discussing “impact on others” (which the mask wearing debate inevitably comes back to, complete with high-ground moral commentary), I will say: it is incredibly good for YOU - the rest of society on whom I truly hope my children will not someday be a burden - that I put in this time. I wish EVERYONE would, or could, have the chance to focus “excessively” on improving their family’s health: the pandemic of chronic disease is an enormous burden which we are ALL increasingly impacted by. How on earth has virtue and “whether or not you care for your fellow Americans” been suddenly boiled down into a Butter Battle of mask wearing right out of Doctor Seuss??
“But wearing a mask is like fighting a fire together!” my friend continues. “We CAN make a difference if we work together!”
Except that analogy is kinda like this: We are each holding a coffee mug full of water while an Unimaginably Enormous Forest is burning. Sure, I can throw my water on the fire instead of drinking it, and it IS water, which is good for fighting fires in the land of Theory - but it’s a freaking coffee-mug-of-water!
That leaves me with the only reason I wear the mask: because other people are made more comfortable by my wearing it, and it might preserve what chance at social interaction is available to me and my children in the foreseeable months or years. This does not, in case you’re wondering, satisfy any sort of desire in me to “make a difference” or “work together against our collective invisible enemy.”
Instead, I sigh with all my privilege, and try to imagine what actions I could contribute that WOULD help the world, and usually I settle on the practical short-term and daily extremely small task of making meals for my family. While the forest burns. Also I am getting an ice-cream maker and hope to develop some low-vitamin-A frozen desserts for summer, which I will post on my website if successful. Also I continue to totally respect your quarantine if you require one, and will not come near you in that case - with or without a mask. Any further ideas of how I can contribute the Bettering the World, please send them my way!
Below are excerpts from articles by interesting Thinkers who deserve to be heard/read. (Thanks to M. and T. and D. and others for sending many of the links!)
Three deaths in China, of kids exercising with masks during School-enforced Runs in response to COVID lockdown-sedentary-ness, have officials calling for No Masks in Gym Class:
An operating-room nurse discusses the unproven nature and downsides of widespread mask-wearing:
Ontario Nurses Association: Wins Second Decision on “Unreasonable and Illogical” Vaccinate or Mask Influenza Policies:
“Effectiveness of Surgical and Cotton Masks in Blocking SARS–CoV-2: A Controlled Comparison in 4 Patient”:
“Face Masks Pose Serious Risks to the Healthy”
“Because of the uncertainty and unpreparedness and the anticipated need for local mutual aid, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on March 4. This declaration gave unlimited powers to health officers, both locally and at the state level, to slow the virus. The orders requiring Californians to stay at home, and shutting schools and businesses, relied on these rare and unchecked public health powers. Under a state of emergency, no one can overrule a health officer’s orders, not their bosses, not the legislatures and not the governor.
“After months of living with COVID-19, we have more certainty. The virus is 10 times less fatal than we first thought. The vast majority who catch it will have mild or no symptoms. Children are largely spared.
“California counties have not needed mutual health aid. Hospitals retooled quickly for a tsunami that never came. California hospitals have about 40% of their beds empty. Re-opening in steps is safe if we carefully watch new hospitalizations. If another wave comes, hospitals are prepared.
Infections will smolder along whether we reopen or not. The spread is a natural progression of the epidemic across California geographies. The virus does not land everywhere at once; it finds a susceptible group, moves from person to person within limited transmission networks often extinguishing itself on its own. Our epidemic curve does not look substantially different than most other states. We have a stable share of tests turning positive. Medical visits for respiratory infections are lower today than at the same time last year…”
An interesting and concise bulleted list that somewhat addresses the depth and breadth of my annoyance (but with many fewer sighs and rageful outbursts!):
A reminder about why standardized testing for homeschoolers, even to determine the health and safety of these children, is flawed methodology:
“….What about periodic reviews of the academic progress of homeschoolers? That certainly sounds reasonable on its face. I have a series of questions that indicate my concerns:
• What skills and content are essential to require all kids to possess at each age in the review process?
• What about children who start with widely different abilities? Are we measuring progress or simply performance?
• If we are worried about basic literacy and numeracy, can children who have demonstrated such basic competencies be free of further testing?
• What would be the remedies for children who perform poorly on these tests?
“Once I start down this path of questioning standardized testing, I end up in a maze of confusion:
Validity: Do these tests reveal what they claim – basic skills? Does doing well on a reading test indicate a student reads for enjoyment? Does doing well on a math test indicate mathematical thinking in real life? Does doing well on a writing sample reveal whether children are expressing themselves in any creative way?
“Range: Should we use standardized tests to see if kids can draw? Or dance? Or sing? Or use a screwdriver? Or throw a ball? Should we use tests to find out how many friends they have and how they relate to others? My point, as I get distracted, is that standardized tests focus on an arbitrary set of skills and don’t give us the valuable information we really seek.
“Passing Level: It seems to me that the “passing” requirements for these periodic assessments ought to be no higher than what a school demands from its own students that are promoted each year.
“Completion: Is there any test that a student might take to once and for all confirm they possess the skills deemed essential? Some version of a GED? Can children of any age take the test and then be done with this process?
“Remediation: What do those in favor of testing propose the state do with students who fail? If homeschoolers who do poorly lose the right to their chosen approach, does that logic apply to those who have been attending school? It is unlikely they would say to school students do poorly, “It looks like school isn’t working for you. You can’t attend any more.” Further, this sort of pass-fail outcome leads us to focus on teaching to the test and objective scores, instead of progress, interest, and learning…”
“About five years ago, I was invited to sit in on a meeting about health in the African-American community. Several important figures in the fields of public health and economics were present. A freshly minted Ph.D., I felt strangely like an interloper. I was also the only black person in the room.
“One of the facilitators introduced me to the other participants and said something to the effect of ‘Sabrina, what do you think? Why are black people sick?’
“It was a question asked in earnest. Some of the experts had devoted their entire careers to addressing questions surrounding racial health inequities. Years of research, and in some instances failed interventions, had left them baffled. Why are black people so sick?
“My answer was swift and unequivocal.
“Who on earth is right? We cannot all be right.
“One country has all but dropped off the Covid-19 radar: Sweden. Just two months ago, it held hands with Britain in rejecting total lockdown and trusting “social distancing”. Then on 23 March, Boris Johnson did a U-turn, leaving Sweden and, to a lesser extent, Germany, on its own. Since then the divergence has become radical and political. Sweden’s centre-left government, darling of Bernie Sanders and world liberalism, is suddenly lauded by the libertarian right.
“Like millions, I have become an armchair epidemiologist. The reason is instinctive. I am being ordered daily by my prime minister to live in fear of my life. I have come to exist in a miasma of R-rates, antigen tests, infection fatality ratios and “excess deaths”. Now, as Europe and the world emerge blearily to survey the wreckage of lockdown, the question is still left hanging. Was Sweden right?
“…..The chief variant will prove to be how governments reacted, and the toll they took on the rest of their healthcare and the wider economy…”
“In what is perhaps the greatest example of gaslighting in human history, we have ‘champions of the working class’ arguing for mass unemployment, the shutting down of small businesses and the self-employed, and draconian police powers.
“…The idea that destroying the economy will only harm the rich, while somehow contriving to liberate the masses, is perhaps the most ridiculous lie of all the lies used to prop up the covid19 rollout.
“You don’t need to be a supporter of capitalism to recognise that a collapsed economy always hurts the workers more than the owners. Where are all the students of Marx? Does the atrophied Left now really think ‘the economy’ is some abstract concept which only concerns people who own stocks and read the Financial Times?
“…Because – and this is a concept those people who derisively spit the word fail to understand – ‘the economy’ translates into the price of bread, rent and fuel. It is warm clothes and clean water. It is petrol and gas and electricity. It is education, infrastructure and opportunity. It’s being able to get a job and feed your children.
“Those dreaming that this crash will be the destruction of the monied classes and the dawn of liberation for working people need to look back at Weimar era Germany, or Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union.
“How much liberation did they bring with them?
“Did the people loading wheelbarrows with devalued currency to buy bread feel set free? Did the war veterans selling their medals on street corners suffer less than the Khodorkovskies ripping them off?
“Billionaires love a crisis. There are fortunes to be made on put-options and derivatives; buying cheap stock in failing companies; snatching up foreclosed properties for pennies on the dollar; stagnating wages means paying your employees nothing while your profits soar. And debt. Mountains of debt. Private, and corporate, which gives you leverage for years – even decades.
“You’ve heard of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. It’s deemed a probable carcinogen, and has brought Bayer (Monsanto) to court time and time again over health harms to exposed individuals. You’ve also heard of dicamba, the drift-prone herbicide that has damaged millions of acres of crops over the last few years, for which farmers are just finally beginning to see justice.
And unfortunately, you’re about to become familiar with yet another harmful pesticide that has been quietly approved by EPA while the country is otherwise distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Isoxaflutole is here, and it’s bad.
“Isoxaflutole, manufactured by the German agrichemical giant BASF, combines the worst of glyphosate and dicamba — it’s a weedkiller EPA itself has determined is likely to cause cancer and drift hundreds of feet from where it is applied.
“The introduction of isoxaflutole is the next step in the endless cycle of destruction that is the pesticide treadmill, in which agrichemical companies market new chemical formulations, oftentimes stronger and more harmful, to combat weeds that have developed resistance to herbicides that have been used on them in the past…”
“…What great brain thought up measuring teachers and schools by publicizing the standardized test results of state-mandated tests? I know the answer includes politicians of both parties and the general mainstream education establishment. I will express my outrage again here! In no other profession do we judge professional performance based on the outcomes of others who may not be trying. This idea is so simple that it is stupefying. When I was a little league baseball coach, I wasn’t judged by whether a kid who didn’t want to be there struck out without trying. My piano teacher friends are not judged by how well a resistant student practices and performs at a required recital. My doctor’s effectiveness is not based on my personal health issues if I ignore or reject his recommendations.
“I accept the goal of identifying strengths and weaknesses among students, particularly around literacy and numeracy. Many other critics of testing have already explained that such investigations needs to be done with consent and with sincere effort by the student; feedback needs to be private and immediate; and activities established based on these results needs to be mutually valued by teachers and students. To take it a step further, maybe ‘testing’ isn’t the best way to get the information we are seeking.
“The modern regime of state standardized testing is currently being used to judge teachers and schools, not students. You want to judge teachers? Fine, it seems reasonable to want to know who is a ‘good teacher.’ How do we go about doing that in real life, without looking at the standardized test scores of previous students? We ask previous students if they felt the teacher was helpful and interesting. We look at whether students sign up for electives or after-school activities voluntarily with that person. We notice whether the teacher reaches out to parents and families to communicate about what is happening in school. We ask other teachers and administrators to observe the classes of the teacher and look for engagement. We look over the adjustments to the standardized curriculum for creativity, independence, and relevance to the local community. It’s not that hard. We do it all the time.
“Measuring and labeling teachers and schools based on the standardized test scores of students is a recipe for disaster. It puts the focus on scores rather than progress. It encourages teaching to the test. The concept of using test scores to reward teachers with ‘Merit Pay’ creates sickening competition among colleagues.
“Further, publicizing the scores sets communities against each other, and may affect real estate prices and other civic values. Using test scores as a method to demonstrate ‘good schools’ and ‘strong community’ reinforces class and race bias in our wider culture…”
‘…Panic decontextualizes things, placing you at the centre of a terrifying universe – extraordinary things are likely to happen to you, right now. Rationality contextualises everything. To see yourself existing within a wider world, at a particular point in time, however, is to make panic appear irrational – childishly petulant, even.
‘…Anyone who’s prone to bouts of hysteria will know that the internet can be a dangerous thing. A few minutes’ surfing is all it takes to discover that that slight, almost imperceptible rash you’ve had on your arm for a day or two is in fact a symptom of either Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, leukaemia, or possibly even HIV (or… oh my god, oh my god, oh my god – all of them!). It can’t just be a rash that will fade in a few days, there’s got to be something else going on. Something bigger. Something more worrying. Something that’s going to kill you. Mainstream journalists appear to have been engaging in similarly hysterical processes of “scaling-up” when responding to COVID-19. Very rarely are their stories simply about a novel coronavirus with the capacity to overload the human immune system. That’s not enough. They’re worried, you see, that something bigger is going on. And that’s why they feel compelled to write about how COVID-19 will also ruin sport, despoil society, asphyxiate consumerism, end tourism, cancel capitalism, destroy workplaces (and so on). COVID-19 won’t just “affect,” or “have an impact” on the British high street; it will “vastly accelerate” its “decline”. It isn’t enough for The Times to query when summer holidays will return; it has to ask: “is this the end of the summer holiday?” Over at the Guardian, COVID-19 isn’t just making things a little tricky for everyone: it’s precipitating a “global crisis”. True, life does often seem to be one long riot of global crises for Guardian readers (crises which can of course be experienced vicariously from the safe surroundings of the many vegan delicatessens dotted around Islington), but unlike the dozen or so other global crises the Guardian reported on last week, COVID-19 could actually be the one that “change[s] the world”. Spare a thought, too, for millennials: COVID-19 hasn’t just put a temporary hold on stuff like casual sex, ghosting and pretending you’re polyamorous to mask a complete lack of personality, it’s “ruptured romance”. And what about workplaces? Surely, we’ll be back in those same open-plan offices hating ourselves soon enough. Not according to the BBC. “Pandemic-proofing” offices will involve “long-term design upgrades that put hygiene at the heart of workplace planning”…’