It’s another one of those sit bolt upright at 3:45 AM sort of nights with the head spinning full of half baked anxieties and bad dreams. When that happens, I never get back to sleep again so I might as well grab the laptop, start writing and see what comes of it. In my REM state just beofre I woke, I was having my cognitive faculties checked by some unidentifiable power with one of the standard mental status questions and I had just been asked to name as many words as I could that started with the letter ‘O’. Option, occidental, orthostasis, omicron… and then I was awake and aware.
I assume I’m processing all of the very bad news of the past few days in my own peculiar way. I deliberately did not watch the live news broadcasts of the Capitol takeover as I have come to the conclusion that televised news is in general bad for my underlying anxiety levels. Instead I read analysis, reportage and opinion later, all of which was accompanied by plenty of well composed still photos of what went on. I’m sure you’ve seen them to and for each of us, there is probably one that is the punch in the gut. For me, it was the one of a man flouting the Confederate flag through the rotunda, something that never happened during four years of Civil War. A close second was a trampled American flag replaced on a stand by a Trump 2020 flag. The semiotics of flags is interesting. How we put so much meaning into scraps of colored cloth and how they come to hold our most cherished dreams or deepest fears and even the briefest glimpse of a universally recognized one in visual media, such as the Nazi banner, can immediately change our whole worldview. The last show I did before the shut down, Cabaret, immediately shifts in the audience’s perceptions with the appearance of a small swastika near the end of the first act. One of these days I need to read a good book on vexillology if anyone has a reccomendation.
We may all be distracted by political theater but the corona virus is not going away and continues to pose an imminent threat to the stability of the health system. We’re now topping 4,000 deaths daily in this country (that’s 30% higher than 9/11 and 40% higher than Pearl Harbor on a daily basis). Our local hospital systems are inundated with beds going into waiting areas and some people, who require monitoring but are not in imminent danger, being shuffled into close by hotel rooms. There hasn’t been a day in the last two weeks when I haven’t heard of a friend being diagnosed. Fortunately the majority are young and healthy and seem to be recovering without major incident but I am also receiving daily calls from friends about grandparents, great aunts, and other cherished elders who are not doing well.
My major thought of the day is that the corona virus and our politics are fundamentally the same. Something invades the body or the body politic and quietly goes about its business unseen and ignored until all of a sudden it bursts forth in a reign of havoc. On the micro level, the virus enters the body, generally through the respiratory tract. It’s a simple organism, a protein capsule containing its basic genetic information that allow it to create the proteins of which it consists. It’s so simple that it uses RNA rather than the more involved DNA for its genetic code and doesn’t have the cellular machinery to even replicated itself. Instead, it’s spike proteins attach to host cells, it injects its RNA into those cells and uses the host’s own mechanisms for its replication. One successful viral attachment can lead to that cell releasing thousands of copies of that virus which then go on to attach to other cells and repeat the process many times over. Eventually, the hosts immune system is going to notice the rising tide of invaders and react and the symptoms of disease appear. The devestating consequences of Covid-19 are often the result of an over action of the immune system resulting in inflammatory changes which can lead to organ failure and death.
In the same way, one virally infected individual can enter a social group, appear to be healthy, have no signs or symptoms of disease but shed virus easily to others through close contact and respiratory droplets. If the asymptomatic period is prolonged, the contacts then go on about their business, never realizing they have been exposed and carry it on to others. This coronavirus is infectious but not as infectious as a lot of other common human viruses so it’s quite dependent on human behaviors of congregation to propagate. Transmissibility can be curbed through simple measures such as social distancing and mask wearing. When we refuse to adhere to these simple public health measures, the virus, having no brain or thought, simply takes advantage of our own conscious choices that benefit it. The result of the spread is more and more sick people and, with the traditional gatherings for holidays, the numbers have soared quickly. Our country’s immune system against disease, health care, is becoming overwhelmed and may start to react in ways due to the pressures put upon it that may ultimately end up being damaging, a sort of institutional auto immune process. We’re just very lucky that Covid-19 has a relatively low mortality rate. If the mortality rate were the same as its very close cousin SARS, we’d be counting the dead in the multi-millions currently.
On the political front, there have been inoculums of misinformation, disinformation, and fantasy injected into public discourse. They’ve bred in the darker corners of social media such as 4 chan and 8 chan and Free Republic and seem to be combinations of regurgitated talking points from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Mein Kampf, and The Camp of the Saints. They have, through widespread social media, entered the minds of those who understand on some basic level that the political system is no longer responsive to the people, but to wealthy donors who fund campaigns. Those ideas have churned quietly in the dark for years, fertilized by a media ecosystem who understood that they could be mobilized politically, amd have been used by political, economic and religious leaders as a base upon which to amass power and wealth without actually understanding or wanting to do much of anything about the conditions stoking the grievances. The body politic is now fully infected, the show down at the Capitol yesterday was just a symptom that cannot be ignored. The responses I see from many in power are like those of most American’s to disease. Let’s just go down to the urgent care clinic and get a pill and everything will be normal again. I don’t think that sort of magical thinking is going to help in the situation we find ourselves in. The latest polls show that half of rank and file Republicans are convinced that Wednesday’s events are some sort of false flag George Soros/antifa plot. The usual corners of the conservative media ecosphere are bubbling with ‘this is just the beginning’ rhetoric. We’re going to see more. And what of the immune response? Power protecting itself from those without? Will it be proportional or will we develop a severe civic autoimmune disease worse than the original infection? I don’t know. I couldn’t have imagined the events of this year a year ago so I have no idea where we’re headed.
What can I do? I can get my second Covid shot later today. I’ll take whatever after effects it may give. I feel it’s my civic and professional duty to do anything in my power to keep the disease from spreading and to set an example. The serious side effects such as anaphylaxis rates among the beta test group of health care professionals and long term care residents that have been vaccinated so far appears to be about 11 in one million and, as far as I know, no one has died. The current death toll from Covid in the US is about one in fifty. I’ll take my chances with the vaccine.
In the meantime, you all know the mantra. Even if you’re vaccinated: Wash your hands, wear your mask, social distance.