Headlines, Mulch, and Evangelical Misery

 

Toilet paper aisles may be sparse, but one thing we’re not lacking is opinions on the pandemic.  Everyone’s got their take and a pet conspiracy theory to go with it. Here’s mine:

From a human standpoint, the United States has done a great job mobilizing (or immobilizing in this case) the populace into an emergency response stance.  300 million people united in confirming their pact with the rest of society and backing that bond with (in)action is a feat.  Economically, this thing is a mess.  The Fed’s solution has been to fire the bazookas and let God sort’em out.  That’s not my preferred option, but considering the government is what shuttered the economy (and now we KNOW they can do that – more frightening, the government KNOWS it can do that now, too), the government needs to provide some support.  What’s the future look like health-wise and for the economy?  Nobody knows and predictions cause more worry than they’re worth at this point.

As for conspiracy theories, my sources tell me that April is considered a Spring month when it’s clearly still Winter.  This is a ploy by the mulch cartel to get people gardening early.  Remember that April day when it was 70 and beautiful when they delivered the mulch?  Neither do I, but I sure as hell remember shoveling shredded bark into my wheelbarrow in 50 degree sideways rain two years ago.  Hey, at least it wasn’t snowing.

What’s the story so far?


January

Novel coronavirus reported in China.  News consumed by World War III (remember that Iranian general?) and impeachment.

Flights from China to the US are grounded.

February

China shut down.  US cases of COVID-19 are mainly from the Diamond Princess cruise ship and a nursing home outside of Seattle.

Bill Gates pens an op-ed in the New England Journal of Medicine declaring a once in a century global pandemic.

March

Pandemic takes hold.  In the US, states suspend school, recommend citizens quarantine.  Shopping carts fill with toilet paper.  Governor DeWine’s office estimates 117,000 Ohioans (1% of the state’s population) are infected with COVID-19 on March 12.  A research paper is widely misquoted as estimating 2.2 million deaths in US.  The paper outlined the possibility of 2.2 million deaths if the population did absolutely nothing, but the more likely scenario of Americans implementing social distancing would result in an estimated 200,000 deaths. Worst case scenarios grab headlines and retweets.

Politics is put on hold as pandemic is taken seriously.  Fauci and Birx find celebrity along with DeWine and Acton.  America is united to flatten the curve.

April

The media revises the narrative of death estimates down as someone finally read past the abstract on the original report.  The report’s author then revised his estimate down further (to the chagrin of doomsayers).  The Washington Post has the best breakdown of estimating COVID-19 that I’ve seen.  It starts with Dr. Fauci’s warning that models are only as good as the data you put in.  It shows how the estimate can see a huge change overnight (at one point jumping up from 94,000 then dropping to 60,400 by August).  There’s also a kind of timeline of various estimates as well as WaPo’s view that the US won’t peak all at once, but will rather have several smaller peaks due to geography.

Perhaps it’s the relaxation of the crisis narrative that signaled it’s ok to dunk on political opponents again.

May

 

 

June

 

 

July

 

 

August

 

 

September

 

 

October

 

 

November

 

 

December

 

 


I included May through December in the list to prove a point: we’ve been dealing with this for a very short period of time.  Here in Ohio, we’ve been quarantined for about 40 days.  Not a great data set to base long-term decisions on.  Can I make a reasonable guess as to whether I’m working from home next week?  Yes, but it doesn’t say much about whether I’ll be working from home in July, let alone December or beyond.  And yet people are predicting how the world will forever change.  Maybe they should set their sights a little closer in.  Think about predictions made in 2010.  The ‘New Normal’ economy, US stocks were dead money, and peak oil would push energy prices permanently into the triple-digits.  Is predicting 2-3 years forward more reasonable?  Did anyone predict a global populist movement?  Election of Donald Trump?  Brexit?  As each of these events unfolded, did anyone predict the US stock market would shoot to all-time highs?  What if they were to start small and just predict a few months into the future?  Did they think there would be a shooting war with Iran?  Did they predict a negative price on oil contracts just 4 months later?

This is an Outrage!  Here’s How They Shoulda Done It

Headlines are designed to elicit emotion.  People who alert you to an outrage or certain doom gain credence as authority figures.  This is just how humans are wired.  It is difficult to think past this, especially if the headline affirms your worldview.  If you read that Gilead’s COVID-19 drug failed initial testing and your first emotion wasn’t disappointment, why is that?  For what it’s worth, Gilead is disputing the report, saying the testing was inconclusive due to the test being cut short.  Maybe we shouldn’t live headline to headline.  I’ve listened to enough Cleveland sports radio to recognize that there are people who aren’t happy unless they’re pointing out what went wrong.  They take pleasure in their evangelical misery.

The ultimate follow-up question is what if there’s a terrible rebound.  That’s something we can’t predict, but you’re going to be disappointed if you think we will make zero progress on this thing before then.  You will be disappointed if you think Americans will be less prepared.  Yes, but what if it mutates?  Indeed, but try to acknowledge that there is a difference between preparation and disaster fantasy.  Humans are surprisingly resilient, clever, and adaptable.  And it has never been wise to bet against America.  There’s always another ‘but what if”.  The heart of these questions isn’t to seek information, but to gather attention.

What Do I Know?

I’m glad Wine with DeWine is no longer must-watch TV and journalists are back to spell-checking the President’s twitter account.

I don’t know what’s coming, but I do know that change is happening rapidly and seemingly only in one direction (progress rather than our worst fears).