Oh, this letter is amazing

I wish I had written this letter.

I wish I was important enough to have been asked to sign it.

But given that neither of those things happened, my wish is that you read it and my hope is that it resonates.

Please take note of the list of signatories — it is an impressive collection of folks.

This letter advocated for everything I hope this blog becomes — a safe haven for those tired of the ideologically obsessed and those practicing “gotcha” politics.

A place where you’ll never read about how somebody “destroyed” someone else or their position.

A place where agreeing disagreeably isn’t just a slogan but a way of life.

A place where compromise is valued, where people change their mind, where the complex is embraced.

Welcome to the fanatical middle, my friends. Let’s do some good … together.


On the other hand ….

A dive into COVID data.

One thing very frustrating to me about the current political climate is that those who have sold out to politics view all data through that lens. When it comes to COVID-19, that means “sold out” Republicans see only that data that minimizes the impact of the virus. And “sold out” Democrats only see or retain data that affirms their view that COVID is cataclysmic and is the fault of Republican leadership. Guess what? There is a ton of data out there which is contrary, textured, conflicting and nuanced. And since I’m neither an R or a D, the scales aren’t covering up my eyes when it comes to this rich, fascinating (and obviously sad and sometimes scary) data.

The point of this piece will to find examples of data that isn’t fitting one narrative, but that has caught my eye. Some of it (like “Manic Tuesdays”) will not really really be supportive of either side (doesn’t sound ridiculous when talking about a pandemic?) but will simply be informative.

I will do my best to include source material on everything I post. If you see a source that is questionable or an error I have made, PLEASE let me know so I can correct it. Hopefully, if something “on one hand” rubs you wrong, what’s “on the other hand” will be comforting.

Just another Manic Tuesday ….

One key thing to remember is that statistics are reported unevenly through the week. Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com has done a good job pointing this out. Day-to-day comparisons (“deaths were up Tuesday over Monday) are useless because weekend reporting is not as complete. You can see from this chart below, taken from https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/ that there are 5 days of higher reports, then two days of lower. In fact, Tuesdays tend to be the highest reporting days because of weekend “catchup.” CONCLUSION: Don’t get overly excited when weekend/Monday number or low, or overly concerned if Tuesday numbers are high. The best way to compare is week over week (this Monday over last Monday).

Florida cases vs. hospitalizations

The increase in Florida cases has clearly been marked and alarming. I understand that there should be some delay between a soaring case count and fatalities. What is less clear to me is why hospitalizations have not ramped up — at least on a statewide basis — since the increase in cases.

One site I’ve been checking is this AHCA spreadsheet showing ICU bed vacancy. When I first started it checking it, a week or two ago, the vacancy rate was 19 percent.

This is a screengrab from the morning of July 6 (when I wrote this section).

You can see that the ICU bed availability is 21.55% — in other words, it hasn’t gone up since the surge in cases. Over the past few days that number has fluctuated from between 19 and 22 percent.

For context, when I asked TMH CEO Mark O’Bryant what the typical ICU vacancy was in NON-pandemic times, he said 20-30 percent. So, right now, we are within that range (barely). Here is the link to that conversation, which is worth your time. The discussion of typical ICU availability starts at the 17-minute mark.

Going to school on schools

The announcement by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran that all Florida schools were to reopen in August was quite a shock, to me at least.

But the issue of what to do about opening schools has been hotly debated among epidemiologists, pediatricians, educators, politicians and more, for many weeks.

Last week, to surprisingly little fanfare, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a position calling for all American schools to reopen.

From the statement: “The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school,” reads the guidance. “The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020.”

Other European countries have already opened schools — Denmark, Austria and Germany to name a few.

There have been a number of studies finding children are not affected by COVID at near the level of adults and especially the elderly population.

Here are a few:

Study: Children half as likely to be affected (Washington Post)

French study: School children don’t spread COVID (Bloomberg)

Netherlands study: Children don’t spread COVID (Netherlands National Institute for Public Health)

(Interesting quote from the Netherlands study: “Based on source and contact tracing from the beginning of the epidemic, we see the following: looking at 10 COVID-19 patients who were <18 years old, they had 43 close contacts, and none of them became ill, whereas 8.3% (55/566) of the close contacts of the 221 patients who were ≥18 years old became ill. Now that widespread source and contact tracing is ramping up again, we will be able to update this information with recent data in summer”)

One thing to keep in mind is that, statistically speaking, children are simply not dying of COVID.

Here is a chart as of a couple weeks ago, for the entire U.S., from the CDC:

To put those 26 deaths in perspective, If you look at “all cause mortality,” about 9,300 people ages 14 and under die in a year in the U.S. (most recent data I found on this was 2017, below). Causes like accidental drowning, car crashes and the like far dwarf the threat of COVID to children.

Now, that’s not to say there is no threat (aka “on the other hand”). You may have heard of the mysterious illness in New York and other places that was thought to be COVID related that targeted children. To be honest, there hasn’t been much recent reporting on this — I’m not sure why.

Here is a story from five days ago on some new cases emerging, taking the total number to 300. (WBRC)

Here is a story from a few weeks ago on a Boston Children’s Hospital study on the disease (WBUR)

A big issue with regards to going back to school is the threat to teachers.

One issue is that teachers are often in vulnerable age groups (U.S. News and World Report)

I have not been able to find any studies that show what risk teachers face from school reopening — if you can find one, please share.

The clearest danger

Let’s make no mistake, the most vulnerable populations are the elderly and those with medical conditions (particularly lung issues) that COVID attacks.

Let’s go back to the chart I referenced above:

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A staggering 80 percent of COVID deaths come from people over the age of 65.

I’m not that smart, but it seems to me that our society should be laser focused on protecting folks in that age group.

OK, I’m going to stop here. I will probably do a part 2 to this, but want to publish this before what I’ve written is outdated. Hope you find this useful. Please leave comments with questions. And don’t forget to subscribe!

Masks, rights and smiles

Preface: I’m sure I’ll post a lot of goofy, hopefully funny stuff here. But when I dive into an issue, it may seem a little different than that to which you are accustomed. You won’t leave one of my posts saying: Man, he destroyed the other side! That’s not my intent. Much like the Village Square, I’d like to just be able to talk — to reason — through an issue without shouting and brazen partisanship. That won’t be for everybody, I know. If this is too dry for you, there are plenty of places you can satiate your appetite for yelling and screaming. Also, I might not always make my specific position clear. Often that’s because I’m too conflicted to take a position or that I value the discussion more than sharing my exact view.

Preface, the sequel: I was with my good friend Gary Yordon earlier this week — and was telling him about my blog. Gary asked: “What are you writing on next?” I said: “Masks.” He laughed and said: “Same.” That was bad news for me because Gary is a better writer than me in every respect. Anyway, just thought that context was appropriate.

So, let’s talk masks.

I’ll wade into to the issue of mandating masks in a minute, but first an observation, as the family’s primary grocery store shopper. Have you noticed how much non-verbal communication is lost when people are masked?

There are so many times a quick little smile can be a sign of courtesy when someone realizes they’ve been holding you up on the baking goods aisle or darts by because they only need a few things.

Eyes, as someone wise told me recently, are much better for “giving a look” than they are for a softer, more conciliatory facial expression. So now, in addition to sickness and death and lost jobs and so much more, the grocery store — and the rest of the indoor world — is a little big colder place these days.

I think that matters more than we might know or appreciate.

Now, to the wearing of masks.

The intersection of public health and individual liberty is often congested and messy.

Public health, by definition, is improving the life of citizens by advancing good health practices. Often this can be done voluntarily, but infectious diseases are a different story.

Intersecting with public health is the idea that individual Americans are free to choose whatever lifestyle they wish.

Actually, that’s not right — we are free, but only so long as we do not fringe on another’s rights.

And there is the rub when it comes to the government mandating masks.

Yes, the research has been contradictory and fuzzy. Yes, we have a lot to learn about how the virus is transmitted and there are likely things we think are true now, that will end up being different than we thought.

But let’s state what we do know:

First, there is a virus. Second, it’s contagious. Third, it has killed for more people than any pandemic in recent history. And four, there are many known cases of transmission that happened indoors.

It seems fair to conclude, then, that there is at least SOME risk of transmitting the virus from people being indoors together without safeguards. And if that is the case, we are not longer talking about just an issue of individual freedom, because Joe exercising his own freedom may jeopardize John.

It’s interesting for me to think of a spectrum of individual rights and public health.

Seat belt laws are one example — here are laws that have very little opposition now, but that take away an individual right (to ride in a car seat belt free) even though that right doesn’t infringe on any else’s right.

Smoking in restaurants is also interesting.

One could argue that a just like a restaurant ought to be able to cater to smokers and let people decide for themselves whether or not to smoke or be subject to second-hand smoke, the same should be true for wearing masks.

But the difference is, once someone has sucked in smoke during dinner, they can’t transmit that secondhand smoke to someone else, hours or even days later. With COVID, transmission is still quite possible. And, of course, smoking has now been banned in most indoor areas and there is no longer any significant opposition to those laws.

A better parallel to the masks is drunken driving — I’m free to drink alone in my house as much as I want. Doing so isn’t violating anybody else’s rights. But the minute I get in a vehicle and get on the road, things change — now others are at risk.

And risk is key. It’s not “I KNOW my drunken driving will kill somebody,” it’s “there is a clear (and present?) danger that someone else could be hurt. I know of nobody arguing drunken driving laws infringe on individual freedom.

All of this is to say, with regards to mandatory mask laws or ordinances, I think the personal freedom argument is very tough to square with the nation’s recent history of balancing individual rights with public health concerns.


What do you think?

If you are opposed to wearing masks in public places or businesses, where does the above logic fail you?

If you support wearing masks in public places or businesses, how do you square that support with NOT mandating masks outdoors?

Welcome to nuance

So, what’s the fanatical middle?

It’s the area inhabited by those of us not captives of the current political rip tide of ideology, hatred and “destroying” the other side.

It’s not necessarily centrist. One can reside in the fanatical middle and be a liberal, conservative or libertarian. But to live here, you can’t be married to that ideology. There must be a willingness to listen. To think. To study. To research.

If you’re “fer” it because the other side (however the heck that is defined) is “agin” it, the fanatical middle is not a place you spend time.

One of the key tenets of this space is an embrace of nuance, in its most positive sense.

This site won’t necessarily be replete with religious references, but below is at least one — a devotional I wrote for my church vestry (leadership board). I’ve edited it a bit for privacy, but it captures the type of nuance I’ll be looking to harness on this site.

So, enjoy, engage, interact and if you are racing down the superhighway of partisan pugilism, pull off on this little back road, which might actually lead you back to an America where people seek a little nuance in their life.

# # # # # #

Skip devotional:

 I texted Mother Abi last night at 11:56 p.m. (I hope I didn’t wake you up.) I said that I was nowhere on the devotional. She texted back at 5:04 a.m. (I DAMNED sure wasn’t up!) with ideas.

      As of noon today – nada.

      Then I went to a friend, asking for ideas. He started rambling on about something when suddenly the word “nuanced” popped into my head.

          Why did that pop into my head?

      Because I think about it all the time – and how important it is and how, well, nuanced nuance really is.

      I manufacture nuance in things that should be simple and I force simplicity on things that should be nuanced. The latter is a much bigger problem.

      And then there is the nuance in people. Oh we are missing so much of it.

      It’s amazing to me how many people we are just ready to write off as enemies or people we really don’t care about. And what about the nuance of the human condition at any given moment?

      I bet there as at least one person here tonight in real distress. Either from family  problems or health or emotions or something else.

     Yet I rarely account for those things when evaluating someone’s contributions to the meeting or in most any interaction. And when a problem does surface, I’m frequently guilty of what Stephen Covey calls the “autobiographical response.”

     PERSON A: “Well, I just found out today that I have terminal cancer and have 2 weeks to live.”

    PERSON B: “Man that’s bad, speaking of illness, I just found out today that insurance is going to approve my plastic surgery.”

     I think we get nuance right — a lot — at our church. I can think of multiple examples where we have made a deliberate, intentional, holy effort at treating a wide range of views with respect and dignity.

    Doesn’t sound much like current popular culture, though, does it? Our refreshing example of exploring the gray area – even foggy areas – is in stark contrast to the social battle lines that mark many political, ideological, moral or ethical debates. Either we’ve become really scared of the fog, or we’ve forgotten how slowly you have to drive through it without colliding with someone else’s humanity.

    It’s also interesting to me how and when we choose to explore nuance. There is a fine (or maybe thick) line between appropriately probing for nuance and unceremoniously and unnecessarily diving into the weeds. How many times have you found yourself choking on minutiae at the expense of the overall?

   On the other hand, sometimes diving deep isn’t an exercise in futility, it’s a beautiful exploration of all aspects of something that otherwise seems straightforward.

   Yes, nuance is so double edged – it can be the breathtaking illumination of an aspect of humanity as yet unrealized. It can also be the dark leveraging of the inconsequential as a weapon against progress, harmony and even love.

   But mainly, nuance is much more under- than over-utilized.

   Somebody said: Tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance.

  I worry so much about what I call the “Reverse Pharisee” effect. That in our zeal to be on the right side of things like “tolerance” and “the letter of the law” and “social justice” and “moral authority” that we end up just being judgmental in a different colored robe.

  I think about the controversial issues of the day – and I’m going to name some of them, which alone will cause a some of you to feel pangs or knots of stress. Abortion. Gun Control. Capital Punishment.

  And then think about how we describe positions on those issues – one is either “pro” or “anti.”

  But, what about the gray? What about people who are conflicted? What about people who, gasp, change their mind?

  What about people open to the nuance?

  But forget those people and their views – where in our hearts is the openness to those with different opinions. I can’t tell you how many times I read or hear: “I can’t respect someone who …..” And don’t get me started on the overuse of the word “shameful.”

   Author David Dark captures the danger in moving away from nuance and into a world of  black and white:

I want very badly to challenge the ease with which we succumb to the false divide of labels, that moment in which our empathy gives out and we refuse to respond openhandedly or even curiously to see people with whom we differ. As I see it, to refuse the possibility of finding another person interesting, complex and as complicated as oneself is a form of violence. At bottom, this is a refusal of nuance, and I wish to posit that nuance is sacred. To call it sacred is to value it so highly that we find it fitting to somehow set it apart as something to which we’re forever committed. Nuance refuses to envision others degradingly, denying them the content of their own experience, and talks us down tenderly from the false ledges we’ve put ourselves on. When we take it on as a sacred obligation, nuance also delivers us out of the deadly habit of cutting people out of our own imaginations. This opens us up to the possibility of at least occasionally finding one another beautiful, the possibility of communion. […] It could be that there’s no communion without [nuance].” David Dark

  I think Dark was talking about communion in a secular sense, but surely it also applies to the communion of the eucharist, the communion that is our church, our faith, our relationship with God.

  After all, the chief commandments are not so nuanced. Love the Lord God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbors as yourselves. Simple. Yet, so much rich, life-giving, beautiful nuance flows from those commandments into our lives, our associations our institutions and the people we love – the understanding is simple, but the nuance helps us fulfill and live up to those commandments.