Of Comets, COVID, and Conceit


Comet NEOWISE visible above the NW horizon of central Oregon, just passing by the Sun.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a view like that. Comet NEOWISE was just too faint where I live to see it without binoculars here, in northern Illinois. Even an hour or more after sunset with the twilight receded and the skies pretty dark, you still couldn’t see the comet with the naked eye (at least I couldn’t). I drove 30 minutes west one nite, and north of my home the next, to get out into flat farmland with no trees, well away from the lights of town to scan the skies below the Big Dipper with a pair of binoculars to spot the comet on its way around the sun. Finding it after a short search, seeing it the first time was still quite a rush.
Even more amazing is the fact that although astronomers just discovered it in March, and quite by accident with the NEOWISE telescope designed to search for dangerous asteroids (hence the comet’s name), they could science the hell out of it in a matter of days and tell us they already know that it wont be back for amateurs like me to get another glimpse of it… for another 6,800 years!! Guess, I wont hold my breath. A short summary of the prodigious amount of data and understanding of this previously unknown object is available in this Wiki
Comets travel from the outer reaches of our solar system to slingshot around the sun, dragged in and then flung out into space again by the Sun’s captivating force of gravity. I glimpsed NEOWISE as it passed around the sun on its way back out to its incredible 4-5 trillion mile elliptical journey to the outer reaches of our solar system. The telescope, the Near-earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer- (NEOWISE) couldn’t see it with a “naked eye” either as they had to use the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum for the telescope to “see” it. So I don’t feel so bad I didn’t have a spectacular unaided view of the comet such as the image above from the dark skies of Oregon, similar to so many striking views that are posted all over the Net from various parts of the world. To be fair, many of the images of NEWOISE one can google are prolly long exposure photographs and not naked eye views. Seeing it however, right where and when they said it would appear, even through binocs, was impressive enough.

Some other incredible but not impressive in their absurdity, incidents of “passing by” also occurred during the same time as comet’s flyby.

I blogged on July 8th about a few state’s responses to the coronavirus epidemic raging across the US, among them Wisconsin and Minnesota. Minnesota was at 39,000 cases of the virus and Wisconsin at 36,000 back then with Wisconsin closing the gap. I’d commented on the differences in the State’s official responses and their respective citizen’s attitudes and actions to the epidemic and that maybe in a month or two with so many of the Wisconsin folks appearing to not take the virus seriously, they might eventually pass up Minnesota’s cases. By 7/15 the numbers were 44,000 and 42,000 with Wisconsin adding sometimes over 1,000 new cases a day to Minny’s couple of hundred.
By 7/18 Wisconsin was less than 1,000 behind Minnesota…That was one week ago. So now, by the 25th of July, and damn if what I surmised would happen wasn’t proven wrong…it didn’t even take a month or so like I assumed, just a matter of a couple of weeks for the good folks living behind the Cheese Curtain to take the lead!

So, “Shut my mouth!” (or if I was still in Kentucky: “Butter my butt and call me a biscuit!”) it only took 2 weeks (7/8-7/22) since I wrote The Virus and the States for Wisconsin to pass up Minnesota in coronavirus cases, at nearly 48,000 versus 47,500 respectively. Unreal. And now on 7/25 Wisconsin has expanded its lead to nearly 1,500 case more than Minny. WTF.

Also a week ago, Mississippi was only 1,500 behind Wisconsin and adding 1,500 per day!! What’s really striking about Mississippi’s sudden and dramatic rise is they have less than 3 million people in the entire state, while Wisconsin and Minnesota populations are almost double that of Mississippi, both just under 6 million residents! Additionally, Mississippi’s population is really spread out, with the capitol, Jackson being the largest city in the state but having less than 200,000 people, which is nowhere near Milwaukee or Minneapolis-St Paul’s metro areas with 1.5 and 3 million people each. Like WOW. Mississippi should be way behind most states with so few people living in mostly rural areas and small towns, with no appreciable crowded cities of any size. But then again, they do have a Republican governor….

So now here on July 25th, like the comet rounding the Sun and blowing past our little corner of space, Mississippi has blown past Minnesota as well, with 100 more cases than the land of 1,000 lakes and still adding close to 1,500 new cases per day. Remember, Mississippi contains less than 1/2 the population, with comparably tiny cities and towns spread out all over that lovely, rolling, wooded, rural state. And they now have one of the worst per capita outbreaks in the country. As of Sunday the 26th-July, they are fast approaching passing up Wisconsin as well, being just a little more than 500 cases behind and adding 1,000-1,500 per day. Oh my.

Governor Tate Reeves (a former economics major-so at least he has some empirical training beyond his religious affiliation with the very conservative Xian United Methodist Church) is finally, like other Repub governors, SLOWLY coming around. Sorta. Early on in the pandemic according to the WIKI:

“In the midst of the acceleration of the COVID-19 pandemic, Reeves overrode local leaders’ decisions to order people to stay at home, instead telling Mississippians get back to “life as usual” and deeming places like bars, dine-in restaurants and churches “essential services”. He also refused to close down beaches. Reeves refused to announce stay-at-home orders, telling people to trust in the “power of prayer”. The decision was widely condemned”.
No shit. How did that prayer admonition work out forya?

Like I said Mississippi with 1/2 the population and like no population density by comparison just blew past Minnesota, with no sign of the infection slowing down, fast on the heels of Wisconsin in likewise denial.

Now, however in late July, Gov. Tate has used the word “must” with regard to the wearing of face masks in his email announcement of his recent executive order, yet the executive order itself only uses the term “shall”, he being evidently STILL reluctant to make masking mandatory, and leaving it up local officials to enforce the order at their discretion. With much if not most of Mississippi law folks being as hard-core Xian as Gov. Reeves…good luck with that one.
As I pointed out in The Virus and the States my wife and I back in early July witnessed little to no mask-wearing across the entire state of Mississippi, even in the Gulf Coast restaurants and tourist destinations (and utterly ignored by the locals), except in the casino/hotel where we stayed, which had an impressive and strict-security personnel enforced mandatory masking policy. It was refreshing and reassuring in the midst of the religiously fueled science denial so pervasive in the surrounding culture, endorsed and promulgated by the those in power…and not just the governor. In that previous blog I also chronicled the 26 Repub Miss. State reps that all contracted the virus in July during a long legislative session where they purposely ignored social distancing or wearing of masks. One could substitute “arrogant” or “smug” for “purposely”.

For another example of Republican-Xian “public servants” overseeing what would normally only occur in the final acts of some theatre of the absurd fantasy, we can look one state to the east to where the Gator-Rednecks reside. (Lest you think that is a derogatory term cooked up by a damn Yankee-northern liberal-I lived in Florida for a year, and the local boys were damn proud to not just be regular rednecks of the American South, but of the unique Florida-Gator persuasion).

Governor Ron DeSantis, a tried and true Trump Republican (and a hard-core Catholic vs.abortion and Planned Parenthood), has engineered not just the US’s but the world’s worse coronavirus outbreak in a matter of a couple of months. At the beginning of April, Florida like my state of Illinois, had but a few thousand cases while New York and Seattle were blowing up as bad as Italy and Iran. DeSantis eschewed any sort of lockdowns or masking, etc., while our Illinois governor was one of the earliest to use data-driven approaches to containing the virus (lockdowns, masking, social distancing). By early July, Florida had blown by Illinois by more than 70,000 cases, having over 220,000 coronavirus infections by then.

By mid July Florida logged in 15,000 new cases in one day…and DeSantis called it a blip! Meanwhile, in Japan, the mayor of Tokyo was considering a lockdown and other measures because among their 40 million greater Tokyo area residents (twice the entire population of Florida) he was increasingly concerned over a substantial rise in their daily cases to…wait for it…over 200 cases per day?!
What? How many states in the US right now, would die for ONLY 200 new cases/day. And Governor DeSantis STILL would not enact mandatory masking, even with that staggering 15,000 new cases in a day while Tokyo’s public officials were wringing their hands over their rise of 200 cases.

Back in late April DeSantis bragged about Florida’s low numbers (tho he had already passed Illinois and other states) ridiculing the media who had admonished him that Florida could easily wind up like the hardest-hit areas such as New York, without preventative measures like lockdowns and masks in place. Well, Mr. Ron, Jacksonville-born Gator redneck that you is, you may eat your words as soon as tomorrow as Florida as of today, Sunday 7/26, is only 1,000 cases behind New York, (even tho New York has the biggest metro area in the US – NYC proper), at a whopping 415,000 cases and still climbing at 10-15,000 new cases per day! Odds are really good that a whole lot of news reports are gonna point out you smoked New York in but 90 days from your smug little stab at the media over your state’s “great” numbers and your “level-headed” response at that point that was your reason for Florida not being what the “others” in New York and elsewhere panicked over and couldn’t handle.

You can’t make this stuff up.

DeSantis and Trump have bragged about “low death rates” in Florida and the US, but deaths, lagging behind new infections by more than a few weeks are also starting to rise: Florida and Texas each just had over 100 deaths in one day, higher than all other states…while New York reported 3. Yeah just 3. That’s bad enough. And it is very likely Florida’s deaths will climb over the coming weeks. With Florida’s huge aged population and the infection spreading like wildfire state wide, we could easily worry about a staggering number of senior deaths in the months to come.

What is really horrible is that it is easy to get lost in the numbers…we are talking deaths here. People who didn’t want to die – died, and their loved ones are devastated by their untimely, unexpected, and isolated deaths. Just think how many of the nearly 150,000 people in the US who have died of coronavirus already might have been saved if our public servants, from the President on down to so many of the Republican governors had the same data-driven, scientific, empathetic, attitude as the mayor of Tokyo and the thousands of other persons in positions of power worldwide who acted with intelligence and compassion, instead of smug, arrogant, religiously fueled science-denial conceit. And DeSantis for example, cannot be a stupid man. Graduate of Yale and then Harvard Law school, JAG corps, lawyer to the SEALS in Iraq, impressive political career. Yet he staunchly, openly smugly in his case, utterly ignored, not just the science, but the immediate past experiences of Seattle, New York, Italy and Iran and their grappling with this virus. He, unlike the public servants in New York for example had their terrible experiences and learning curve to draw on. Unlike De Santis, the first areas of infection in the US had no established guidelines, they were forced to make it up as they went along, they had no prior examples to learn from…but he did. And he ignored everything he could have learned from the infection rise and deadliness in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago…. He dissed that as well as the science. That smug, already know it all, certainty only comes from hard-core religious belief.

Lest you think I’m cherry-picking bad examples of Republican Governors (I could do similar horror stories of abject denial by Repub Guv’s in Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Arizona…) here’s one who has broken with the pack and Trump on his coronavirus response.

A Repub governor who really stands out from the other governors, really from both parties in being pro-active in his science-based early aggressive response to the spread of the virus, is Ohio Governor Mike Dewine who was the first of any governor to close the schools in early March and follow a strictly data-driven, public health approach, calmly explaining reality to his constituents in a response more like an Asian or European public servant. Ohio, with 12 million inhabitants, as of 7/26/20 still has less than half the cases of the virus (83,000) than a state like Illinois at 172,000 cases and 13 million people. Ohio has significantly less cases than 10 other states with smaller populations. Pennsylvania with almost the same population as Ohio has 30,000 more cases. DeWine began mandating masking in early July, to keep the numbers down, as so many states even with reasonable restrictions in place are seeing upticks in their new cases. This is a tough virus. Given what I have read of responses and their effects worldwide, especially in Asia and a few other countries, I suspect like herd immunity with vaccines, that you need not just a majority but 90 percent plus of the population wearing masks, social distancing, and sanitizing to stop the spread: 70, 80% compliance wont do it. If everyone is not in on it, it wont work that well. And if you ignore it, like the horror stories I’ve related here in WI, MS, and FL, and those in GA, AL, TX, AZ and other states I didnt, the virus spreads virtually uncontrollably. DeWine is reported to be a mainstream conservative and devout Catholic, but his early and decisive actions with regards the coronavirus, being in line with the science of public health, demonstrates his behavior at least is not like his more hard-core Xian gubernatorial colleagues in the Republican party.


Lastly, Kevin Stitt, the Republican Governor of Oklahoma, son of a pastor, active member of Woodlake Pentecostal (about as hard-core Xian as it gets) Church in Tulsa, tested positive for coronavirus on 7/15/20, and was apparently “shocked” by contracting it, yet in the same news accounts he was reported being seen regularly in numerous public gatherings throughout the pandemic, not wearing a mask or social distancing. You may recall he famously posted a pic mid-March of him and his kids out for dinner-business as usual, no masks, no social distancing, in abject, again, smug denial. And then he was surprised when 4 months later to the day he became infected. Oklahoma at nearly 4 million in population is over 30,000 cases now, adding over 1,000 cases per day. Imagine what a heart attack the mayor of Tokyo would have over those numbers? Oklahoma City’s mayor has put mandatory masking in effect, but so far the Governor has evidently not seen the need statewide. He didn’t think he would ever get it and he’s reported to be feeling good 2 weeks later so what’s the worry?

The abject science-denial and pandering to the conservative religious elements in their states have cost the Republican governors dearly in politically bad publicity, and rightly so, messing up the presidential aspirations of a couple of up and coming gov’s like DeSantis, and Brian Kemp of Georgia. Poor babies. Consider the horrific suffering and long-term effects of the virus inflicted on many of those infected. And then there are all the wholly unnecessary deaths numbering in the 10’s of thousands…and counting, that could have been avoided had all the Republican governors followed the actions of their colleague Mike DeWine, and all the Democratic governors.

We should all be outraged. It is disheartening that it takes a deadly virus to bring to light the rampant conceit inherent in religious thinking that makes for such blatant and smug denial of knowledge. Science denial is nothing new in all of Xianity to varying degrees, reaching absurd regularity in the more Evangelical denominations and some Catholic groups. We all can see it so much clearer now in the blatant ignorance of so many Republican politicians.
I didn’t call it “The Arrogance of Religious Thought” for nothing.

POSTSCRIPT 7/27-It happened last nite- Florida blew by New York, by 8,000 cases and no sign of slowing down: Florida has 21 million residents to New York’s 20, but has no metro area comparable to NY metro.
end religion now.

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