Without a Trace

COPYRIGHT 2020 Debra Littlejohn Shinder

Corona Smartphone App Tracing - Free image on Pixabay

Many of us breathed a sigh of relief as state and local governments finally began to lift the orders of mass house arrest under which we had been living for two months — but that feeling was short lived, as they revealed that they had another heinous control tactic up their sleeves: contact tracing.

If you think things are back to normal now that you’ve finally been allowed to return to work, get a haircut, and eat in a restaurant, think again. Most Americans are now under surveillance to an extent they’ve never been before, and your liberty can be snatched away again in the blink of an eye if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

What is contact tracing, anyway?

Most people outside of healthcare had never heard of contact tracing three months ago. Now states are pouring massive amounts of (mostly federal) money into contracts with private companies that will build massive armies of “tracers” (it even sounds like something out of a sci-fi/dystopian future novel) to act as so-called “disease detectives.” Their mission: to hunt down anyone who has been infected with or has possibly been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and advise them to “voluntarily” quarantine.

Spartan army - Wikipedia

Sounds innocuous enough, right? Oh, did we forget to mention that if you should choose not to quarantine yourself voluntarily, then it magically becomes mandatory, with criminal penalties and even in some cases, the state removing you from your home to a “quarantine camp” and/or taking your children away to “protect” them from you (despite the fact that the virus very rarely has any serious effects at all on those under 18).

Now, contact tracing advocates will dismiss any concerns you might have about this with the assurance that “this is nothing new — public health agencies have been contact tracing for decades.” That’s true. They did it with AIDS, and it was useful in controlling the spread of HIV. They also did it with the small U.S. outbreak of Ebola in 2014.

What’s happening now, however, is very, very different.

AIDS is transmitted via bodily fluids. Tracking with whom someone had had sex or shared a needle is orders of magnitude easier than tracking everyone a person came within six feet of over the course of their daily lives. Those people were then advised not to have unprotected sex. They weren’t locked in their homes until a cure was found. In the case of Ebola, the number of cases was extremely small, making it effective to find and quarantine those who had been in contact with those few people.

To compare the proposed COVID contact tracing programs with those for AIDS and Ebola is like saying “speeding has always been against the law; that’s nothing new” when you’re proposing to expand that law to now send all speeders to jail and also jail anyone who was a passenger in a car that was caught speeding, or who parked next to the offending car in a parking lot.

For an up-close and personal look at how this is going to work from someone who took the class to become a tracer, check out Contact Tracing: Scarier than You Thought on YouTube.

COVID contact tracing: a horse of a different color

Yes, contact tracing can be a valid epidemic control strategy, but as shown in the video linked above, contact tracing for COVID-19 is a whole other animal. The efficacy of contact tracing depends largely on the nature of the disease and the extent to which it has already spread. It can be effective early on in an epidemic when there are no more than a few hundred cases. It becomes unmanageable and ineffective when a large percentage of the population has already been exposed — as is the case here, evidenced by studies showing a high prevalence of asymptomatic cases in random sampling.

I see those in favor of tracing saying “well, if I have the virus, I want to find out so I can be treated.” If that were the end-all of contact tracing, it might make sense. But quarantining those who have virus is only a small part of it. The entire point of contact tracing is to find out with whom those testing positive have been in contact and quarantine them — and the people with whom they have been in contact since their exposure. And then you’d need to also hunt down the people that those people contacted.

Is it beginning to sound a whole lot like a multi-level marketing (MLM) strategy, also not-so-affectionately known as a pyramid scheme? That’s because it is — and as with MLM, within a few “levels,” you exhaust the supply of people; now the majority of the population is in quarantine. Welcome back to lockdown.

Quarantine | A word cloud featuring "Quarantine". This image… | Flickr

But that’s not all. If you simply had to serve your two-week sentence and then you could go about your business freely, it wouldn’t be quite so bad from a practical standpoint (although it’s still pretty awful from a liberty and constitutional rights perspective). But here’s the kicker: as soon as you get out of quarantine, happy to have developed no symptoms and tested negative, if you go back out there and come within six feet of another COVID positive, back into quarantine you go again.

This, my friends, is not sustainable. And governors all over the country are implementing these programs without even getting the authorization of their own legislative bodies. It’s not a partisan thing, either. It’s not just the Democrats or just the Republicans who are pushing this thing. As this article warns, your governors, red or blue, are coming after you with their tracer armies. Read it and be afraid. Be very afraid.

The key factor here is whether participating in contact tracing systems will be voluntary or mandatory. We’re being assured, by those advocating for it, that it will be the former. But we’re also told that it won’t work unless there’s an 80% participation rate. What if enough people don’t volunteer? We all know that “voluntary” government programs have a way of becoming mandatory – the personal income tax is supposedly “voluntary,” too — until you don’t pay.

NOTE/UPDATE: While it’s true that governors in both red and blue states are embracing the idea of contact tracing, there’s no denying that one party is pushing it harder than the other, especially at the federal level. H.R. 6666 (seriously, that’s the number), with the scary title “COVID-19 Testing Reaching, And Contacting Everyone (TRACE) Act,” is sponsored by 65 members of the House of Representatives — all of them Democrats. The lone Republican co-sponsor withdrew his support May 15th.

There’s an app for that

Now you may be wondering: exactly how do they track down everyone with whom you’ve come in contact: the friends with whom you had dinner last week, the guy who brushed up against you in the grocery store a few days ago, the lady who sat at the station next to yours at the hair salon this morning?

That’s another way in which contact tracing for COVID differs from past implementations. Traditionally, it was done manually, through interviews with patients. They were asked to provide names and contact info for those they might have exposed. Conducting such interviews — including going to people’s homes — will be the job duty of the members of the tracer armies.

In some jurisdictions, state and/or local governments are requiring restaurants, hair salons, and other businesses to keep a log of their customers’ visits, including contact information, to be turned over to public health officials if they ask. They’re making it a condition for the businesses to reopen. So even if you pay cash, you still have to reveal your identity and personal information.

But here’s the big difference: Today, in addition to those “manual” methods, we have technology rushing to the rescue (or perhaps more accurately, is being rushed into use as a weapon against us). Most people now carry cell phones everywhere they go. A majority of those are smart phones that include all sorts of location sensors: GPS, wi-fi, Bluetooth, NFC — all of which can be used to pinpoint where you are and where you’ve been.

Apple and Google, which together own almost 100% of the smart phone operating system market share worldwide, have partnered to build support for these apps into their OS application programming interfaces (APIs). This capability is being rolled out now to smart phones on all carrier networks. Unlike many/most system updates, you can’t easily avoid it; even those who have automatic updates turned off are getting it installed on their iOS and Android devices. On Android, you’ll find it in Settings | Google Settings if it’s been installed.

Don’t panic if you see this on your phone. These OS updates, at the moment, don’t mean you’re being tracked for contact tracing purposes. For that to happen, you have to also have a tracing app installed. Individual states are developing their own contact tracing apps to take advantage of this. Some of those apps are more invasive than others.

The Apple/Google system is actually designed to be less invasive than some others that are being developed by companies using their own frameworks. The APIs on the iPhone and ‘droids are supposed to work like this: a person who has tested positive and has the app enters that information in his/her app. If you have the app, when your phone detects that it’s in proximity of that person (which it does using Bluetooth), it notifies you. You then have the choice to get tested. The information is not (at this time) sent to the state or any centralized database. You can read more about this “privacy-preserving contact tracing.”

I keep saying “at the moment” or “at this time” because of course these APIs and apps could be updated at any time for “added functionality” — which could include using other location services (GPS, wi-fi) and/or “calling home” to upload the info they collect to the tech company’s or state’s servers.

One of the (many) potential problems with all of this is that proximity detection isn’t precise. Bluetooth’s range varies based on many factors but can generally extend to 100 meters (over 300 feet) for BT v4. This means your phone can “detect” another phone that’s much farther away than the 6 foot “social distance,” so you could be tagged as having “contact” with someone who was all the way on the other side of the grocery store from you.

As mentioned, some states are already creating their own apps that go farther and collect more data. Companies are also making contact tracing apps specifically for businesses to use with their personnel and many of these collect much more information. Some of these also enforce social distancing rules by detecting if you (and your phone) are within six feet of any other person and alerting you (and reporting it to your company’s department that is monitoring such things). Smart phone GPS is now accurate to around 16 feet, but indoors, especially depending on the building material, accuracy can be degraded. Atmospheric conditions, satellite geometry, and even radio interference can also affect accuracy.

The main takeaway here: Just because the app says you were in contact with a COVID positive person doesn’t mean you really were close enough for viral transmission to occur; it just means you were close enough for signal transmission to happen. However, you may still end up quarantined — depending on how your particular app works.

Something else to bear in mind is that just because you don’t install an app, that doesn’t mean you’re safe from having your technology used against you. Tracers could also check your phone’s GPS history, check your posts on social media that mention where you are at various times, use your car’s data event recorder (if you have a newer model), even use facial recognition technology to find your face on the multitude of cameras installed in businesses and public buildings if they’re really determined.

Currently you have the choice to install a contact tracing app or not. If “too few” people do so, what are the chances the next step is to push the apps onto your devices whether you want them or not? What about those of us who conveniently leave our phones at home when we go out, or keep them in a Faraday bag so they can’t send or receive signals? Will it become illegal to be out and about without a phone? Will we be required to show the app to enter businesses and public buildings (some have already started giving discounts if you show the app)?

Or will the government simply issue tracking wristbands that we’ll all have to wear when we leave the house? Singapore is already in the process of doing so, and many of its residents are not happy about the invasion of their privacy.

This is a test. This is only a test.

Your app’s location service isn’t the only thing that might not be accurate. Let’s back up for a moment. The way this whole contact tracing chain gets started is when someone tests positive for the virus. But do these tests have a high degree of accuracy? It turns out maybe not. Here in Texas, state officials are investigating a high rate of false positives at several nursing homes. A large number of patients and employees tested positive, but a second round of testing at a different lab came back with all negative results.

File:Blood test.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

How many more inaccurate test results are causing myriads of people to be quarantined unnecessarily? Since the common cold can be caused by a different strain of coronavirus, tests can come back positive because a person has simply had a cold. As if it weren’t bad enough to be put under house arrest because you were in the same store as someone with the virus and might or might not have been close enough to him/her to catch it, now you can have your liberty restrained when the original person didn’t even have the disease in the first place, but merely had a cold.

If testing is the foundation of contact tracing and the testing can’t be counted on to be accurate, doesn’t that feel a lot like being convicted in court based on evidence that may or may not be faulty? Of course, since this is a public health matter instead of a criminal matter, the protections guaranteed under the criminal justice system technically don’t apply — but the impact on your life, which is loss of your freedom, is very similar.

Who loves contact tracing?

Many epidemiologists, of course, find contact tracing very appealing because it feeds their hunger for statistical data about the disease, although others will admit that it’s unlikely to be effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19. This is understandable; they’re looking at it from the perspective of making their jobs easier.

What’s more puzzling is how state governors on both sides of the political aisle are suddenly head-over-heels in love with it. One wonders whether that’s because they think it makes it look as if they’re “going something” to address the epidemic, whether they’re power-hungry potentates who want constant surveillance of their citizens beyond disease control, or whether it’s simply a “money matter” — getting all those federal dollars for the state and/or getting under-the-table payments from the contact tracing companies for awarding them the contracts.

And make no mistake about it: we’re talking about a lot of money here. Contact tracing is suddenly big business. In fact, COVID-19 has created a billion-dollar industry that sprang up over the course of just a couple of months. To the average thinking person, the continued hysteria over the virus now that we know the fatality rate is little more than that of a bad flu season doesn’t make any sense — but when you follow the money, suddenly it does.

Many people are going to become very wealthy, from producers of PPE (including cloth masks that provide almost no “PP”) to vaccine manufacturers to “safety consultants” who charge big bucks to advise companies on new policies to virus testing facilities to contact tracing companies. That’s without counting the unexpected boom for suddenly-in-demand products such as webcams and green screens for work-from-homers, Amazon and the rest of the e-commerce industry now that more people are buying online and staying out of stores, and of course sellers of hand sanitizer, wipes, alcohol (both kinds) and inexplicably, toilet paper.

Who hates contact tracing?

Despite its obvious appeal to data collectors, would-be dictators, those making money off it, and those for whom it soothes their paranoid fear that every human being they see on the street is going to give them a “deadly” virus, there are many who are not fans of this new and “improved” brand of contact tracing.

The anti-contact tracing sentiment is especially strong here in the Lone Star State. The Texans and Americans Against Contact Tracing group on Facebook is one of several and has attracted over 13,000 members in a couple of short weeks of existence. Publications on both sides of the political aisle have raised privacy and liberty concerns regarding tracing, and a group of Texas state legislators, led by Republican state senator Bob Hall, have stepped up to speak out against contact tracing in our state. The Texas Freedom Caucus has called for an immediate end to the $295 million contract that Governor Greg Abbott recently awarded to contact tracing company MTX.

There is never a right time or right way to do the wrong thing. In the COVID-19 scenario, contact tracing is technically wrong, financially wrong, and morally wrong.

Texas State Senator Bob Hall

As more and more new information comes out about the misinformation that government agencies have disseminated throughout the COVID crisis – and even those most inclined to blindly follow the leaders are having a hard time reconciling the constantly changing conflicting “facts” that entities such as WHO and the CDC put out – trust in government is at an all-time low.

Add to that the mass protests aimed at the police, one of the most visible branches of government, and there are a whole lot of folks out there who aren’t inclined to put their lives and freedom in the hands of a government-contracted company dedicated to tracking their every move in hopes of finding a reason to lock them up in their homes again.

The polls show widely varying results when Americans are asked about contact tracing: on May 12, an Axios-Ipsos poll showed respondents to be overall opposed to using a contact-tracing app, with 48% saying they wouldn’t use it if established by the CDC and 68% saying they wouldn’t if it were established by the federal government (apparently they don’t realize the CDC is a federal government agency …).

Interestingly, another poll taken by the same organization just one week later, on May 19, indicated that most Americans are on board with tracing if it doesn’t involve revealing their cell phone location data. However, the very different wording makes it hard to compare the two polls.

Bottom line is that a whopping 84% of those responding said they would self-quarantine for 14 days if they were notified that they had come into contact with someone who tests positive for COVID, but only 56% said they would give tracing officials access to their phone’s data if they themselves tested positive. It seems close to half the population does not trust tracking apps. Maybe that’s because we’ve all used computers and mobile devices and seen just how badly a program can mess things up.

Even many of those who support enhanced contact tracing acknowledge that it is intrusive. Some will even go so far as to admit that it can be a violation of constitutional rights. Unfortunately, although many folks assume it’s a HIPAA privacy violation, that statute contains an exception for public health. However, in late April some Republican senators announced that they were planning to introduce a COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act that would give people the right to opt-out of tracing apps’ data collection.

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It’s a little disheartening that privacy advocates such as the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) have generally focused their concerns more on whether the apps are open to hacking than the intrusiveness of the concept itself, although the organization did publish an article back in March pointing out that governments haven’t shown that location surveillance would actually help to contain the virus and goes on to say:

Moreover, fear of surveillance chills and deters free speech and association. And all too often, surveillance disparately burdens people of color. What’s more, whatever personal data is collected by government can be misused by its employees, stolen by criminals and foreign governments, and unpredictably redirected by agency leaders to harmful new uses.

ADAM SCHWARTZ AND ANDREW CROCKER, EFF website
MARCH 23, 2020

Likewise, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), rather than taking a strong stand against the expansion of contact tracing, issued a white paper recommending “governance principles” for adopting tracing programs. The good news is that those principles include that “any use of a contact tracing app or technology is voluntary, including by prohibiting private and public entities from making the use of a contact tracing technology a condition of employment, housing, or access to critical services like grocery stores.”

The cost/benefits analysis

Even if we put privacy and constitutional rights aside (which, of course, we should never do), we need to ask another very important question: Is the cost of contact tracing worth the benefits? According to an article in the MIT Technology Review:

A team in any given region would have to detect at least half of new symptomatic cases, and reach at least half the people they were in close contact with and encourage them to stay away from others, in order to reduce the transmission rate by 10% or more.

James Temple, “Why contact tracing may be a mess in America

Now Congress is being urged to fund a contact tracing workforce of nearly 200,000 people at a cost of $12 billion. Remember that we’re talking here not about a disease like Ebola, with a 30-50 percent fatality rate. Not like smallpox, with a fatality rate up 30% and life-long scarring of up to 80%. The CDC has, as of this writing, provided a “best estimate” of the fatality rate for COVID-19 as 0.4% — or two-fifths of one percent — and possibly as low as 0.2%.

Although every death is tragic and I have deep sympathy for those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, the facts show that a very large percentage of those deaths are among the most vulnerable population – the elderly and those with serious underlying medical conditions; in other words, the same people who make up most of the annual flu deaths each year. In fact, the World Health Organization reported in 2017 that 250,000 to 650 000 people die of respiratory diseases linked to seasonal flu each year.

We’ve never deployed an “army” of contact tracers to track down everyone exposed to the flu. Why not? Because it’s so common, with so many infections that are so widespread that it would be ineffective, and because despite the large number of deaths, the fatality rate is so low that the cost wouldn’t be worth it.

And let’s remember that there are additional costs of implementing this new version of contact tracing (since it relies on digital technology, let’s call it contact tracing 2.0) that aren’t monetary. Turning the public health system into an army of “enforcers” will seriously undermine the public trust in its medical system.

Many people are already afraid to go to the doctor for their routine visits because they’ve heard that everyone is being tested for COVID and they don’t want to risk quarantine — not just for themselves but their families and friends. Some are even hesitant to go to the ER despite serious symptoms of heart attack or stroke for the same reason.

There are horror stories out there about elderly people who went to the doctor for a minor issue, were required to be tested for COVID, and then were forced into the hospital even though they showed no symptoms (that couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Medicare pays hospitals more for patients diagnosed as COVID-19, could it?). Tales like this have some people terrified of seeking any medical care for anything.

Another intangible cost: Contact tracing, like social distancing and masks, will alienate people from one another. Now the hysteria over the disease itself and the paranoia about certain death if you get too close to someone outside your household are dying down in light of the much lower fatality rate than was previously thought. But just as we thought we could go back to enjoying human company again, we’ve been fed a new fear: if we socialize with someone and then they get exposed, boom! We’re on the contact tracers’ radar. And if we get exposed, we’ve done the same thing to them.

The past three months have been surreal – something out of a bizarre novel. Overnight the comfortable world in which we lived was turned upside down and our lives were put on hold indefinitely. Jobs and businesses were destroyed, relationships ruined, and our emotions ran the gamut from fear for our lives to anger over the lies to worry about the loss of autonomy and control over our own bodies and medical decisions.

But we got through it (well, most of us did — some decided they couldn’t handle living in a COVID-era world and took their own lives; suicide rates shot up sharply during the pandemic). The good news started to emerge, including the lowered fatality rate, the information that surface transmission was unlikely and that asymptomatic transmission was rare. Life was beginning to return to some semblance of normal — but then along comes the specter of contact tracing to make us feel as if we’re caught in a Minority Report world where instead of having to be afraid of being punished for a crime you haven’t committed yet (and might never commit), you have to worry about being put under house arrest for a virus you don’t have yet – and might never have.

Summary

For decades, contact tracing has been a useful tool in the public health arsenal to fight communicable diseases. It was critical in the eradication of smallpox, and was used to help track HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, SARS, and other infectious diseases. Contact tracing as it was practiced in those cases is a legitimate and important process that can help limit transmission of serous illnesses.

However, contact tracing as it’s being ramped up in response to COVID-19 is like nothing we’ve seen before in the public health arena, and raises serious ethical and legal issues. Private contractors will be privy to confidential medical information of millions of people. Tracers will be given authority, at least in some states, to forcibly quarantine people who may not have been exposed at all, or who were in contact with people who are thought to be carriers because of false positive tests.

Those who refuse to “voluntarily” quarantine or who refuse to divulge the personal information of people with whom they’ve been in contact may be subjected to civil or even criminal penalties and may be forcibly removed from their homes or have their children taken from them. Millions or billions of taxpayer dollars will be wasted, creating a national debt that will fall on the shoulders of Americans for generations to come.

Is it worth it, for this disease? Apparently most of our elected leaders think it is. I wonder if they’ll feel the same if this turns out to be the hill they die on in their next election. No doubt they’re watching the polls, but polls can be deceiving (ask John Kerry and Hillary Clinton). I have a feeling a lot of those citizens who are currently saying they’re okay with contact tracing will change their opinions when it’s them or their loved ones who find themselves caught up in its web and discover that the freedoms they once enjoyed are gone without a trace.

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Behind the Badge

COPYRIGHT 2020 DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER

Under the gun and behind the badge,
there’s a heart and a soul and a mind
and a fear that it’s clear everything he holds dear
disappears in the tunnel of time.

You look in his eyes, but you don’t know they cry
for all of the horrors they see every day.
You might see him fight, but he prays every night
for the wisdom and courage to choose the right way.

You may think he’s bad, but you’ve never had
to make the split-second decisions he makes.
You think he doesn’t care, but you haven’t been there
and you have no idea of the toll that it takes.

Under the gun and behind the badge,
there’s a person a whole lot like you,
who loves and who tries, who lives and who dies,
and who’s doing the best he can do
to stand between those who would hurt you and you.

DLS ©1992

It’s been twenty-five years since I wore a police uniform and badge — although I still have my shiny gold sergeant’s badge and patches from those uniforms proudly displayed in a shadowbox in my office.

There are times when I look back and miss some aspects of being a cop. I miss the adrenaline rush when you get a hot call. I miss the “good kind of tired” that you feel after a long, hard day or night. I miss the camaraderie with colleagues, the bond between people who entrust each other with their lives every time they work a shift together.

Most of all, I miss the part of it that I did best: training new recruits. Taking raw “embryo cops” who entered the academy with hopes and dreams — some of them realistic and some not — and watching them grow in confidence and knowledge of the law and how it should (and shouldn’t) be enforced, and seeing them go out into the world and go to work for law enforcement agencies and put into practice what I had taught them.

Even now, out of “the job” for a quarter of a century, I am so proud of so many of those to whom I handed their certificates of graduation from the academy. Many have retired with honor after decades of service. Many are still serving. Some went on to rise up the career ladder and became lieutenants, captains, and chiefs of police.

Quite a few did as I did and moved on to other careers at some point. Some of the best cops I knew left for whatever reasons and are now in private security, private investigation, IT, and other related fields. Some are attorneys; one is a judge. Some ran for elected office — and won. Some pursued creative paths: music, writing, art.

Whether they wore the badge for a lifetime or only a few years, I love hearing from most of them. Many who discovered law enforcement wasn’t for them have told me that nonetheless, the skills they learned and the mindset they developed in the academy have enhanced their lives. I wrote this, a long time ago, for them:

They see a uniform, colored dark blue,
and a badge, but they don’t know what it means to you.
You’re young and you’re strong and you’re handsome and tall;
You’re a cop, and that’s a lot — but that’s not all

There’s a human heart beneath the steel plate in your vest,
and there’s a man doing all he can to do his very best.
You’re somebody’s brother and somebody’s son, and somebody loves you a lot,
and somebody’s proud now of what you’ve become:
a damn good cop.

You stand up tall and you answer the call,
and you never let them see you cry.
You never show us your pain or your fear,
but they’re there, in the depth of your eyes.

And they don’t have to care, but they’d best never dare
say a bad word about you to me.
You do something they wouldn’t know how to do
and you’re someone they don’t have the courage to be.
You’re somebody’s hero and nobody’s fool,
and I care about you a lot,
and the people who matter respect what you do,
what you are: a damned good cop.

DLS ©1992

What I don’t love is the occasional news that one of them didn’t follow the principles that I tried to instill in them, the duty to uphold the constitution and the rights of all their fellow citizens to which they swore allegiance. I’ve had the terrible experience of hearing that a former student or fellow instructor or someone I worked with has been fired or even arrested for misconduct.

The other news that I don’t love is that one of those guys (or girls, but there weren’t many of them back then) has not just left law enforcement but has left this life. A few died in the line of duty, but more were victims of some of the byproducts of a job full of stress: heart attacks, strokes, alcohol-related illnesses, motor vehicle accidents, suicides, even domestic violence.

I’ve been to too many police funerals. I don’t want to go to any more anytime soon. But what’s going on in the world today makes me think I may not get that wish.

I am afraid for all of you who are still wearing the badge, in this tumultuous time. I know how good and caring most of you are. I know how hard you work, and how little appreciation you get. I know why you keep on doing it despite the lousy hours, the low pay, and the lack of support from the citizens you serve, the administration you work for, and sometimes even your own family and friends.

I know how difficult it is for your loved ones to say goodbye to you as you begin your shift each day, never knowing for sure whether you’ll come home when it’s over. I know how it feels to wear the black band across the badge in honor of another fallen officer and wonder if tomorrow it will be you.

I know how high the standards are that you’re held to. I know how frustrating it is to be judged by people who have all the time in the world to dissect the decisions you had to make in a split second — when the consequences of making the wrong one could result in your death or that of some innocent person.

I know how damaging it is to always try to leave your work at the station, to never talk about the horrors you’ve seen to your spouse or parents or children, to shield them from that ugly side of humanity with which you have to deal every day.

I know how much it hurts to never be able to let your emotions show, even with those who care, and how sometimes at night when you’re all alone and sure nobody can see, you let a silent tear trickle down your face. I know why you lie awake, toss and turn, even when you’re exhausted after a long, hard day – or night – on the job. I know why sometimes you drink more than you should.

And I know how it feels when a fellow officer crosses the line and brings shame and pain on every man and woman who puts on the uniform. I know how it feels when good cops get the blame for the mistakes, poor judgment, or deliberate brutality of bad cops.

I know how it feels to see that sudden flash of pure hatred on the face of a stranger on the street, not because of who you are but because of what you are and what you do for a living – even though he has no clue what’s in your head and in your heart. I know how it feels to be afraid, not for yourself but for your family, and to wonder if continuing to do the work you felt called to do is putting them in danger.

I know how it feels to feel some of the things that you feel. But I don’t know how it feels to be in the middle of a huge crowd of furious people intent on hurting me. I don’t know how it feels to be trying to keep the peace while dodging Molotov cocktails. I don’t know how it feels to be overpowered and beaten by an out-of-control mob. I don’t know how it feels to watch your police car go up in flames. I don’t know how it feels to have your superiors tell you not to arrest the people who are burning down the city you are sworn to protect and injuring the innocent business owners and random stranger you are sworn to serve.

I know what it feels like to be a cop. But I don’t know what it feels like to be a cop today, in this world that’s gone crazy. I can’t even imagine the courage, the dedication, the integrity, the self-control that it takes to walk that thin blue line and continue to uphold the oath that you took in the face of so much hatred and violence.

To all the good cops who are out there in the trenches today and every day, thank you for what you do. Thank you for putting your life on the line to protect even those who would spit in your face and defame your name.

“And I will remind the many now, if ill of you they speak, that you are all that stands between the monsters and the weak.”

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Wolves in sheepdog clothing and other human animals

COPYRIGHT 2020 DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER

You don’t have to be a cop to be a sheepdog. But you ought to be a sheepdog if you’re going to be a cop.

File:F1 wolf-dog hybrids from Wildlife Park Kadzidlowo, Poland.png ...

I spent much of the 90s training cop wannabes in the law, practices, tactics, and philosophy of law enforcement, first at the NCTCOG Regional Police Academy in Arlington (where I got my own basic police training from some of the best in the field) and then in the Eastfield College Criminal Justice Center’s basic peace officer certification program.

The people who came into those classes ranged from former active duty military police to kids who knew little about law enforcement beyond what they’d seen on TV. My job was to teach them how to do the almost impossible job of being a good police officer. Another part of my job was to evaluate which of them didn’t belong in LE and help to ensure that only those fit for service ever put on a badge.

Every time a new class began, I knew I was standing up in front of a room containing a lot of sheepdogs, a few sheep, and maybe even a wolf or two. In the world of self-defense, we tend to divide humanity into those three categories — but it’s really not quite that simple.

Sheepdogs and sheep are easy to understand. Some of us are either born or have instilled in us at an early age the sheepdog mentality. Some others come to it later in life, through hard experiences. The sheepdog’s mission is two-fold: to be self-sufficient and able to take care of him/herself, AND to take care of others who aren’t able to do it for themselves.

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Most people are born to be sheep. Sheep are generally gentle, kind, caring, and giving. They’ll give you the wool right off of their backs if you want it. They see the best in everyone, and they just want to spend their lives peacefully grazing on the hillside and following the crowd wherever it wanders (or is led).

They often don’t think they need a sheepdog, and sometimes they confuse the sheepdogs with wolves. After all, they look a lot alike in the dark.

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Sheepdogs and wolves are both willing and equipped to fight — something sheep avoid if they can. They both often carry weapons, which scare the sheep. They’re both capable of deliberately taking a human life — albeit for very different purposes. Wolves have no hesitancy about killing to get what they want, to further their selfish agendas, to “make a statement,” or just because they enjoy it. Sheepdog will kill only if they must to protect their own lives or the lives of innocents.

The sheep, who don’t understand how vulnerable they are to the wolves, want the sheepdogs to just go away — or better yet, to learn to be sheep.

Wolf In Sheep'S Clothing - Free photo on Pixabay

It’s important to understand that all wolves are not created equal. Some are aggressive high-profile predators who actively target the entire herd of sheep. They rove in packs, emboldened by their numbers.

Others are lone wolves who do their dirty work alone, who enjoy going one-on-one with their victims. Some wolves pretend to be sheepdogs and some pretend to be sheep. Some proudly display what they really are for all to see. Wolves are dangerous – but, believe it or not, they aren’t the most dangerous personality types out there in the wild today.

To complicate things further, there are human animals who don’t fit neatly into the three common categories above.

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For example, some folks are Cape Buffalo. They’re pretty benign as long as you leave them alone, but heaven help you if you threat them or their herd. They aren’t wolves; they don’t go looking for trouble. They aren’t sheep; they’re ready and willing to stand up for their rights and kill you if they need to. They aren’t sheepdogs; they don’t give a flip about taking care of other animals. They retreat to their well-secured mountain cabins or rural homes and you won’t see much of them unless you go looking for them — which you’d be well advised not to do.

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Some other people are more like raccoons. They’ll sneak in during the night and steal or destroy your stuff, and they’ll bite and scratch you if you catch them at it and challenge them, but under their bravado, they’re afraid of you and they’ll flee if you fight them — unless they happen to be rabid.

If the virus of fear mixed with hatred has taken over their brains, all bets are off. They aren’t thinking, deliberate killers like the wolves, but the fact that they’re acting under the influence of mental confusion makes them even more dangerous. You might be able to appeal to a wolf’s self-interest to save yourself; a rabid raccoon can’t be reasoned with; it only knows it’s in pain and its response to that is to attack and keep attacking until it’s dead.

I won’t go into the more obscure personality types: the possums who “play dead” by never taking sides or speaking up for what they believe so you never know where they stand; the mockingbirds who repeat the songs of whomever they last heard sing and fool you into thinking they’re something they aren’t, then fly away laughing at you; the big cats who observe it all from their perches high on a tree limb, staying out of the fray but ready to pounce if they see an opportunity.

Leopard,big cat,feline,portrait,wildlife - free image from needpix.com

Let’s get back to the sheepdogs who defend society from the criminals and prevent the world from descending into chaos and anarchy — or at least, try to. That’s getting more and more difficult to do as the sheep turn against the sheepdogs because of the few wolves who have slipped through the cracks and are pretending to be sheepdogs — then ironically the sheep run to embrace the pack of wolves who make false promises to bring their fellow wolves to justice but who are actually leading the sheep to slaughter.

And the rabid raccoons are proliferating. A real virus that can infect the body created the perfect environment for the unleashing of a man-made virus of despair and anger that has infected too many minds and souls, driving them to engage in acts of destruction that will eventually lead to their own. And the big cats up there in the trees above it all are smiling, knowing that the wolves and the rapid raccoons will destroy each other, themselves, and maybe the sheepdogs — leaving nothing but the few surviving sheep who won’t oppose their feline masters, who will then be able to rule over them forever.

That is what the sheepdogs are valiantly trying to prevent. That is what the sheep don’t understand. It’s time to wake up and recognize the truth that has been attributed to George Orwell and was paraphrased by Winston Churchill:

“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

Sheep Animal Standing - Free vector graphic on Pixabay

Thank you to the rough men and women, who have stood through the years and stand today between the monsters and the weak. That includes the police officers and members of the military who are paid to be sheepdog and the many citizens who take it upon themselves to keep the sheep safe from the wolves, the rabid raccoons, and the big cats who are patiently waiting for the chance to pounce on us all.

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More on mask madness

File:Zo Omna no mask-MA 3254-IMG 9019-white.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

COPYRIGHT 2020 DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER

The Great Divide between the masked and the unmasked has widened and the battleground has gotten bloodier of late. Those on both sides have escalated from disagreement to argument to nastiness in a short period of time, and I’m afraid it’s only going to get worse as public health officials say things like “The general public could be wearing masks for the next year.”

I unfriended a long-time Facebook acquaintance this week after she proclaimed that those who don’t wear a mask in public should be “arrested for murder.” There have been videos posted of a gang of at least ten mask-wearers harassing and shouting hateful remarks at an unmasked woman in a supermarket. Others have reported being publicly ridiculed for wearing masks.

In the immortal words of Rodney King, why can’t we all just get along?

Seriously, it doesn’t have to be this way. Here’s a novel idea: let those who want to wear masks wear them, let those who don’t want to wear them go without them and if either of those conditions scares you, keep your anti-social distance from those people and go about your business.

No, no, no — I can hear (many of) the mask-wearers now — it’s not your body, your choice when it affects somebody else’s life!!! (always with at least three exclamation marks).

We’ll put aside for a moment the deeper ramifications of that statement and the cognitive dissonance it must create for many of those who are now adopting that position. The fact is: me not wearing a mask is not putting you in any danger whatsoever, other than the danger that your media-driven phobia will cause you psychic pain.

Because a) the masks that so many are wearing out there “in the wild” do practically nothing to protect the wearer or those around him/her, and b) even if I were shedding COVID everywhere I go, you can actually protect yourself by staying six feet or more away. Believe me, I have no desire to get up close and personal with you, anyway.

But the debate rages on, with some of the bare-faced calling the covered ones “snowflakes” or “maskholes” and some of the mask-wearers saying the unveiled are reckless, selfish, unreasonable, and (in their eyes the ultimate insult) “don’t believe in science.”

There’s a lot of irony in that. Because no, Virginia, it’s not just “uneducated, ignorant Trump lovers” who are saying cloth masks are basically useless against viruses. This is from no less reputable a source than the New England Journal of Medicine:

“We know that wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection …
“In many cases, the desire for widespread masking is a reflexive reaction to anxiety over the pandemic.”

And even when it comes to hospitals/healthcare settings, and in the context of medical-grade masks rather than the ridiculous cloth things most laypeople are wearing:

“What is clear, however, is that universal masking alone is not a panacea. A mask will not protect providers caring for a patient with active Covid-19 if it’s not accompanied by meticulous hand hygiene, eye protection, gloves, and a gown. A mask alone will not prevent health care workers with early Covid-19 from contaminating their hands and spreading the virus to patients and colleagues. Focusing on universal masking alone may, paradoxically, lead to more transmission of Covid-19 if it diverts attention from implementing more fundamental infection-control measures.”

Finally, we get to the crux of the matter and the real reason for mask-wearing that applies even more so to the general population:

“It is also clear that masks serve symbolic roles. Masks are not only tools, they are also talismans that may help increase health care workers’ perceived sense of safety, well-being, and trust in their hospitals.”

[NEJM May 21, 2020, “Universal Masking in Hospitals in the COVID-19 Era”]

Science - Handwriting image

So to those who complain that not wearing a mask is “ignoring the science” and “putting others in danger” and that we should “be arrested for murder,” please STFU. You are welcome to wear your symbolic talisman if it makes you feel safer, but I don’t need a placebo (facebo) to increase my PERCEIVED sense of well-being.

There are plenty of reasons to wear a mask. If you have allergies and are in a polluted area, masks can actually help protect against those particles, which are much larger than viruses. If you’re performing surgery, or working with someone with a compromised immune system, of course you should wear a mask — primarily to protect the patient from BACTERIA, which are also much larger than viruses. If you’re sick, or you’re the one with the compromised immune system and you think a mask will help, by all means do what makes you feel more protected.

Mask Cyborg Face - Free image on Pixabay

And if you like masks as a fashion statement, go for it — it’s less annoying than many other fashion fads. If you want some measure of anonymity in public, a mask might afford you a little of that. If you’re planning to rob a bank, sure — covering your face is both traditional and useful in that situation.

If wearing a mask, like carrying around a security blanket or a favorite teddy bear, makes you feel better, I have no problem with that. Just please stop with the virtue signaling and the bashing of those who have studied the real science and please drop the ridiculous slogans like “mask it or casket.” That (not the mask on your face) is what makes you look stupid.

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Unmasked

COPYRIGHT 2020 DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER

in·di·vid·u·al·ism /ˌindəˈvij(o͞o)əˌlizəm/
a social theory favoring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control.

Oxford Dictionary




Let’s get one thing clear up front: if we were talking about something that genuinely provides a significant measure of protection against the virus, I wouldn’t be writing this. Wearing a mask would be just common sense. But the moment the authorities said, “Leave the N95 masks for health care professionals” and “a homemade cloth mask or a bandana will satisfy the requirement,” they lost all credibility as far as real medical science is concerned and ventured into the arena of “safety theater” — something that I will write about in much more detail in a future blog post.

“We’re all special in our own way”
“Your uniqueness is your greatest asset.”
“March to a different drummer.”
“Be as unique as a snowflake.”

The prevailing philosophy in parenting and education has been, for decades, to reinforce each child’s individuality and special talents. In recent times the left, in particular, has been adamant about allowing children to define their own sexual identities and embrace their racial heritage (well, unless they’re white anglo-saxon protestants – but this isn’t about that).

In the U.S., we have a long history of admiring and elevating to hero status the mavericks who buck the system and challenge the status quo — in movies and history books. In real life, these days, apparently not so much — at least when it comes to uncovering our individual features in public places instead of hiding them behind a mask.

It seems as if a majority of those who are so passionately “my body, my choice” when it comes to abortion (and this isn’t about that, either) are just as vociferously dead-set against allowing adults to choose whether or not to wear a face mask to supposedly stem the spread of a virus.

But that’s different! ” That’s the popular mantra of the consistently inconsistent, who are insistently insistent on changing the rules depending on whether or not they like them. A fancier term for that is situational ethics.

Oh, I know many of the people who say this genuinely believe it is different. They’re the “mask believers” I mentioned in my previous post, the ones who have bought into the idea that they’re protecting either themselves or others around them, or both, by wearing a cloth mask or bandana. They’re well-intentioned, as the bamboozled often are. But this post isn’t about them. It’s about those of us who choose not to wear a mask (except perhaps in cases where we really need to enter a public venue that won’t let us in without it or in a situation with large crowds where distancing is impossible).

Showing our faces

The National Rifle Association did an ad campaign a few years back called “I am the NRA.” It featured a diversity of people from all walks of life, of different ages, races, and walks of life – men and women who, for their own individual reasons, belong to an organization that was formed to promote and protect the right of we, the people, to keep and bear arms.

Say No - Free image on Pixabay

That campaign would not have been nearly as effective if all those standing up for their constitutional right had been anonymous, hiding behind a mask to obscure their identities. And I think many of the “mask deniers” — as i heard one mask-wearing advocate call us — feel that by showing our faces in public, we’re making a statement about what we believe in (real freedom of choice) and what we don’t (the ever-changing stories and “facts” and advice being dished out by the government and media).

The mask, like so much else about the “COVID crisis,” has ceased to be about public health and has become a purely political issue. Those on both sides believe those on the other are blind to the dangers — either of the virus or of the government overreach.

There are those who believe — since the cloth masks that we’re being advised (and in some places, forced by law) to wear are basically useless against the virus — that the role of mask mandates is at least partially about erasing our individual identities, making us just part of a collective that will mindlessly obey its masters.

Others are more generous; choosing to believe that the “experts” and authorities are more incompetent than evil. Surely if this was some grand plan to crush our souls and decimate our rights, they would have been more organized about it and not made themselves look so stupid by constantly changing their advice and contradicting themselves.


It’s enough to make one wonder if the real purpose of the mask mandates is to force us to stay home after all. That is, due to the political blowback that politicians got over their lockdown orders, they knew they had to open things back up or face the consequences at the polls. But by requiring masks and thus making it so uncomfortable and frustrating to go anywhere, they’ll cause many people to just say “forget it” and “voluntarily” stay home.

I get the distinct feeling that this entire government response, including the mask issue and especially the upcoming contact tracing and then vaccine issues (which will be the subject of subsequent blog posts), is really just an elaborate game of chess and we’re all the pawns, being moved around the board without our consent.

It certainly seems as if somebody up there (and I don’t mean Up There) is playing with us, playing with our livelihoods, our quality of life, and in some cases, playing with our lives.

First, do no harm

It’s important to note that not everyone who goes maskless is making a political statement. Some are genuinely physically unable to wear a mask for any period of time without significantly impacting their ability to breathe; some even lose consciousness. Mask-wearing for any prolonged period of time is contraindicated for people with asthma, COPD, serious allergies, and other chronic respiratory conditions.

Masks problematic for asthmatic, autistic, deaf, and hard of hearing: health advocates

Others may not be physically affected by the mask but for someone with claustrophobia and some other psychological/mental conditions, wearing a mask may be terrifying, to the extent that they have panic attacks. Autistic children often can’t even tolerate wearing tight or otherwise uncomfortable clothing, so masks can be particularly challenging for them.

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Face masks also create practical problems for many people. Those who wear glasses find that the masks cause them to fog up so they can’t see. Glasses or not, a mask blocks your downward vision; this is likely one of the reasons that the mask-wearers seem to be the most frequent offenders in violating the “one-way aisle” signs in the grocery stores.

And then there are the communication problems that masks can cause – and not necessarily for the wearer. One of the main reasons I hate phone calls and prefer to talk to people in person or on a video call is because I have minor hearing issues stemming from exposure to loud sounds when I was younger (front row concerts and the shooting range without proper ear protection). I don’t exactly lip read, but I do use the sight of a person’s mouth forming the words to help me distinguish words that I don’t hear well. I can only imagine how deaf people who depend entirely on lip-reading are coping with the widespread mask-wearing. A person wearing a mask can’t project his/her voice as well, either, and so may seem to be “mumbling” even to someone with normal hearing.

File:Facial expressions - The Cartoonist's Art.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

And we don’t communicate via words alone. Everyone knows how easy it is to misinterpret people’s words in Internet chat or social media posts, because you don’t have the benefit of non-verbal cues — such as facial expressions.

Masks hide those expressions and make it hard to know if someone is smiling or sour-faced, happy or sad, concerned or relieved. We run a greater risk of misunderstandings when we can’t see one another’s faces.

To mask or not to mask

There is no one-size-fits-all mask (those “professional” ones that actually do confer some protection are custom-fitted to the wearer’s face) and likewise there is no universally correct answer to the question whether to wear a mask. Some will choose to wear one out of fear, to virtue signal, “just in case,” to make someone else happy, as a fashion statement, to demonstrate their political alliance or loyalty to the government leaders, or for other personal reasons we can’t even know. That should be their right.

Some of us will choose not to wear a mask because we believe it doesn’t protect us or anyone else, because it’s uncomfortable, because we believe it’s a method of identifying those who are willing to blindly follow arbitrary, unreasonable rules, because it’s detrimental to our physical or mental well-being, because it hinders communication, to demonstrate our political alliance or loyalty to the principles of freedom, or for other personal reasons that nobody else knows.

As a (mostly) libertarian, I believe each of us should be able to make whichever choice we think is right for us without being ridiculed, shamed, hated, unfriended, reported, fined, arrested, or otherwise made to suffer for wearing or not wearing a piece of cloth on our faces.

Calling someone else a “maskhole” without knowing the motives behind his/her choice, or screeching that someone is putting you and your family and all of mankind at risk of certain death because of his/her choice not to wear a face covering doesn’t accomplish anything positive. It certainly won’t stand a chance of changing those people’s choice; it will just reinforce to them that they’re on the “right side.”

As individuals, each of us should be – in this and other matters concerning our own health – free to choose.

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Behind the Mask

COPYRIGHT 2020 DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER

Perhaps it was inevitable that the unfolding fiasco that has been the world’s response to the SARS-CoV2 epidemic — excuse me, pandemic — has devolved into a Great Divide over a subject few of us gave much thought to six months ago: face masks. Given that this story has elements of both a tragedy and a comedy, the symbolic role of the mask seems particularly appropriate.

This mask-wearing phenomenon is a fascinating study in human psychology and I’m no longer sure that’s not by design. But that’s another train of thought for another time. Today I’m just thinking about the myriad of motivations that have led some people to elevate their masks to the status of “don’t leave home without it” (apologies to AmEx) and others to adopt the refusal to wear a mask as their hill to die on.

My biggest problem with telling people they can wear masks is it gives you this false sense of security. And it might even encourage you to think that now you’re protected and you’re protecting people around you. 

Lisa Brosseau, ScD, nationally recognized expert on infectious diseases “Cloth masks are useless against COVID-19

As more and more evidence emerges — studies come out, physicians speak up — that cloth masks do little to no good in protecting either the wearer or those around him/her from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, one has to wonder: why are so many people still wearing them?

Of course, you could ask the same about many other choices in life. Why do people get tattoos or wear nose rings or go out in pubic in ripped up jeans for which they paid exorbitant prices? That’s different, many will be quick to proclaim, but I postulate that in some instances, for some people, it’s really not.

Couple Wearing Face Mask Drinking Milkshake · Free Stock Photo

My opinion is that, as with most things in life, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to why people are wearing the mask. I try to keep that in mind when I subconsciously react to the sight of all those masks out in public.

The most common reply you get if you ask them is “I don’t do it for myself; I do it because I care about others.” But even the “I care about others” group can be divided into at least three categories.

  • First, you have the ones who actually DO care about others and have been brainwashed into thinking it’s protecting those others by the constant barrage of propaganda. Many in that group have elderly and/or immune compromised relatives they live with or care for and those are the specific “others” they’re trying to protect. I can respect that even though I doubt its efficacy.
  • Then there are the ones who don’t really care that much about others’ health, but they DO care about what others think of them. They’ve been shamed into wearing the mask by all the “Karens” (NOT Karins – LOL) who judge them and make them feel guilty if they don’t. They may know or suspect the masks are useless but they’re not strong enough to buck the crowd. They’re willing to give up their identities, comfort, and liberty to avoid making others – most of whom they don’t even know – “feel uncomfortable.” I don’t respect that but I do feel sorry for them.
  • Finally there are the ones who put the emphasis on the first word: I care about others.” As in I do and you don’t. These are the virtue signalers. They don’t really care about others; they care about being better than others. The mask has become their status symbol that announces to the world “I am a GOOD and CARING person.” I view them with the same contempt with which they view the unmasked.

But not everybody is wearing it because of “others.” I still hear/see a surprising number of comments to the effect of “if you think a mask is uncomfortable, just wait — you’re going to love the ventilator” or “I’ll keep wearing my mask; I’m not ready to die yet,” implying that they believe the mask is protecting THEM from the disease.

Those who wear a cloth mask to protect themselves from the virus are a little like the person who buys and carries a little can of pepper spray instead of a gun, and convinces him/herself it will provide magical protection against a determined attacker.

Some of these are the “vulnerable” (I’m beginning to hate that term, too) — the ones with underlying conditions who are just genuinely afraid and need to think they can do something to protect themselves, so they convince themselves that wearing a mask will do it.

They’re wrong, it’s the placebo effect and that shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. It’s a psychological mechanism that enables them to at least go out in public and have a modicum of normal life instead of cowering in their homes forever, so it’s actually serving a useful purpose for them — just not the purpose they think it is.

Page 9 | royalty free white blanket photos free download | Piqsels

When people are afraid, they revert to their childhood selves and they need their security blankies to make them feel safe. The mask has become that for a lot of folks. We who aren’t afraid tend to look at it as a measure of a person’s willingness to comply with arbitrary orders — their “sheepleness,” if you will. It is that, but it can also be a measure of their fear. Of course, the two are intimately related.

Volunteer Creates Face Masks for Shelter Residents - The Salvation ...

Then there’s another category and I see this mainly among young people but also some of the “elderly” (yep, I hate that word, too). They’ve decided to just have fun with it. They’re wearing the “fashion” masks with the animal faces or the rhinestone studs or — most ironic of all — the MAGA and “Vote Trump” logos. They’re making a statement with it. Some of them fit into one of the above categories and the “fashion” element is secondary, but I think for some it’s the primary reason they’re wearing them.

Of course, in some jurisdictions it isn’t really a matter of choice – at least if you want to go a public venues and you don’t want to be the object of calls to 9-1-1 and end up paying hefty fines. While some law enforcement agencies (kudos to them) have flat-out refused to enforce the orders of local dictators city, county, or state officials making masks mandatory, in other places the police are carrying out the mission of citing or even arresting these dangerous naked-faced criminals with a passion.

I think there are a growing number of people who just carry a “throw-down” mask with them in case they need to go into a business that won’t let them in without it. They’re willing to comply for that short period to get what they want. They’re pragmatists. They’re the ones who are unmasked as they walk up to the door, whip it out and slap it on when they see the sign, and rip it off immediately as they come back out (and often pull it down on their chins while they’re inside if they think they can get away with it).

African Masks | The sign at the market read: This Is Africa,… | Flickr

Finally, we must not forget that throughout history, masks have been used in both religious rituals and political rallies. For a certain proportion of the population today, it seems their political affiliation has turned into a religion for them, and their masks serve – at least partially – as a statement of where they stand and with whom they’re aligned.

While not yet as loaded as a “Make America Great Again” hat, the mask is increasingly a visual shorthand for the debate pitting those willing to follow health officials’ guidance and cover their faces against those who feel it violates their freedom or buys into a threat they think is overblown.

WILL WEISSERT and JONATHAN LEMIRE
Face masks make a political statement in era of coronavirus

So that’s my analysis of the mask-wearers and I’m sure there are other one-off cases who have motivations more complex or outside the scope of my categories. In my next post, I’ll share my thoughts about the different motivations of those who choose not to wear the mask.

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… But I won’t do that

COPYRIGHT 2020 DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER

I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.

Love is a many splendored thing. But now, under the pressure of fear, frustration, and forced togetherness, it’s becoming a many splintered one for some of the families out there.

For the past two months, I’ve watched people – both close friends and strangers – tear each other apart here on Facebook over their differing opinions regarding the virus and the government’s handling of it. In many cases, it’s gotten really nasty, with people being called “selfish,” “morons,” and even “murderers” for the opinions they expressed, sometimes by people who purport to love them.

Silhouette Couple People Man - Free vector graphic on Pixabay

Given the intense animosity that seems to go along with this subject, I can’t help thinking about the married (or unmarried) couples, and others sharing a dwelling place who are on opposite sides of this debate and have been locked down together for weeks on end with little to do other than fight about it.

What’s it like when a husband or wife — or parent or child, or sister or brother — is concerned about the economic fallout or the loss of liberties or the myriad of other practical consequences of the lockdown, while another member of his/her immediate family is terrified of getting the virus and violently opposed to any reopening or to anyone in the household venturing out into the world for any purpose?

I can only imagine the arguments, angry words, tears, stress, and distrust that could result from that. And there’s a potential for it to get much worse.

File:Impfausweis.JPG - Wikimedia Commons

If vaccines or “immunity certificates” become a requirement to get on a plane or a ship, to check into a hotel, to even go to a sporting event or enter a grocery store, what happens then? If one of the family doesn’t want to get vaccinated for whatever reason — fear of side effects, religious reasons, distrust of what else may be in it, etc. — and the other thinks that’s stupid and that everybody should capitulate, how will that play out?

In some cases it may be easier to defy government authorities than to stand your ground against your own family member. Those who have worked with abused spouses know that abusers are often good at “gaslighting” — making the victim feel as if s/he is wrong, crazy, stupid for feeling the way s/he feels. Even if actual abuse isn’t involved, a person with a domineering personality may try to pressure the weaker of the the pair into going along with the program.

And even some of those who would do anything for love won’t do that.

Divorce Separation Marriage - Free photo on Pixabay

But how many intimidated family members will give in because the partner, frustrated perhaps that the other won’t be able to go anywhere with him/her without proof of immunity, threatens divorce? Or worse, how many of those controlling partners will threaten to — or actually will — report the unwilling spouse or other family member to the mental health authorities and even have him/her committed to an institution for not accepting something that is so obviously there to protect him/her and the rest of society?

Impossible? I’d like to think so. But I wonder how many Jews really wanted to get out of Germany early, while it was still possible, but ended up in the ovens because family members persuaded them they were nuts for thinking their country would turn against them?

No, I’m not equating our country’s politicians, as bad as some of them are, with Hitler. I’m just pointing out that even in the most extreme situation where the threat is enormous, many people will let themselves be persuaded to do something they know in their gut isn’t the right choice rather than risk losing the approval of someone they love. And that’s scary.

Family Divorce Separation - Free image on PixabayBut even if it never comes down to that (and I pray that it doesn’t), I have a feeling a lot of marriages, parent-child, and sibling relationships are going to be irrevocably broken by the time this is all over. The worries over job losses and dwindling bank accounts and what the future holds, combined with the irritably and despair resulting from being locked down for days, weeks, months – it’s going to be too much for many relationships to withstand. If the members are in adamant disagreement about it, that straw may very well break a lot of camels’ backs. And that’s sad.

Every morning
I wake up and worry
What’s gonna happen today
You see it your way
And I see it mine
But we both see it slippin’ away.
(Glenn Frey / Don Henley / John Souther)

How many couples see it slippin’ farther and farther away, the longer the lockdowns go on? How many parents are estranged from their children and grandchildren because of differences regarding the virus? How many brothers and sisters are no longer speaking to each other, both convinced that the other’s position is uninformed, dangerous, and uncaring?

I’m lucky that my husband and I agree, these days, on most (though admittedly not all) of the important issues that we currently face. But I have known some couples who can’t even agree on whether the sky is blue and the sun rises in the east, and who have screaming matches over what to have for dinner. I don’t even want to think about what life must be like in those homes today.

Royalty-free separation photos free download | Pxfuel

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Fear Itself

COPYRIGHT 2020 DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER

Fear serves a purpose. It’s a survival mechanism; it exists to motivate us to act — not to paralyze us into being unable to do anything. That’s when useful fear turns into harmful phobia.
fear of knowledge

It seems as if there are a lot of people out there today who are suffering from this “fear of knowledge.”  No matter how many statistics you show them, no matter now much you explain the logic, they continue to behave as if COVID-19 had a 99% fatality rate and a 1% recovery rate, instead of the other way around.

A phobia is an unreasonable fear that exaggerates the level of actual danger in a situation and that interferes with your ability to live your life. To be afraid of venomous snakes is reasonable and prudent; that fear motivates us to avoid them, to be aware of our surroundings when we’re out where they live, to kill them if we encounter them.

To be so afraid of venomous snakes that we refuse to go outside at all, so frightened that we lie awake every night worrying about one getting into the house, so terrified that we kill every kind of snake or lizard or other snake-like creature we see is evidence of a phobia.

Unfortunately, today at least half of our population is in the grip of a powerful phobia in response to a propaganda campaign that has convinced them that they and everyone they know are in dire danger of death from a virus that has a 99% recovery rate.

Intense fear can cause “brain freeze” – a condition in which a person is unable to think or to act. Whereas fear is supposed to stimulate a flight-or-fight response, some people instead become paralyzed by fear.  That’s what happens to the deer in the headlights, who has time to get out of the way before the car hits him, but doesn’t. 

When I was teaching officer safety at the police academy, I called this state “condition black” in an expansion of famous firearms instructor Col. Jeff Cooper’s color-coded mental states of situational awareness. Condition Red was the state at which the threat is imminent and engagement (or retreat) becomes necessary. Condition Black is that situation where panic takes over and your mind “blacks out,” and you’re unable to react. 

Note that many self defense advocates have their own versions of Cooper’s Color Codes and some designate Condition Black differently or leave it out altogether as Cooper originally did.

Fear, as it manifests in a sudden self-defense situation, is different from fear instilled through deliberate and systematic indoctrination; the latter is much more insidious and is particularly difficult to overcome because in many cases, you don’t even recognize it. It has become an integral part of your world view.  Many of people who are operating now under the influence of their fears would deny that they’re afraid, and they aren’t consciously lying; they really don’t understand the emotional motivation underlying their opinions and beliefs and actions.

It’s possible to learn to resist brainwashing, but it isn’t easy. The CIA and other such government organizations put their agents through intense training and even so, it doesn’t always work. There’s even an American Psychological Association Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control.  And make no mistake: brainwashing (a.k.a. mind control, coercive persuasion, or worst of all, re-education) is exactly what has been happening (with varying degrees of success) to all of us over the last two months.

The techniques have been in use for centuries to greater or lesser degrees – by governments, schools, advertisers, and controlling individuals. We’ve all been subjected to them in some form and some of us have even used them – often, in our minds, for the good of the target subject. One might say that any persuasive speaker or good salesman is practicing a mild form of mind manipulation.

But, subliminal messages in ad photos aside, I have never before in my lifetime seen such a wide-spread, concentrated, and overt campaign to convince an entire population of something that, when examined objectively, doesn’t make sense. Of course, I didn’t live in Nazi Germany or Lenin’s Soviet Russia.

In 2005, I read Michael Crichton’s novel “State of Fear.” That book presented a scary scenario, but not nearly as frightening as the one we’re living with today. Its basic premise, though – the creation of a state of fear as a means to control people’s behavior – is basically the same. 

A friend recently confided in me about just how insidiously the fear that’s been fed to us continuously week after week had permeated his psyche without his realization. He and his wife had been in lockdown since the beginning of this, going out only to the grocery store. He’s been a strong advocate of ending the stay-at-home orders and reopening the economy, and had been shaking his head at the way some of his friends were letting fear control them.

Then, on Mother’s Day, for the first time in two months, they had a prolonged visit with another human being: their son. And shortly into the visit, my friend started to feel the old FUD – fear, uncertainty, and doubt – creeping in and coloring his perception and mood. He started worrying: what if the kid had the virus and gave it to him and/or his wife? What if they unknowing had it and gave it to the kid? What if one of them turned out to be amongst the less than 1% who die from it? What if, what if, what if …

Those what ifs can destroy all reason if you let them. I spent many years watching them take over my mother’s life, and I’ve had to fight them off on occasion myself over the years. I think most everyone who is gifted/cursed with an imagination has had to battle the what ifs at some point in their lives. And they were running rampant through this guy’s brain on Sunday. He didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to spoil the holiday for his wife and son, but his involuntary fixation on the what ifs certainly ruined any enjoyment the occasion might have held for him.

Then that night, he started experiencing what he knows in hindsight were psychosomatic symptoms: cough, fatigue, gastrointestinal upset, everything except the objectively measurable ones such as fever.  Of course he knew, intellectually, that symptoms don’t manifest that quickly, he was reacting via his limbic system, not his cerebral cortex.

The next morning, he even found himself distancing himself from his wife, unable to get close to her because what if she had the virus now, or he did? What if they both died because of a Mother’s Day dinner?

After all, the media has been painting those kinds of pictures for us every chance they get. People attend birthday party and end up dead. Choir practice at church results in virus outbreak and deaths. Etc., etc., etc. Who could blame him for the paranoia? Never mind that their son had also been isolating for the past two months and had been out “in the world” even fewer times than he and his wife had. Fear isn’t soothed by logic.

All the scare stories on the TV and Internet had him feeling rather than thinking, and the feeling they’ve been pushing is that if you have any contact with anyone outside your quarantined household (and maybe even with them), you’re going to die of this disease, even though the vast majority of people who get it have mild or no symptoms and fewer than 1% actually succumb to it.

Cartoon: Social distancing | Opinions | winchesterstar.com

Me, I’m a stubborn bitch. I’m highly resistant to being told what to do. I’m maddeningly insistent on examining every issue from the standpoint of facts, reason, and logic. I’m naturally suspicious of “experts.” Attempts to hypnotize me have always failed; I’m not very open to the power of suggestion. I can smell hype and exaggeration and lies and coverups a mile away.

But even I am not immune to this most elaborate ever crusade to terrorize the population in the name of public health and safety. At the height of this, I felt the twinge of apprehension when an oblivious jogger veered “too close” as I was walking the dog down the sidewalk. I internally debated over whether to go to the grocery store for something I needed or just stay “safe at home.” I had to squash the second of alarm that rose when Tom was asked to travel to San Antonio for work.

Maybe it’s because I saw what phobias did to my mother for all those years, or maybe it’s because of the strong role model I had in my fairly fearless father that I’ve been able to nip those momentary qualms in the bud and keep my own fears under control instead of allowing them to control and consume me. I made the conscious choice, long ago, that I would not go down that path. That decision has been my lifeline in this situation.

But I understand, and empathize, and pray every day for those who are being chased down that path today.

Fear Fearless Without - Free image on Pixabay

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Just in case there’s a butterfly

COPYRIGHT 2020 DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER

In many cultures, the butterfly is considered to be a symbol of life, endurance, and hope. Christians often view this beautiful winged insect as representing the profound change that comes with salvation, or the emergence from the cocoon as analogous to resurrection. 

On the other hand, they say dreaming about a butterfly cocoon may indicate that you feel isolated and entrapped, encapsulated and unable to escape. Certainly many of us having been having those feelings – if not the dreams – during the time we’ve been living under the ongoing “stay at home” orders. 

The flu has killed tens of thousands of people every year of your life. Other people catch it and barely have symptoms – just a few aches or sore throat.

Be honest now. Have you ever gone to the store or to work or out to eat when you were feeling a little under the weather? Did you wear a mask then? Did you give even one passing thought to the idea that you might have something contagious and might give it to the little old lady next to you in the check-out line or your friend at the office who has a kid with a compromised immune system?

We all know drunk drivers kill people. But so do drivers who are sick with a cold or headache, or at less than peak performance from lack of sleep the night before, or are emotionally upset over something going on in their lives, or are distracted by their kids in the backseat, food they’re eating in the car, or the music they’re playing.

Have you EVER driven a car in one of those conditions? Have you ever exceeded the speed limit? Looked away from the road at something you were going past? Made a sudden lane change or turn in response to your GPS or a sign? If so, you have put others’ lives in danger.

Iatragenic illnesses and deaths from medical malpractice/medical error kill as many as 250,000 people per year, especially the elderly. Have you ever pushed your older family member to go to the doctor for a minor problem? If so, you put their lives at risk.

My point is not that you should start quarantining yourself at every tiny sniffle or sneeze, or that you shouldn’t ever drive a car again, or that you shouldn’t ever take your loved one to a doctor. My point is that one of the unfortunate aspects of life is that we do inadvertently and unintentionally do things all the time that COULD possibly lead to the death of another person. This cannot be eliminated.

Risk, risk taker, sacrifice, jump, opportunity - free image from ...

Even if you choose to stay sequestered in your home forever, that means you’ll need someone else to deliver your groceries. In the process of doing that, s/he might get hit by a truck, or get bitten by a rabid squirrel while walking up to your door with your order, or be caught out in a deadly storm, or any other myriad of bad things to which s/he wouldn’t have been exposed if not for bringing you your food.

The Butterfly Effect is the idea that small causes can have large effects – that the flapping of the wings of a butterfly hundreds or thousands of miles away can influence the formation and path of a tornado several weeks later. It’s a concept that’s part of chaos theory, which states that apparently random states of disorder and irregularities are often governed by deterministic laws that are highly sensitive to initial conditions. Or more simply, for those who have watched Manifest, “It’s all connected.”

Butterfly Effect Wave Follow - Free image on Pixabay

Yes, our actions and choices and decisions do affect other people. Sometimes a particular outcome is almost inevitable. Other times it’s completely unpredictable. And most of the time, it’s a known possibility with a low or high probability.

So then it becomes a matter of studying the statistics and playing the odds. If the probability is high and the outcome is severe, we need to avoid the behavior. If the probability is low and the most likely outcome is mild, the benefits of the behavior may be greater than the potential benefit of avoiding it.

The odds of infecting someone with COVID-19 if you have no symptoms or known exposure to the disease are low. The odds that the particular random person you infect will die from it are even lower.

The other consideration in assessing the risk of taking a specific action is what the unintended consequences are likely to be. In attempting to save lives that might be lost to COVID-19, do the lockdowns inadvertently cause the loss of other lives – to suicide, child abuse, domestic violence, stress-related illnesses, non-COVID conditions that go undiagnosed and untreated, and so forth?

Early in this, I heard the response of governments to the virus described as akin to burning down your house to kill a wasp that got inside. Yes, you’ll accomplish your objective: getting rid of the wasp – but at what cost?

Corona Risk Infection - Free image on Pixabay

We can’t live our lives in fear of the hypothetical consequences of every action we take (or don’t). While the reluctance to take personal responsibility for what we do is a problem, so is taking personal responsibility to the extreme. You are not “killing grandmas” left and right by going out to dinner or getting your hair done.

You are not obligated to stop doing anything, ever, that could possibly put someone, somewhere, at risk. You’re only morally obligated to take REASONABLE precautions (don’t go breathe in grandma’s face after you go out; don’t drive when you know you’re groggy or mentally unfocused; cover your mouth and nose if you’re sneezing; stay home if you know you’re sick).

In the Huffington Post, of all places, I found this excellent summation by Joe Robinson:
“It’s one of the great, or maybe not so great, paradoxes of the human condition. In your brain every day the forces of fear and safety are hard at work trying to keep you in your bunker and squelch your craving for novelty, self-determination and freedom, otherwise known as progress.”

In this current situation, those who are gripped by fear and obsessed with safety are trying to do just that: keep us all in our bunkers, take away our self-determination and freedom, and prevent any progress in reopening our world and economy and restoring sanity and normalcy to our lives. 

We’ve all heard that we live in a “just in time” world now. It seems we’re also heading toward being a “just in case” society. We’ll lock everybody down just in case they have the virus. We’ll ban you from having guns just in case you might go on a shooting spree. We’ll not allow kids to ride bikes or play outside or walk to school just in case they might get injured or kidnapped. We’ll outlaw all sorts of harmless behaviors just in case they might lead to other, harmful ones.

We’ve taken “preventative medicine” and “proactive law enforcement” too far. We shut down the world “just in case” this virus was a Chinese bioweapon or Stephen King’s superflu. Now that we know that it’s neither, can we please end the nonsense — just in case we’re doing a whole lot more harm than good?

Fear Fearless Without - Free image on Pixabay

 

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The Shame Game

COPYRIGHT 2020 DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER

Shame Blame Bullying - Free image on Pixabay

Okay, peeps, this needs to stop. This morning on Facebook, I saw the happy post of a friend announcing that she has an appointment with her hair stylist this weekend. Certainly unruly locks, uncovered gray, and three-inch roots are small annoyances in comparison to the problems that many are facing today. They might even qualify for the dreaded hashtag label #firstworldproblems.

Most of the comments were along the lines of “congratulations” or from those in still-locked-down jurisdictions, friendly expressions of light-hearted envy.

But there amongst the responses was one so-called “friend” who said: “I can’t believe you would risk your life and your family’s lives just to look pretty.” Way to go, Negative Nellie. Let’s turn a happy moment into an opportunity to chastise and an attempt to create fear and guilt for engaging in an everyday, routine, legal activity.

judging

Sadly, this wasn’t an isolated incident. And those on my “side” of the lockdown debate (including myself) aren’t innocent of this tactic, either. I’ve also seen — and thought if not written — similar replies to those who advocate continued stay-at-home orders. “How can you just willingly give up your constitutional rights because of a virus?”

Of course, it’s every individual’s constitutional right to voluntarily give up his/her constitutional rights if s/he so chooses. It’s only when you start trying to make me give up mine that I should criticize or protest.

There are a lot of memes floating around out there, the purpose of which is to shame people into wearing masks or staying home, or on the other side to make people feel that they’re cowards or unAmerican for wanting to isolate longer.

That’s getting us nowhere. It’s making us more divided than ever (no small feat considering how politically polarized the nation already was before this came along). Shaming people doesn’t win hearts and souls and it rarely even changes behavior.

Yes, I know the thought of getting sick and dying of COVID is terrifying to many of you. Yes, I know the thought of having every aspect of your life and health controlled by Big Brother is terrifying to many of you (us). Ridiculing each others’ fears because they’re different from our own won’t make ours any less frightening, though.

Getting through this is going to require some cooperation and understanding. You have every right to get angry if someone wants to force you back out into the world before you’re ready (although you must also be willing to accept the consequences – financial and otherwise – of not going back). And you have every right to get angry if someone wants to keep you locked in your home when the statistics don’t support it (although you must be willing to accept the risk to your health of venturing back into the routine of normal life).

But you don’t have the moral right to get angry at someone else’s personal choices or to berate them for making those choices for themselves. Let’s quit blaming and shaming and start taking responsibility for ourselves and letting everybody else do the same.

#StopTheShameGame

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