All This Trouble, for Nothing!

It’s crazy, don’t you think? Crazy! All this drama, everybody being told to stay home, the economy crashing all around us… all this trouble for nothing! It’s a conspiracy, to increase government control of our lives. It’s an outrage!

Can you believe it? Some people actually think this way. It’s an outrage, all right. It’s an outrage to flout quarantine orders, an outrage to go out and try to live a normal life as if nothing has gone wrong. Something has gone terribly wrong. But I agree with one little piece of that made-up rant at the top of my essay here. It’s all for nothing. At best, it’s all for nothing. If everyone followed all the rules and maintained the required quarantine, took sanitary measures and didn’t touch their own face after touching anything else, nothing would happen. The progression of the disease would be stopped, or slowed to a pace that could be managed.


HANDS Wash them often
ELBOW Cough into it
FACE Don’t touch it
SPACE Keep safe distance
HOME Stay if you can

This isn’t news. We know this stuff. Well, you and I do. It’s simply stated but hard to do, at least hard to do thoroughly, completely, every time. But is it all for nothing? Is there no point in going to all this trouble ruining our routines, ruining our comfort, and to a significant degree ruining our lives?

Photo: NBC News

I don’t think anyone reading here really needs convincing, or if they do it would be hopeless for me to try. I thought this perspective, though, would be worth sharing. It came to me via my Hausman family brother Jim.

Emily Landon, the chief infectious disease epidemiologist at University of Chicago Medicine, took the lectern after Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), who on Friday afternoon announced that the state would undergo a stay-at-home order for 2½ weeks starting Saturday evening.

“The healthy and optimistic among us will doom the vulnerable,” Landon said. She acknowledged that restrictions like a shelter-in-place may end up feeling “extreme” and “anticlimactic” — and that’s the point.

“It’s really hard to feel like you’re saving the world when you’re watching Netflix from your couch. But if we do this right, nothing happens,” Landon said. “A successful shelter-in-place means you’re going to feel like it was all for nothing, and you’d be right: Because nothing means that nothing happened to your family. And that’s what we’re going for here.” 1

I am reminded of the Y2K problem. It was a problem that went away. It came to nothing. You might be too young to remember, but approaching the year 2000 computer scientists raised the alarm that since the advent of computers, dates had been stored with only two digits. When the year rolled, no computer way down in its primal innards would understand it was not the year 1900. Every computer-driven process that was supposed to advance by a day, on that day, would melt down, blow up, or at best just quit. Powerplants would fail, cars would stop, everything from home computers to coffee pots would be rendered useless. For years, working up to a crescendo nearing the fearsome date, scientist, programmers, engineers, and technology managers of all kinds worked to identify problems and rewire the innermost electronic brains of everything that could conceivably fail due to the Y2K fault. The world waited with bated breath as the year 2000 started creeping around the world. The dam held. New Year celebrations were fully lit by splendid electric lights that kept on working. Everybody who wanted to drink champagne, blow horns, and kiss each other did just that.

Many people had thought — and the result seemed to confirm their thoughts — that all that effort was wasted. See, it was nothing! They were convinced it had all been a big hoax. Nothing happened! All that worry, we knew it was BS all along. Nothing happened.

Nothing. We want all this trouble to come to nothing.

2019

California fires raged
With thousands dispossessed.
Heroic firefighters gave
Their all to save the rest.

Notre Dame Cathedral burned
The spire flared and fell
Smoke and flames made heaven cry
But made them smile in hell.

737 Max
An aviation wonder
Until it twice dove to the ground
346 are under.

As shots rang out in churches,
People shrieked in pain.
In synagogues and mosques alike,
The anguish was the same.

At Walmart in El Paso,
Twenty-two are dead.
Then a dreary bar in Dayton,
Again the news we dread.

Mueller turned his homework in
But left indictments open.
No collusion proven here!
Just like old Trump was hopin’.

And then the Congress held debates
All cynical and jaded.
“He’s impeached!” the Speaker said
And then she sat and waited.

Nothing changes, nothing’s good
If news is all you’re knowing
And all the while the world goes by
With goodness overflowing.

So here’s a toast to old 19,
It put us to the test.
And here’s a hope for 20-new
That we will see the best.

Refugees

I have been writing about refugees since December 2013, when I first started reading that Syrians, escaping war and running for their lives, were overwhelming the poorest country in the European Union, a place where I feel a deep connection and affection. “Bulgaria is a thousand miles from Syria! Are they desperate? Well, yes. That’s war, don’t you know? Damn them there, damn them here. War is hell…” That was part of my melancholy homage, that year, to the Christmas spirit. I continued hammering at the subject of refugees until late last year, when with a weary sigh I started picking at a few other themes to fill the space. About three years ago I decided to stop just figuratively wringing my hands about refugees and started volunteering at a refugee resettlement center. Doing something about something is so much better for the soul than complaining about it.

Photo from The Economist (2015)

In the time that I have been working at the African Community Center — don’t be misled by their legacy name; they handle refugees from all over the world — the world and I have both changed. I have become defensive on the subject of refugees, to the point of not writing or talking much about it. I have become tired of the arguments, and resigned to the cynicism and lack of compassion I see outside the small community of concern. I have had to accept that I can change my heart but no other. As for the rest of the world, the situation is dire and getting worse. For both those blissfully unaware of it all and for those feverishly working against the tide, the result is the same: apathy and futility have the same result.

Refugees are living displaced from their homes by the millions — millions! — in Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, and Iran. Lesser numbers, but still large, live in Uganda, Jordan, and Germany. Really, enumerating more countries hosting refugees is pointless; they are all over the world, mostly in poor countries nearest to the places besieged by war and terrorism. 1 Only a fraction live in refugee camps, although refugee camps recognized by the UNHCR 2 are the exclusive screening mechanism used by the United States for admittance of the few who are selected to be resettled here. Refugee families typically arrive on an airplane, bringing documentation and medical clearance papers. They also carry a note of indebtedness for their airfare that has to be paid back to the U.S. State Department as they become employable and get on their feet in their new country.

As for the United States, though, we’re not even talking about the refugees that have been my focus for so long. Unlike refugees, who flee their homes due to war or persecution, migrants choose to move for better economic opportunities or family reunification, or, as a separate but overlapping reason, for asylum. Still, the parallels are striking, starting with the lifeboat analogy and encompassing every kind of response from unalloyed and impractical mercy to vicious, blind hate speech. Why is this so hard?

What has consumed us since before the last election, when fear was weaponized as a political strategy, is the terrible mess at  our southern border not with refugees but with other kinds of migrants. Many of those are seeking asylum, as is their legal right if they can prove they would face danger of harm or death back at the homes they left. Our broken-down system of handling the process of granting asylum has choked on the volume, and is completely unable to sort out the legitimate asylum seekers from those that will not qualify. Worse, it cannot account for, let alone care for, either category.

I read an article in Time that reached into my heart, and expressed so much better than I could the reasons for my concern. It was written by a celebrity [groan] but one with a high degree of earned credibility on the subject. I recommend it for your consideration.

Angelina Jolie: The Crisis We Face at the Border Does Not Require Us to Choose Between Security and Humanity

TL;DR

“We all want our borders to be secure and our laws to be upheld, but it is not true that we face a choice between security and our humanity: between sealing our country off and turning our back to the world on the one hand, or having open borders on the other. The best way of protecting our security is by upholding our values and addressing the roots of this crisis. We can be fearless, generous and open-minded in seeking solutions.”