To mask or not to mask

I’m not sure what the question really is. I had to listen to someone while working the other day explaining that masks are just encouraging us to breathe in our own carbon dioxide, killing our brain cells.

Now, that’s a lot to deconstruct. First, masks really catch respiratory droplets.

One category of evidence comes from laboratory studies of respiratory droplets and the ability of various masks to block them. An experiment using high-speed video found that hundreds of droplets ranging from 20 to 500 micrometers were generated when saying a simple phrase, but that nearly all these droplets were blocked when the mouth was covered by a damp washcloth. Another study of people who had influenza or the common cold found that wearing a surgical mask significantly reduced the amount of these respiratory viruses emitted in droplets and aerosols.”

Second, will wearing a mask kill brain cells?

COVID-19 can kill. Now, according to a misguided Internet-fueled theory, masks can kill, too.

All it takes is a mask-wearer who inhales freshly exhaled carbon dioxide repeatedly until dizzy, unconscious or dead. That, no doubt, would be a shocking development. In the real world, the average mask user without preexisting respiratory illness has nothing to worry about — except COVID-19.

Only an airtight mask could possibly cause any breathing difficulty. That eliminates cloth masks, the preferred personal protective equipment in public. It actually eliminates N95 respirators, too, usually reserved for healthcare professionals. They fit tighter than a cloth mask but still not tight enough on the face to kill. Surgeons wear even more substantial face coverings all day without endangering their health.”

And finally, what does it mean for people to think that conspiracy theories are gospel truth? How can we fix that issue? How can we be more intelligent, more diligent about how we access truths in the world?

At the end of the day, it comes down to thinking – to using those self-same brain cells in an effective way.


Politizing a pandemic

“The White House is taking aim at the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci. In a statement Saturday, a White House official told CNN that ‘several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things.'” (CNN)

When the first confirmed case of COVID appeared in America, President Trump said in an interview that, “We have it totally under control.” At the time, there was no reason to doubt that. China was facing the brunt of the disease, and here in the US, there wasn’t even a push to truly begin testing.

Nearly six months later, we’re looking at nearly 3.5 million cases and nearly 150,000 deaths. But how are we addressing it? Sadly, it seems to depend on how you vote.

While we should all be in agreement over handling this crisis, we can’t come to terms with even wearing masks to reduce the possibility of spreading a potentially deadly disease.

Around the world, the politics of countries are shaping how the nations are responding to the virus. Some are doing a better job than others. While we can’t be certain about the reporting across the board, we should accept that the virus has caused a much larger, and longer-lasting problem than we would have hoped.

Now, with the president and the CDC clashing over the best course moving forward, the nation’s hopes of unity in facing this crisis seem more unlikely.

Unerring Independence

On 2 July, 1776, the Continental Congress declared freedom from Britain. The Declaration of Independence was signed 4 July, 1776, and the majority of signatures were given to this document in August.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

John Adams said of this new nation, “It was patched and piebald policy then, as it is now, ever was and ever will be, world without end.” We see even today the unique challenges and opportunities of this “American Experiment”.

Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist I, pleads to the people, “Yes, my countrymen, I own to you that, after having given it an attentive consideration, I am clearly of opinion that it is your interest to adopt [the Constitution]. I am convinced that this is the safest course for your liberty, your dignity, and your happiness.”

Two-hundred forty-one years later, we stand with history at our backs. The great men and women of American upbringing, countless immigrants who have made these lands their homes, masters of industry and political prowess; they made way for what we now experience – the boons of prosperity, and the burdens we endure.

When this government was founded, it was a upon a belief of freedom from tyranny, and these new “Americans” died for this conviction.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Two documents: a Declaration and a Constitution. These are the backbone of America. We, the people… We comprise everything else. One no greater or lesser than any other. The military is our great skin, protecting us from external forces, and ensuring “common defence.” The three branches of government allows for “domestic Tranquility,” “Justice,” & promoting the “general welfare” of the citizenry.

The “Blessings of Liberty” are ours, and it is with great pride that one can call themselves an American. The political tides will change from time to time in this Country, and it is still at best “patched and piebald policy.” But the belief in this experiment, this liberty and justice for all, guides the people of this Nation towards the unknown future, as it always has done.

George Washington had this to say in his farewell address:

“The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.”

In closing, I am of the opinion that people may fail, and policies may falter. But the notions with which this Country was established will remain in perpetuity, so long as someone still remains that will say they are American. Happy Fourth of July.

We’re all a little sick sometimes

Healthcare. What a broken system. Same with education. Same with criminal justice. As a matter of fact, any system that should be in place to provide services and care to a country’s population, once it moves to the private sector, becomes a cash cow, pumping returns into wealthy investors’ pockets and political coffers to keep sympathetic lawmakers in power.

Want to fix healthcare? Stop letting the insurance companies run the industry.

We’ve been watching premiums rise, yes, since the advent of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), but even before then. There have been grumbling among insurers that costs are just to great under the new political policies to keep premiums at the same level.

However, consider this:

According to an November, 2016 article on Consumer Affairs, Amy Martyn reports that, “UnitedHealth announced record-breaking profits in 2015, followed by an even better year this year. In July 2016, UnitedHealth celebrated revenues that quarter totalling $46.5 billion, an increase of $10 billion since the same time last year.  And company filings show that UnitedHealth’s CEO Stephen J. Hemsley made over $20 million in 2015. To be fair, that is a pay cut. The previous year, in 2014, Hemsley took home $66 million in compensation.”

Okay. Obviously an isolated incident.

However, Ms. Martyn continues on to say: “Aetna, whose CEO Mark Bertolini reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission a $27.9 million compensation in 2015, has similarly celebrated sky-high profits. “In 2015, we reported annual operating revenue of over $60.3 billion, a record for the Company,” Aetna recently told investors.

Yet in this article from an issue last week of the Waco Tribune-Herald, written by guest columnist Merrill Matthews, there’s a little discrepancy regarding Aetna: “Also in May, Aetna said it would pull out of several other states. According to CNN, “The company said it expects to lose more than $200 million in its individual business line this year, on top of nearly $700 million in losses between 2014 and 2016. Aetna withdrew from 11 of its 15 markets for 2017.”

A simple Google search gives me CNBC’s report on quarterly profits for Aetna from January of  this year:

“Aetna’s net profit fell to $139 million, or 39 cents per share, in the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, from $321 million, or 91 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, Aetna earned $1.63 per share, handily beating analysts’ average estimate of $1.44 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.”

Well, man, this is confusing. Either they’re making money, or they’re losing money, but whatever it is it’s in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Okay. Let’s read on in this CNBC report:

“Aetna said its total health care medical benefit ratio — the percent of premiums spent on claims — rose to 82.1 percent from 81.9 percent, a year earlier, mainly due to higher medical costs in its individual commercial products.”

Which means they get to keep 20% of what they bring in, hundreds of millions of dollars. Just for taking money, than turning around and paying to medical professionals.

Yes, they’re moving money from healthy people to sick people. That’s the nature of insurance. But their business model is taking as much in as they can, and pay out as little as they can. That’s profit.

If you want to fix healthcare, get rid of insurance for profit’s sake. Otherwise, it’s one person’s best interest against a corporation driven by profits and shareholders’ best interests.

The week that was

When I first started Michael’s Musings, oh, some point early in the Obama Administration, I really just wanted a platform to rant and rave about what I saw as wrong with politics. Or, what I saw as right about Obama. Or, honestly, who knows. I made one post, and have since moved that to the trashbins of cyberspace.

Still, I’m civic-minded, and I see many things going wrong, and some that are going right. (It seems we always focus on the wrong, and rarely on what’s going right.) I’d like to devote my Sundays to writing about politics, about civics. About discourse that I muse about. So that’s going to be my Sunday devotional. Starting today.

This past week, Jon Ossoff lost in Georgia.

For the record, I was sick of hearing about this race.

I live in Florida. I’m a registered Democrat. The amount of emails was mind-numbing, mostly asking for money, and not giving me a damn lick of information that I cared about.

Problem number one: The message.

What is it you want the American people to know? The voters? The immigrants? The wealthy and the poor, the blue-collar and white-collar? And, most important, you need to stay honest.

Problem number two: How we lose.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about political races, about why we get into politics, about how we run campaigns. (I’m using the Royal “We” here, but I’ve considered running myself from time to time.) I have to believe that we get into politics to make the world, our world and our nation, a better place.

In my opinion, there’s a way to do it, even if you lose. Be better.

That’s it. Be betterDon’t smear, don’t snipe, don’t attack. You may not win a race running it fair, clean, and good. But if the only way you can win is by playing dirty, are you even winning?

That’s the nation that Trump became president in. We live in fear, and we live in troubling times. But even in losing, we can show the nation a better way.

I love the line from Hamilton: The Musical:

George Washington speak-sings, “If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on. It outlives me when I’m gone.”

Be the example. That’s the point of politics. Be better. And that’s all I have to say for this week.