Tuesday, February 25, 2020

We'll Know By Summer

“How were you affected by the 1918 Swine Flu epidemic?”

After returning to the classroom in 1979 to teach history, one of the first assignments I gave was for students to find someone 70 years old or older and ask a series of questions. Interview subjects would have been born in 1909 or earlier and, if they lived in New England, would almost certainly have known people who died in that plague. Its American epicenter was Fort Devens in central Massachusetts.

It was called "Camp Devens" then.
About 850 soldiers died there in 1918 after it spread from Commonwealth Pier in Boston where the first recorded outbreak seems to have occurred according to the New England Historical Society. The American version of the epidemic eventually killed 675,000 Americans and perhaps 100 million worldwide. Even more surprising was that the most vulnerable demographic was young adults — about 10% died globally.

The 1918 virus seems to have been the worst plague in history.

In last week’s column "Between Now and November" on the presidential campaign I added a paragraph at the end about what might threaten President Trump’s biggest advantage — our strong economy. I suggested the Corona Virus, now called Covid19, might be that threat. After only a week, it’s virtually certain. At this writing (Monday midday), the stock market and bond market are both crashing. Traveling in India, President Trump claimed the virus is a short-term problem that won’t have a lasting effect on the world economy. “I think it’s a problem that’s going to go away,” he said — this according to zerohedge.com which has become my go-to site on the virus.

Trump has said a lot of stupid things, but I believe that statement will come back to haunt him.

Epidemiologists have more questions than answers about this newest plague and that’s because China, where it originated, is a closed society with a government which controls information. It’s lying about what has been going on. Did Covid19 originate when Chinese gourmets ate bat soup as some suggest? Or, did it escape from a bioweapons lab in Wuhan as others suggest? We don’t know.

People exposed to the virus have been quarantined for 14 days to see if they show symptoms, but reports the past few days indicate that quarantine should be extended because some victims have gone 27 days before symptoms manifest. Can the virus be contained? Doubts are rising as fast as the virus is spreading — at lightening speed. Today (Monday mid afternoon) the World Health Organization is announcing that the virus is not yet pandemic — but we all kind of know it is, right? Said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus today: “Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely. Are we there yet? From our assessment not yet.”

South Korean at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
How soon will it affect us here in America? Yesterday I read a report that South Korean Catholics who were visiting crowded holy sites in Israel returned home and tested positive for the virus. Israel then announced it would ban South Korean tourists. I texted the article to my sister and brother-in-law who were on tour visiting those crowded holy sites in Israel and they hadn’t heard anything about it. Then I waited to hear if they were allowed to board their flight from Tel Aviv to Newark, NJ. They told me tourists with whom they were traveling were going on to Jordan and were subjected to health checks at the border. This morning I learned they landed in Newark and were awaiting a flight to Boston.

Yeah, it’s affecting us here and it’s only the beginning.

China’s economy is tanking. Car sales have dropped 92% for February. As of February 13, China has virtually stopped importing crude oil. Tankers are backed up offshore. Since China makes so many products we buy including iPhones, we’re bound to be strongly affected here in America. The supply chain of vital components for products manufactured here in the USA will be slowing down and cut off as well. Japan may cancel the Olympics scheduled this summer. The Epoch Times this morning (Tuesday) quoted Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley:“80 percent of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients are produced abroad, the majority in China and India.”

We know, even if Trump doesn’t, there will be economic turmoil worldwide, but we don’t know yet how many of us will die. We in the USA and Europe are better equipped to treat people than third-world countries in Africa so our survivability rate is likely to be better. It seems that a percentage of those who become infected will die, but what is that percentage? We just don’t know because the Chinese Communist Party controls the flow of vital information on Covid19 and spins it for its own political purposes.

Eventually I had to drop the Swine Flu question from the elderly interviews as those old enough to remember it died off. We can only hope Covid19 doesn’t kill as many of us as that plague did a century ago. It’s likely we will know by summer.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Left & Right -- Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Mark Guerringue sits in the left chair. Our producer's first question asks about AG Barr’s recommendation of a reduced sentence for Roger Stone. Do we think Barr did it at the behest of President Trump?

I say Barr is sharp enough to know the former Mueller prosecutors who recommended the high sentence were out to get Donald Trump and his associates and doubt any collusion between the Barr and the president.

Mark thinks I’m “defending another criminal” and Stone gets what he deserves. He claims I believe in the Deep State which he says doesn’t exist except as “another conspiracy from the right.” He cites a retired FBI agent he spoke with who claims Trump was demoralizing to the FBI by his constant attacks.

I cite another retired FBI agent with whom I’ve spoken who has almost the same background as Mark’s guy but who has the opposite opinion and sees the Deep State for what it is.

Mark asks could Bernie, as an outsider, win the presidency the way Trump the outsider did four years ago? I don’t think he can because he isn’t flexible. His support is based on his unchanging nature, that even people who think him too radical-left trust him because he’s always been that way. Mark’s paper, the Conway Daily Sun, endorsed Bernie.

Mark believes that many of the Bernie supporters out there would vote for Trump if Bernie doesn’t get the nomination because they’re both outsiders. Mark says he voted for Amy Klobuchar in NH primary but wrote the editorial endorsing Bernie because “the job of the paper is to come up with the best candidate for the Democratic Party,” and does the same for the Republican Party.

Mark thinks Bernie will likely lose to Trump, but maybe not. If he gets elected he’ll push Medicare for all, but won’t get it. He’ll just tweak Obamacare. I read a quote from Pete Buttigieg two years ago endorsing Medicare for all, but he’s changed his mind since.

I raise Trump’s new Middle East Peace Plan in which Palestine gets the West Bank in exchange for acknowledging Israel’s right to exist — the old Oslo Plan essentially — but the Palestinians have only four years to accept it. If they don’t, the United States would support Isreal annexing the West Bank. What’s new now is that Saudi Arabia and Egypt won’t object to the plan. It’s a game-changer.

Mark asks what Trump could do to lose support from Republicans. I say he could stop appointing conservative judges and that would do it. Mark says the economy is doing well, and if that changes it could affect the November election, but incumbents usually win anyway.

I bring up the UK out of the EU and mistakenly say “Trump endorsed Jeremy Corbyn.” I meant Bernie endorsed him and I compare Boris Johnson to Trump. I see Brexit as a move toward decentralization of government similar to what conservatives want in the United States. Mark sees the EU as politically stabilizing for a Europe which erupted in wars large and small every generation. 

We take the second question from the producer: “How will Mitt Romney’s vote to convict affect his political career?”  Mark says he’ll make history as the only senator the same party as an impeached president to vote guilty but it won’t hurt his career. I say Romney comes across as a wimp and he’s been that way on the national stage. It’s why he lost to Obama. He lacks spine.

Mark says Iowa and NH should continue as first-in-the-nation caucus and primary because they’re demographically representative of the USA as a whole. I suspect the major parties will likely move away from those states.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Between Now and November

Democrats and their mainstream media allies hate Donald Trump, and that hate has been the central political dynamic of the past four years. By extension, they also hate Trump supporters which comprise more than 60 million Americans who they consider ignorant at best, or irredeemably racist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic at worst. As someone who held my nose when voting for Trump in 2016 I shall likely do so again in November, only this time with relish.

Democrat voters interviewed by Mainstream Media during the New Hampshire primary last week were asked who they liked, but their answers were more about who they didn’t like — Donald Trump. They weren’t sure what Democrat to vote for and would make up their minds in the voting booth, at which time they would choose the candidate most likely to beat him. Bernie supporters were rabid for their guy but supporters of the other candidates were unenthusiastic. Democrat and media pundits are afraid Bernie will get the nomination and then be easily beaten by President Trump.

The pundits, however, still don’t understand the 60+ million Americans who voted for Trump in 2016 and likely will again in November. Neither did they understand the Tea Party movement a decade ago. Back then they went looking for Tea Party leaders to interview but couldn’t find any. They couldn’t comprehend that this was a real, spontaneous, grassroots movement against what an Obama Administration which was growing government. Obamacare was taking over the healthcare industry and the president was spending nearly a trillion dollars on supposed “shovel ready jobs” to stimulate the economy.

At CPAC 2010 in the lobby
Attending CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) in Washington during 2010 and 2011, I sensed a discomfort in the Republican establishment running the conference with the upstart Tea Party thousands of whose members invaded CPAC. Republican leaders were not sure where this new, amorphous, small-government throng would fit in, if indeed it could fit in at all. There were no clear leaders with whom dealmakers could meet and talk about making sausage. Meanwhile, Democrats in President Obama’s IRS like Lois Lerner obstructed the Tea Party’s efforts to procure 501(c)4 status for their groups which would enable them to organize and raise funds.

Facing Republican condescension and Democrat obstruction, it soon became apparent to virgin activists in the Tea Party that neither side wanted them in their respective Washington cloisters. Thus spurned, these pockets of the Tea Party returned to their rural enclaves and either organized locally or returned to political dormancy — until Donald Trump started campaigning around their country. He woke them up.

Previewing what Hillary Clinton would later say about Trump supporters, Democrat spinmeisters  ten years ago said the Tea Party was racist and xenophobic. In a September, 2019 interview with the leftist publication Mother Jones, Harvard government professor Theda Skocpol reiterated those accusations against the emerging Tea Party of 2010 who were later to become Trump supporters. She said Trump’s promise to build the wall pleased them and: “The other thing they like about Trump very much is that he ‘kicks ass,’ that he makes people on the left angry and upset. They love that,” she said.

They certainly do. While many former Tea Party types were put off by Trump’s incessant braggadocio, they could overlook it because he so enflamed the left. When Democrats and their mainstream media allies called Trump racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and all the rest, they recalled the same baseless slurs being thrown at them years before. The “Never Trumpers” included Republican leaders as well as Democrats and were the same people who spurned the Tea Party. Trump had the same enemies they did, so the old aphorism: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” took hold and held fast.

As facts continue to emerge about Obama Administration efforts to prevent Trump’s election, and subsequent efforts by his surviving minions and Democrats in Congress to bring down his presidency, Trump’s support only hardens and increases. At this point in the primary process, it doesn’t appear that any of the Democrats running can possibly beat Trump. He continues to tweet and say stupid things but the economy is humming along. He’s making trade deals. He’s getting judicial appointments approved. With nine months until the election, he looks unbeatable.

But nine months is an eternity in politics. Anything can happen between now and November. Like what you may ask? The Corona virus, for one thing. Chinese efforts to contain it have been futile. So have their efforts to censor information about how serious it is. Their economy is slowing considerably and likely to tank. Pulitzer-Prize-winning science writer Laurie Garrett has covered first-hand over thirty epidemics worldwide and she offers a very sobering account of what we may expect from the virus now being called COVID-19. “The economic and political repercussions are going to be enormous,” she says.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Leftist Arbiters of Art and History

“Christina’s World” is an iconic American painting which has resonated with the general public since it was created in 1948. Just hear the title and most of us conjure up an image of a woman in a pink dress on a grass-covered, treeless hillside raising herself from a reclining position and looking up toward an old farmhouse on the hill’s crest.

Christina Olson's house
The painter was Andrew Wyeth, a Pennsylvania native who adopted Maine and knew the woman, Anna Christina Olson, depicted in the painting. She was a disabled woman who spent her entire life in that Cushing, Maine farmhouse. The artist and his subject lived near one another and were friends for decades. Christina was disabled from the waist down and got around her property by dragging herself along as the painting suggests.

Andrew Wyeth
That so many millions of people are mesmerized by “Christina’s World” caused my great surprise to read in a Boston Globe article last month that most art “experts” disdain Wyeth’s 1948 painting. A link in the article took me to an August, 2016 article by Daniel Grant on observer.com entitled: Why Do Art Critics Still Hate Andrew Wyeth?  It was filled with quotes from snotty art critics who consider Wyatt’s work as “kitsch.” For those unfamiliar with the term, my online dictionary defines kitsch as: “considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness; vulgar, tawdry, gaudy, cheap, tacky.”
Grant answered the article’s question by saying: “Certainly, critics have held the artist’s conservative political leanings against him, as evidenced in Wyeth’s New York Times obituary in which critic Michael Kimmelman found it relevant to point out that ‘he voted for Nixon and Reagan.’” Grant also mentioned that: “The New Yorker’s Peter Schjeldahl told the Observer, A Wyeth nude ‘generates approximately no sensual charge except maybe of a repressed sex-in-the-head, Republican variety that I’d rather not think about.’”

There’s a Republican variety of sex? Who knew?

Evidently this condescencion toward Wyeth is widespread in the artsy-fartsy world. They’re worshippers of what they refer to as “abstract expressionist” artists like Jackson Pollack, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning. I’ve seen work by those men and my impression is that “kitsch” would be much more appropriately applied to their stuff than to Andrew Wyeth’s. According to the Globe, “Christina’s World” is kept in the back room at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City which purchased it seventy years ago for $1800. “Even when MoMA did display ‘Christina’s World,’” said the Globe, “it was stranded, without context, on a fifth-floor hallway between an escalator and the restrooms.”

"Art" at the Museum of Modern Art
Globe writer Christina Baker Kline considers “Christina’s World” a masterpiece, but uses fuzzy “art speak” language to describe it: “…Christina is the archetypal individual against a backdrop of nature, fully present in the moment and yet a haunting reminder of the immensity of time. She is paradoxically singular and representative, exposed and enigmatic, hardy and vulnerable.”
Why do art people talk that way?

NC Wyeth's "Island Funeral"
The Portland Museum of Art had an impressive exhibition on Andrew’s father, N. C. Wyeth recently and I loved it. I was annoyed, however, by some of the critical comments posted right beside several of his paintings. During his long career, N. C. Wyeth illustrated many classic American books including “Last of the Mohicans” and “Mutiny on the Bounty.” Today’s lefty spokespeople for Maine’s Indian Tribes were allowed to make derogatory comments about Wyeth’s depiction of Mohican and Iroquois Indians from the book. The original paintings were displayed at the PMA.

NC Wyeth illustration in "Last of the Mohicans"
They claimed Wyeth’s illustrations were inauthentic as to native dress and depicted whites in superior positions next to Indians. But how do today’s Maine Indians know what was authentic two and a half centuries ago? The novel was set in the 1750s during the French and Indian War. Author James Fenimore Cooper is believed to have consulted the diary of Colonel Joseph Frye, founder of Fryeburg, Maine in his research.
NC Wyeth's "Dark Harbor Fishermen"
Frye was in command of 823 men of the Massachusetts Militia at the Battle of Fort William Henry depicted in Cooper’s novel. He witnessed slaughter by Wabanaki Huron, and other Indian tribes — allied to the French — of men, women and children who were allowed to depart the fort under truce after Colonel Monro negotiated a surrender to General Montcalm. Frye himself barely escaped with his life.

Colonel Joseph Frye
What research did Maine’s politically-correct Indians of today access that N. C. Wyeth or Fenimore Cooper did not? Photography wasn’t available until the mid-19th century and how many drawings of 18th-century American Indians surviving to the 20th century are by non-Indian [read European] artists? Are they less authentic than those made by Indians at the time? I suspect it’s the opposite. This may be evidence that the snotty left which controls the art world wishes to control history as well.

By this, I’m reminded of George Orwell’s quote from his novel “1984”: “Who controls the past controls the future.”

Monday, February 03, 2020

DOB -- The New ID

None really, except as another ID
What’s your date of birth? That’s increasingly how the world knows you. Mine is April 7, 1951. Even to get meals in the hospital they ask me for my DOB. I spent most of last week there for a chronic medical condition you never heard of: Buerger’s Disease. That’s not to be confused with Berger’s Disease which is a kidney problem. Mine, with the “U,” manifests in blood vessels. I get aneurysms and blood clots —so far all in my left leg — and I’ve had seven bypasses over the past 35 years all in the same place (so far), inside my left knee. 

Vascular surgeons take veins from other places and make them into arteries to get around the clots but I’m running out of suitable veins. Last week, my new surgeon used plastic to firm up an aneurysm and a fabric tube to channel blood. This incision is fifteen inches long. There are scars up and down both legs from groin to ankle. Nearly all of us have something we struggle with. This is my thing.

My brother, Dan
The only other person I ever knew with Buerger’s Disease was my brother and he was dead at 57 by which time he’d lost all his fingers and both legs above the knee. He couldn’t stop smoking and it’s tobacco products that accelerate the disease. I could, so I still have all my parts. For that, I’m grateful. Blood is still getting to my foot — today — so it’s still alive. I’m learning to stay in the day and today is good. I’m getting around with a walker; soon I’ll graduate to a cane; then to a limp. After that I hope to resume running — not too far. I don’t get enough blood down there to go far, but I can still go few hundred yards before cramping up. I hate doing it, but it feels good afterward.

Between three and four million people were born in the USA during 1951. Divide 3.5 million by 365 and you get 9589 born on April 7, 1951. At my 50th high school reunion last fall, I learned that about a third of my class of 1969 are dead. That would be 3164 of the 9589 Americans born on my birthday leaving 6425 — approximately how many Americans born on 4/7/51 are alive today. Darn few of them are named McLaughlin, so, that’s how I’m known: “McLaughlin 4/7/51.” At 68, I’ve lived about 25,000 days. How many more? I don’t go there. I stay in this day.

I’m asked about my birthday so often I’ve started making light of the question. “You don’t have to get me anything,” I answer. “Just a card or a happy birthday on Facebook is fine.” At least dozens, maybe a hundred times lately, I’ve been asked if I’m allergic to anything. “I’m developing an allergy to Democrats,” I’ll quip. Some people chuckle at that, but most declare vehemently: “No politics! That’s off limits.” “Okay,” I say, “How about humor? Is that off limits too?”

Another thing I’ve been asked a lot is: “Have you had any anxiety or depression lately?” First I just look at them for a second, then say, “Only when I watch the debates.” Most let that go without getting upset.

My brother and I were each diagnosed with Buerger’s Disease when we were 33 years old. He was born April 1, 1955 — almost exactly four years after I was. We had identical surgeries by the same doctor at Mass General. We were even in the same room four years apart. I stopped smoking but continued going to pool tournaments at smoky pool halls and my disease progressed. My aneurysms and clots diminished only when I gave that up too. My brother couldn't quit tobacco and ultimately died after enduring 52 separate amputations. From him, I learned the power of addiction.
Me in the middle. Dan second from right.
Near his end, he was contacted by one of the Florida attorneys involved in the multi-billion dollar tobacco settlement of 1998. Though Buerger’s Disease is rare, it’s very easily linked to tobacco in all forms and he wanted to represent my brother in another lawsuit. For him to appear in court minus so many of his parts would, of course, be dramatic, and the tobacco companies would likely settle long before that. He wanted me to join the suit but I refused. That caused a rift between us. I always knew smoking was bad and so did he. No one forced us to do it. The suit was thrown out, but not because of his death. The attorney could have continued on behalf of his estate. It was because of something to do with the statute of limitations between when he was diagnosed and when his suit was filed.

I have a cemetery plot and a stone engraved with my birthdate. Someone else will arrange to engrave the next date. No hurry.