Lies, Damned Lies and Covid19

Growing up as I did in the Cold War, I still experience a special kind of shudder whenever I come across an anecdote like that of Katya Soldak, whose Soviet nursery school teacher once showed her class a photograph clipped from a Western newspaper, “depicting skinny [Russian] children in striped robes walking in a straight line.”

The capitalists who printed that picture wanted people to think Soviet children were “treated like prisoners,” the teacher declared angrily, “when in reality the kids were on their way to a swimming pool in their bathrobes.”

Which was a nice story (thought little Katya) — except that “I had never even seen a pool…. [T]hey existed in my mind as does an exotic animal or an unvisited city.”

A time capsule from a remote dystopia? Think again.

Staring at me right now from the latest quarterly newsletter of my alma mater, the University of Virginia, is an identical piece of bad-is-good fakery: a photograph of an involuntarily isolated graduate student named Kalea Obermeyer, accompanied by a caption blandly informing the reader that the woman seated alone on a trunk in the confines of a cramped dormitory room, clumsily swathed in a surgical mask, “shelters in place” in “her most secure housing during the pandemic.” Unreported Truths abou... Berenson, Alex Buy New $5.99 (as of 03:17 EDT - Details)

Welcome to Pravda, COVID19 style.

Being an honest sort, I have considered whether I ought to write to the editors of my old university’s magazine, accusing them of playing toady to democracy-destroying propagandists.

Should I remind these so-called educators of the young that the term “shelter in place” is properly applied to air raids, not to “pandemics,” and is a cruel hoax when pressed into service to describe what is actually an illegal quarantine?

That the young woman in the photograph is not “sheltered” but confined? That pandemics have occurred many times before, and that what’s new this time around is not the flu but the police state? That the governor’s order placing this student (and the rest of the citizenry) under virtual house arrest is probably unconstitutional?

And that while she’s stuck in her room — for no good reason I can discern — a whole host of local bus drivers, contract workers and university employees, including dining hall service workers who’ve labored there for decades, are all out of jobs?

I’d like to write all that, and more, to the purveyors of this bit of fake news. But I suspect I’d be wasting my time.

Mainstream media have recycled so many lies about COVID19 that by now every respectable editor with enough sense to come in out of the rain knows perfectly well what he or she is supposed to make the rest of us believe. And heaven help the dissenters!

Thus the once-respectable Atlantic, after months of promoting coronavirus hysteria, has published a kind of palinode that admits virtually every charge made by critics of lockdown policies — but still winds up gloomily insisting on the freedom-haters’ moral supremacy, facts or no facts.

The authors (Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer) grudgingly concede the growing evidence that going outdoors, instead of being cooped up for months at a time per lockdown fiats, actually reduces the risk of infection.

They also admit that those who enforce our confinement clearly don’t believe their own hype about “social distancing”: police are “crowding protesters together, blasting them with lung and eye irritants, and cramming them into paddy wagons and jails.” A VOYAGE IN IMAGINATIO... Holmes, Dr Joel S Buy New $9.95 (as of 04:21 EDT - Details)

They even point out that the police themselves rarely bother separating from one another. But ultimately none of that matters to the liberal Atlantic: it’s “obvious” — evidence be damned — that just “standing in a crowd for long periods raises the risk of increased transmission of SARS-CoV-2.” Who says so? Why, Anthony Fauci does.

And what about all the evidence that COVID19, never anywhere near as deadly as officials originally assured us it was, is on the way out?

Here, too, the Atlantic’s paladins admit the facts but refuse to draw the obvious conclusion. They note that “the outbreak has eased in the Northeast,” the hardest-hit section of the US; that new cases have leveled off or declined in the great majority of states; and that “hundreds of public-health professionals signed a letter this week declining to oppose the protests [against police brutality] ‘as risky for COVID19 transmission.’”

They even admit that in Georgia and Florida, two states that enforced lockdowns least and opened up earliest, the numbers of new infections have been “relatively flat.”

In the face of so much good news, what are right-thinking police-state enthusiasts to do?

“[T]he US is not going to beat the coronavirus,” Madrigal and Meyer groan in unison in the article’s key paragraph. “Collectively, we slowly seem to be giving up.” Now there’s a specimen of doublethink even Orwell missed: victory is surrender; lockdown is safety; hysteria is virtue.

So I’m not planning to write to the editors at my alma mater — at least, not about that propagandists’ playground known as COVID19. When rights-trampling, economy-busting general incarceration is the fashion in the Land of the Free, when lying is good sense and wrecking lives is “health care,” my old ideas of rational persuasion start to look like a parasol in a monsoon.

Instead, I am going to do a bit of ranting about words — the elements that lies are made of. I do this because I am sure the twisting of language to cloak political and economic skullduggery — which I take to be the worst evils of the coronavirus outbreak — will be glossed over in future mainstream accounts.

And I do it because the politicians who tore up the Bill of Rights and thrust the US and much of the world to the brink of another Great Depression are not likely to change their spots — and unless we insist on calling their actions by their right names, we will be defenseless against their future machinations. “Political language,” Orwell reminded us, “is designed to make lies sound truthful…and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Well, here are some choice examples of “pure wind” that made “lies sound truthful” over the past three months: The Chronic Fatigue Sy... Ortleb, Charles Best Price: $16.55 Buy New $17.95 (as of 05:07 EDT - Details)

Shelter in place. The fraudulent use of this term stands in synecdoche to all the rest. “Shelter in place” originated in US Civil Defense regulations in the context of a possible nuclear attack; over the following decades, the term evolved to mean any emergency order to “take cover until the coast is clear on order of officials.” But it has never had the slightest connection with disease control.

An order that restricts the movement of someone who is not ill, but who is suspected of contact with someone who is, is called a “quarantine.” But there are laws that regulate slapping quarantine orders on people — to say nothing of an entire population — and the governors and mayors who were bent on lockdowns clearly didn’t intend to be constrained by anything as pedestrian as the law.

So they dug up this irrelevant phrase and plastered it over their arbitrary confinements of huge numbers of citizens — in violation of quarantine statutes, without a court order, and without even a semblance of public debate — hoping nobody would notice the compounding of official malfeasance with verbal fakery.

It’s worth taking a moment to imagine how this trick must have been hatched in the bowels of some executive mansion.

I can picture someone like New Jersey governor Phil Murphy (last seen claiming that the constraints of the Bill of Rights weren’t part of his job description) barking at his aides, “Damn it, there’s got to be something to justify locking up the whole state without going through those pesky quarantine procedures!”

And I can see a harried assistant, having rummaged for hours in the archives, jogging into an office with the term “shelter in place” and a rather sheepish explanation that, well, it’s not about infection control, and doesn’t really have anything to do with the present situation, but it does say “in place” and, um, “shelter” and, you know…and anyway, for God’s sake, there isn’t anything else!

And then it’s not hard to imagine the boss (who knows the media better than his subordinates do) triumphantly working the words “shelter in place” into his next public address, confident that few mainstream reporters will ask him where the phrase came from.

The imagined details are less important than the obvious fact that “shelter in place” could not have been sprung on us by way of an innocent error. The term had to be found, and the officials who found it would necessarily have known what it meant, and therefore that its use in the context of a viral epidemic would constitute a fraud. Fauci: The Bernie Mado... Ortleb, Charles Buy New $5.99 (as of 02:55 EDT - Details)

Thus, anyone — and I mean anyone — who has employed the phrase “shelter in place” over the last three months has been repeating a lie. It’s as simple as that. Every public health care official who has used the phrase is a scoundrel; every “journalist” who has used it is a shameless propagandist; every politician who has used it is an imposter who, in my view, deserves to be impeached or voted out of office forthwith.

Social distancing. This one runs “shelter in place” a close second. The phrase was nonexistent, or at best obscure, until rather recently; when officials of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention used it in a 2007 advisory memorandum, they felt obliged to explain the term in a footnote:

Social distancing refers to methods for reducing frequency and closeness of contact between people in order to decrease the risk of transmission of disease. Examples of social distancing include cancellation of public events such as concerts, sports events, or movies, closure of office buildings, schools, and other public places, and restriction of access to public places such as shopping malls or other places where people gather.

Note that this definition does not include keeping people six feet apart, stifling them with surgical masks, or barring them from inviting family members to their apartments. Evidently, not even the germophobes at the CDC were prepared to contemplate so brutal a disruption of human life just thirteen years ago.

In fact, the same memorandum stressed the importance of “[r]espect for individual autonomy” and “each individual’s general right to noninterference,” adding that even in the event the government did close office buildings or restrict access to shopping malls, “[a] process should be in place for objections to be heard, restrictions appealed, and for new procedures to be considered prior to implementation” — something never even remotely attempted during the last three months.

In other words, “social distancing” really means whatever the changing whims of our governors would like it to mean, as they continue to exercise “emergency” powers in what is clearly not an emergency. Meanwhile, the use of the term gives a false patina of scientific legitimacy to unprecedented government intrusions into the most basic interactions of human life.

The timing of the successive redefinitions of the phrase is itself instructive. In my own state of New Jersey, masks were not required as a component of “social distancing” until mid-April, by which time it was clear that the number of new cases in the region was already leveling off. (Masks remain mandatory in public as of this writing, even though the infection rate has fallen almost to pre-outbreak levels.)

Allow that point to sink in for a moment: “social distancing” took on a more extreme and divisive definition at just the moment that, by any rational calculation, restrictions should have been reduced, if not removed altogether! And the most recent fiats from the governor suggest that nothing like ordinary companionship is going to be permitted any time soon — regardless of the facts.

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