Updating History

America has a rich, long history of inspiring speeches and eloquently written documents.  As I sat here contemplating this history, it became apparent to me that most of those words are out of sync with the values of our country today.  We need to update them to reflect the enlightened views of modern America.  After all, the coronavirus should teach us that these ideas are far too risky to let stand the way we learned them as kids.  They often even led to people dying!

Let’s start by updating a short one so you get the idea.  Some of you probably know the state motto of New Hampshire.  It actually comes from a quote by Revolutionary War General John Stark.  “Live free or die:  Death is not the worst of evils.”  Obviously, that concept is terribly dangerous, but we can fix it.  Instead, “Live free and you’ll die.”  With just a slight, barely noticeable adjustment, New Hampshire license plates go from being a reckless endangerment to a somber warning.

If you aren’t an expert on American history you might not even notice some of the subtle changes.  See if you catch this one from the Declaration of Independence.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their government with certain Rights that may only be rescinded if exercising those Rights carries any risk, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

A lot of that crazy fringe of people who still want to do things have been using a famous quote by Patrick Henry.  They fail to point out that life expectancy back in that era was only about 38 years, so people wouldn’t have lived to be old enough to die of coronavirus anyways.  That means his words are obsolete and need an update.  Possibly, “Give me a mask or give me death!”  It now becomes a practical health advisory instead of a dangerous demand for freedom.

Here’s one for the kids to recite before they watch school on the computer.  “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with social distancing and unemployment benefits for all.”  And while we’re on things that you stand up for unless you’re a washed up quarterback, we also have to change the last line of our national anthem.  Actually, sports aren’t allowed anymore so we don’t need to worry about that.

The next one comes with some challenges.  Did you know that the inscription on the Liberty Bell comes from the Bible?  It currently reads, “PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UNTO ALL THE INHABITANTS THEREOF LEV. XXV X.”  Coming up with the rewrite is easy enough.  “PROCLAIM STAY-AT-HOME ORDERS THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UNTO ALL THE INHABITANTS THEREOF.”  In fact, since we obviously have to change the name of the bell, we might as well call it the Stay-At-Home Bell and people can ring miniature replicates to report their neighbors who are playing at the park.  Now, the hard part.  You might think the difficulty would be telling millions of Americans that their Bibles are wrong, but that has been a favorite pastime of Democrats in our country for years now.  The real problem is figuring out how to change the inscription on a 267 year old copper bell that has already been cracked once.  Fortunately, figuring stuff out is only for the scientists now.  Maybe Dr. Fauci can handle it.

This brings us to probably the two most famous speeches in American history.  The first one is a big problem.  I don’t think Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech can be salvaged.  He speaks far too much about freedom ringing.  If we censor out all of that unsafe talk about freedom, the speech would sound like The Wolf of Wall Street edited for network televisionIt just cannot be done.  I think the whole thing has to be stricken from the record.

The other one can be rewritten, and it was a short speech so we can do the whole thing.  Just picture the Great Emancipator, President Lincoln, when he first said these words at the battlefield in Gettysburg:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived to protect us from ourselves, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.  We are met, six feet apart, on a great battlefield of that war.  We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live safely hidden in their homes.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate – we can not consecrate – this ground.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.  The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.  It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under the experts, shall have a new birth of dependence – and that government instructing the people, monitoring the people, and regulating the people, shall not perish from the earth.

I will leave you with this one.  For those of you who are not sufficiently scared by coronavirus simply because the odds of dying from it are incredibly small, you need to remember what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address, “The only thing we have to fear is being around people!”

A Cure Worse Than The Disease?

I feel alone.  Not just because the coronavirus quarantine is shutting down the country and forcing us to stay in our homes, but because it seems like such a large majority of the country is willing to just accept it and go along with it.  Then when somebody disagrees, or God forbid, goes outside for something deemed “non-essential,” they are vilified as a horrible, selfish person who doesn’t care about people dying. 

One instinct that I have is to simply turn it around on those people and vilify them as horrible, selfish people who don’t care about millions of people being put out of work, retirement accounts being wiped out, and people becoming more lonely and depressed.  The thing is, I don’t think that’s true.  I think the people in favor of the shutdown do care about the economic and emotional impact of the quarantine but they don’t know how to weigh it against the fear that has been instilled in them about the coronavirus.  Instead of arguing or accusing, I decided it would work best just to clarify my rationale and hope that people can see that it is neither selfish nor illogical.

First, let me clarify my position.  I do believe that coronavirus is real and will kill people.  I think that there are reasonable responses for us to take to combat the virus.  I think that everyone should practice good hygiene. I think that it is reasonable for the elderly and people with medical conditions that make this virus especially dangerous to them to stay at home.  I think that we should lock down nursing homes, and that we should put money and resources into our medical response to the virus.  I just think that shutting down the whole country is not reasonable, rational, or consistent, and will hurt more than it helps. 

We first have to be rational and agree that people have always died, and will continue to die in the future.  This is nothing new.  There is obviously a certain level of risk that we deem reasonable to keeping the country running.  Otherwise, to save around 40,000 lives per year we would lower the speed limit to 10 mph.  We have to decide what level of death is reasonable to us, and what level justifies the effects of shutting down our society. 

As a baseball guy and a poker player I know a lot about probability and odds.  I think a lot about how likely things are to happen.  Considering that 98% of the people who are dying of coronavirus have underlying medical conditions and half of them have at least three, the odds of a young healthy person dying are pretty astronomical.  But what are the chances that I will even know anybody who dies of the virus?  The estimates on the number of deaths vary pretty widely.  Nobody actually knows the real death rate because most of the people who have coronavirus don’t count in the numbers because they can’t even tell they have it.  What is for sure is that it is much lower than the number that gets reported.  As of this moment the reported number comes out to about 1.7%.  As this report says (https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/03/24/science.abb3221), it is likely that for every reported case of coronavirus there are 10 other cases.  That would, of course, move the decimal point one spot to the left for a death rate of about 0.17%, or very slightly higher than the 0.1% death rate of the flu.  Ask yourself, how many people do you know who died of the flu this year?  In fact, if we use Dr. Fauci’s doomsday guess that we could have “between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths,” and even if we go with the higher figure, we have lost 200,000 to the flu in the last 6 years.  (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html)  How many people do you know who have died of the flu in the last 6 years?  I would guess for most people the answer would be the same as mine, zero. 

The point is, the numbers we are hearing are likely far worse than the actual numbers.  They may sound big, but we need to have some perspective.  This is where comparing numbers with other situations is actually useful.  The Black Plague famously killed half of the population of Europe and it took about 200 years to get back to the population level it was at before.  I wondered, “what percentage of the United States will this kill and how long will it take us to get back to our current population level?”  So, I looked it up.  The United States population is 327,200,000.  200,000 deaths would be 0.06% of the population.  Then to find out how long it would take for us to recover and get back to our current population level I had to look up how many people normally die each day.  7,452. If we then average out the coronavirus deaths over a year, it would add 548 a day, making it an even 8,000 deaths per day.  Next, we have to look at how many people are born each day to see how long it will take to replace those 8,000 people a day.  There are, on average, 10,388 births per day in our country.  So the answer to my question?  Zero days.  In fact, not only is coronavirus not decimating our population as badly as it is being made out to be, but our population is growing by around 2,388 each day.

This is certainly lower than the threshold of a reasonable level of death to shut down our country that we were looking for, especially considering the damage the quarantine is causing economically and emotionally.  While we have already established that you probably won’t know anybody who dies of coronavirus, you almost certainly do know somebody who has lost their job.  I know several.  You definitely know people who have seen their retirement accounts plummet.  The high school seniors that I coach at baseball have worked hard for four years and will likely never get to play again.  Addicts are unable to attend meetings and many are relapsing.  People who have issues with anxiety or depression are struggling more than ever.  Many businesses and restaurants will go out of business.  There is less joy in the world because sports and concerts are shut down.  Maybe the biggest loss will be the loss of our liberty.  What ever happened to “give me liberty or give me death?”  Yes.  There was a time when Americans valued their freedom even more than their lives.  I fear that I am alone in still believing that.

Let me finish with another comparison.  If we figure out the odds of any random person dying of coronavirus based on the numbers above we get 1 in 1,636.  To put that in perspective, that’s about the same as the odds of dying from falling down the stairs (1 in 1,662) (https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-mortality-risk).  In other words, it does happen, but it’s very, very unlikely.  I suggest we treat coronavirus the same way as we treat stairs.  We have Grandma take the elevator but let everyone else keep climbing.