COVID19 update, US Memorial Day edition: meat-packing plants as hotspots around the world; Japan lifts state of emergency; Philippines in longest lockdown anywhere; Robert A. Heinlein for Memorial Day

(1) A reader drew my attention to a COVID19 outbreak in Nobles County, Minnesota — again linked to a meatpacking plant (JBS, in this case). According to a May 12 report from MPR (Minnesota Public Radio), https://www.mprnews.org/story/2020/05/12/latest-on-covid19-in-mn

In southwestern Minnesota’s Nobles County, where an outbreak hit Worthington’s massive JBS pork plant, about 1 in 17 people have tested positive for COVID-19. In mid-April, there were just a handful of cases. On Tuesday, there were 1,291 confirmed cases. The numbers were still increasing, although at a slower rate than in previous weeks. [Ed.: My source adds: now 1,414 positive cases out of a county population of 21,378, about 6.6% or one in fifteen. So far, there have only been 2 deaths.]

The JBS plant shut on April 20 but has partially reopened with expanded hygiene and health monitoring measures.

Similar problems have been reported in Stearns County, where COVID-19 cases tied to two packing plants — Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in Cold Spring and Jennie-O Turkey in Melrose — have skyrocketed. An undisclosed number of workers at both plants have tested positive for the virus.

There were about 55 confirmed cases in Stearns County two weeks ago. By Tuesday, confirmed cases had jumped to 1,512.

The Grauniad has more on US meat-packing plants. 

But this is not just a US thing. We noted several outbreaks at meat packing plants in Germany — earlier we offered a translation of an interview with an anonymous Polish worker in one such plant. In brief: work in very close quarters (2ft/60 cm. between stations) in enclosed, air-conditioned spaces; the line laborers are mostly guest workers (there from Poland, Romania,…) who sleep two to a room or even four to a room in “accommodation” arranged via the subcontractor; … 

And Australia had an outbreak near Melbourne (hat tip: Wannita F.)

 

(2) Japan is apparently lifting its state of emergency even in Tokyo, 

In contrast, the Philippines has been under possibly the longest lockdown anywhere, longer even than Wuhan reports DIE WELT. which also quotes President/strongman Duterte as saying quarantine violators should be shot.Here is a drier report in English in US News and World Report has some detail in English. : it is clear that, in a country where many people already eke out a precarious existence at the best of times, their loss of their meager income quickly brings on actual hunger. 

(3) I thought of a suitable quote for US Memorial Day. Then I figured I could add nothing to the words of Robert A. Heinlein in The Pragmatics Of Patriotism — his 1973 Forrestal Lecture at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis (of which he himself was an alumnus — he started writing after being invalided out of the US Navy). The full text is available online here. I cannot help being moved everytime I read it, especially the peroration:

The time has come for me to stop. I said that ‘Patriotism’ is a way of saying ‘Women and children first.’ And that no one can force a man to feel this way. Instead he must embrace it freely. I want to tell about one such man. He wore no uniform and no one knows his name, or where he came from; all we know is what he did.

In my home town sixty years ago when I was a child, my mother and father used to take me and my brothers and sisters out to Swope Park on Sunday afternoons. It was a wonderful place for kids, with picnic grounds and lakes and a zoo. But a railroad line cut straight through it.

One Sunday afternoon a young married couple were crossing these tracks. She apparently did not watch her step, for she managed to catch her foot in the frog of a switch to a siding and could not pull it free. Her husband stopped to help her. But try as they might they could not get her foot loose. While they were working at it, a tramp showed up, walking the ties. He joined the husband in trying to pull the young woman’s foot loose. No luck.

Out of sight around the curve a train whistled. Perhaps there would have been time to run and flag it down, perhaps not. In any case both men went right ahead trying to pull her free… and the train hit them. The wife was killed, the husband was mortally injured and died later, the tramp was killed – and testimony showed that neither man made the slightest effort to save himself. The husband’s behavior was heroic… but what we expect of a husband toward his wife: his right, and his proud privilege, to die for his woman. But what of this nameless stranger? Up to the very last second he could have jumped clear. He did not. He was still trying to save this woman he had never seen before in his life, right up to the very instant the train killed him. And that’s all we’ll ever know about him.

THIS is how a man dies. This is how a man lives!

‘They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old;
age shall not wither them nor the years condemn;
At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we shall remember them”

– Tomb of the Scottish Unknown Soldier, Edinburgh

RIP Li Wenliang, one of the “Fallen Caryatids”

Dr. Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor who first warned a major epidemic of a new coronavirus was afoot (and suffered police intimidation for doing so) has now succumbed to the disease. May his memory be for a blessing.

My writing mentor Sarah Hoyt’s immediate reaction was “Rodin’s Fallen Caryatid”. [See also her own blog post.]

Auguste Rodin, “Fallen Caryatid With Stone” [ CC:BY Emw ]

She recalled its description by Robert Heinlein. Verily, it is hard to think of a more fitting tribute, to him and so many others like him.

[Jubal Harshaw to Ben:] “[F]or almost three thousand years or longer, architects have designed buildings with columns shaped as female figures—it got to be such a habit that they did it as casually as a small boy steps on an ant. After all those centuries it took Rodin to see that this was work too heavy for a girl. But he didn’t simply say, ‘Look, you jerks, if you must design this way, make it a brawny male figure.’ No, he showed it . . . and generalized the symbol. Here is this poor little caryatid who has tried—and failed, fallen under the load. She’s a good girl—look at her face. Serious, unhappy at her failure, but not blaming anyone else, not even the gods . . . and still trying to shoulder her load, after she’s crumpled under it.

  “But she’s more than good art denouncing some very bad art; she’s a symbol for every woman who has ever tried to shoulder a load that was too heavy for her—over half the female population of this planet, living and dead, I would guess. But not alone women—this symbol is sexless. It means every man and every woman who ever lived who sweated out life in uncomplaining fortitude, whose courage wasn’t even noticed until they crumpled under their loads. It’s courage, Ben, and victory.”
“Victory?”
“Victory in defeat, there is none higher. She didn’t give up, Ben; she’s still trying to lift that stone after it has crushed her. She’s a father going down to a dull office job while cancer is painfully eating away his insides, so as to bring home one more pay check for the kids. She’s a twelve-year old girl trying to mother her baby brothers and sisters because Mama had to go to Heaven. She’s a switchboard operator sticking to her job while smoke is choking her and the fire is cutting off her escape. She’s all the unsung heroes who couldn’t quite cut it but never quit. Come. Just salute as you pass her[…]

Robert A. Heinlein, “Stranger In A Strange Land”, Chapter 30.

Zombie and the Heinlein Political Compass

In an otherwise very interesting post on how the original ’60s counterculturists and today’s Tea Party may have more in common than they realize, Zombie proposes yet another version of the political spectrum/compass. As I have never had much use for the simplistic “left/right” or “conservative/liberal” divide, I’ve always been intrigued by attempts to come up with something more thorough.

One can, of course, easily add so many variables that one can no longer see the forest for all the trees. One would end up having to do something akin to what statisticians call “principal component analysis”: trying to explain as much as possible of the variation in a dataset using as few variables (or fixed linear combinations of them) as possible. Many attempts have been made: this Wikipedia article, while it obviously has numerous flaws, is a good starting point for reading.

Actually, if I were to give Zombie’s spectrum a name other than the “Zombie spectrum”, I might call it the Heinlein Political Compass. Its two main axes directly refer to two of my favorite Heinlein aphorisms:

A. “Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.” (Time Enough for Love (1973) and The Notebooks of Lazarus Long (1978)).

B. “Correct morality can only be derived from what man is — not from what do-gooders and well-meaning aunt Nellies would like him to be.” (Starship Troopers, Ch. 8 )

This former dictum corresponds to Zombie’s horizontal axis (degree of government control). In the well-known “smallest political quiz” (a.k.a. the Nolan Chart), this variable is split up in two axes, which represent economic and personal liberties. (“The [social] conservative wants the government out of your wallet and in your bedroom; the liberal wants it out of your bedroom and in your wallet; the authoritarian wants it in both and the libertarian in neither”, as the common folksy description goes.)

The latter dictum defines Zombie’s vertical axis, belief in, vs. skepticism about, the malleability of human nature. Stalinists, Maoists, and the Khmer Rouge take one extreme position (best illustrated by the Soviet regime’s approval of the anti-hereditary theories of Lysenko), while Nazism, with its belief in complete racial determinism, takes the other extreme. In more temperate climes one might find, on the upper half of the axis, the liberal who daydreams of people giving up armed conflict or financial self-interest, and on the lower half of the axis, the hard-nosed conservative who may love world peace and lovingkindness every bit as much as the liberal but simply accepts the fact that man isn’t wired that way.

Anyhow, without further ado:

The Zombie/Heinlein chart bears a more than superficial resemblance to Jerry Pournelle’s Political Axes. Pournelle (who has multiple academic degrees) wrote his political science thesis on how people’s political orientations cannot be explained by a single axis. He ended up picking two main ones:

  • “Attitude toward the State”: varying from state worship at one (totalitarian) extreme to the state as the ultimate evil at the other (anarchist) extreme
  • “Attitude toward planned social progress”.

This latter axis, while strongly correlated with the Zombie/Heinlein vertical axis, is not identical to it. One can still believe in some form of planned social progress (such as trying to undo discrimination against certain groups — or for that matter, in favor of specific groups) while being skeptical that human nature will ever fundamentally change. Note, for example, that 200 years ago the idea of slavery being a moral outrage was considered revolutionary, while nowadays, almost nobody would consider buying and selling human beings as anything other than a moral outrage. Yet I would be hard-pressed to say that human motivations and urged changed in any significant way — only the rules by which the game is played have fundamentally changed.

On a Sabbath note: Both Judaism and Xianity are ambivalent on the “malleability” axis. Certain Christian core beliefs (such as that in original sin) would appear to favor the “innate” half-axis, while others (such as the belief in the transformative nature of ‘accepting Jesus’) point in the other direction. Some interdenominational faultlines cross that axis: compare the Quaker insistence on total pacifism with “Just War theory” (originally Roman Catholic), for instance.

Meanwhile, the Jewish belief in “Tikkun Olam” (literally “healing the world”) would seem to fall on the “malleable” half of the vertical axis, and has been (successfully ab)used by some liberal Jewish theologians to sell Jews on the liberal orthodoxy du jour. However, Jewish rabbinical thought is full of statements that point in the other direction, from mundane skeptical attitudes such as “if you are planting a seedling and they come tell you the Messiah is coming, finish planting and then go greet the Messiah” to the fundamental belief that every human being has innate altruistic (“yetzer tov”, literally “good impulse”) and egoistic (“yetzer hara”, literally “bad impulse”) — and that it is good that human beings are this way, as “were it not for the yetzer hara , nobody would marry, build a house, or beget children” (Genesis Rabbah 9:7).