10.30.20

the world turns

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:20 pm by Administrator

there have been at least 24 reported cases of covid reinfection to this point, but of course that’s just the tip of the iceberg. the analysis of these cases confirms something far more ominous than the press releases are implying: that herd immunity to covid without a vaccine is not inevitable.

there are a few possible explanations for this. initial infection for these individuals was not sufficiently immunogenic. circulating strains underwent significant evolution. initial infection was immunogenic but only for a relatively short interval of time. whatever the explanation, the fact of reinfection cannot be disputed and is alarming. it is alarming because we initially had every reason to believe that this coronavirus should be highly immunogenic based on rapid viral clearance in infected individuals. i don’t believe in the theories that initial infection was insufficiently immunogenic or that a waning level of neutralizing antibodies over a matter of just 3-4 months compromised the immune response to a viral rechallenge. i believe that the cases of reinfection suggest that viral evolution at key target sites is emerging fast enough that the population’s collective immune response cannot keep up. if you didn’t know already, this is the worst case scenario.

this doesn’t necessarily mean that we will see case fatality rates rise. it is true that some of the reinfections have been symptomatically much worse than the initial infection, raising concerns of a dengue-like “antibody-dependent enhancement”. but the patterns of morbidity across the globe don’t suggest that this phenomenon is widespread. what reinfection could mean though is that the populational prevalence of infection may no longer serve as a surrogate metric of herd immunity.

the implications for society and for the global economy could be significant. while many aspects of the service economy can be sustained to some degree under regulations of social distancing and masking, i believe that ongoing economic recovery actually depends on the ability of previously infected individuals to fully normalize their social interactions; and any inhibition of this will markedly reduce the capacity of key actors to network effectively. reinfection, in other words, puts the lid on any attempt to reopen society. and if reinfection proves to be widespread, a repeat and protracted lock-down won’t simply be a tool to slow the spread of infection; it will become our only realistic bridge to a vaccine.

on top of these anxieties about the implications of reinfection, i’ve recently become more pessimistic about a vaccine. if the virus really is evolving considerably enough to cause reinfection over a matter of weeks or months, then it seems unlikely that this coronavirus has a highly conserved target for vaccine-induced immunity. my prediction is that the initial vaccines under development may prove to be relatively safe but will not demonstrate a high level of efficacy; and what we will face in 2021 is the necessity of ongoing vaccine development, as we attempt to incrementally promote herd immunity through serial vaccines that target a variety of viral proteins across a multitude of circulating strains. that could be a painful process that drags across 24-36 months. and through all that time, human society will continue to evolve in tandem with the virus. we will not return to normalcy, as we understand it now.

we are coming to this realization: that we really do not understand this virus and what it is doing to us. we thought we knew how it would affect us and for how long—but we were wrong. even more fundamentally, we will have to reckon with ourselves at some point in the years ahead and recognize that there is a lesson this pandemic is trying to teach us, a lesson that we didn’t want to learn. this viral phenomenon, like so many of the devastating zoonoses we have experienced in our short life as a species, was the result of human encroachment upon the rest of the animal kingdom. our industrialization, growth, and spread across the globe have disrupted the barriers that normally separate us from close contact with other species. whether now or in the future, we will have to recognize that our way of life—this relentless consumption, commodification, and development—is hurting our planet, and in turn our planet is pushing back. if we prove to be insensitive to those signals, then it is not the rest of the world that will bend to our will; it is we who will be extinguished.

this is turning into an expansive entry, but indeed i’m not yet done. what we lack as a species is long-term thinking. our hive mind thinks in days, if not hours. our twitterized consciousness is ever distracted by the drama of yesterday. our stock markets are entrained to a timetable of weeks. our politicians look ahead perhaps a year in advance, and they position themselves based on where they stand in an election cycle. today i read about china’s five year plan, and it was perhaps the first time in a while that i encountered something resembling long-term thinking. but it isn’t really long-term thinking. it’s a projection of the past onto the future; it’s a negotiation of two competing trends that are underway—the lingering importance of a domestic coal industry that employs workers, and the emerging importance of new energy technologies that will dominate the next decade. even here, mankind’s long-term thinking is about competition and dominance; it fails to truly address our collective need to learn from our mistakes and evolve as a species. today, covid is killing us. tomorrow, rising oceans and polluted air will kill us. but ultimately, our relentless addiction to failed ideas and ideologies will be our undoing. only time will tell whether one crisis after another will finally change the way that we view the universe.

when i think of america’s future, i find a few concepts to be of particular importance here at the precipice of a transformation. the most important paradigm perhaps is ray dalio’s theory of long-term debt cycles, further expounded by lynn alden schwartzer. it’s a model of economy that demonstrates so succinctly how strange and even unsustainable this idea of america is, as predicated as it is upon the willingness of foreign creditors to finance our bloated and inefficient governmental and healthcare systems. when the dollar falls out of favor and the game is finally up, america won’t be able to maintain its spiraling deficits forever. who will pay? the taxpayer will pay. in particular, it will be the young workers of america who will pay, with lower wages, higher debt, and a decreasing quality of life.

another concept of importance is this idea of social justice—and in particular the tension that it balances between individual liberties and equality among individuals. america is more divided than ever because of the legitimate conflict between these two values. i believe that this conflict is irreconcilable, because society cannot entirely conserve individual liberties if its object is to establish equality among peoples; but if it succeeds in maximizing individual liberties, it will do so at the cost of perpetuating deeper inequalities among people. like i once wrote years ago, one cannot be both a fiscal conservative and a social liberal in a society like ours. to effect social justice, as many of its advocates would propose, society must commit itself to the active and aggressive redistribution of wealth, against the personal interests of the individual. once society takes that path, america loses connection to its deeply traditional core: the unrestrained colonization of the frontier. without a frontier, america cannot be entrepreneurial; and without entrepreneurialism, america becomes decidedly unexceptional—just another struggling country trying to justify its nationhood.

the last concept of great importance in these times is the idea of america as an aging nation. it is demographics, ultimately, that will determine what we become in the decades ahead. already we can see how this will play out. in the midst of a pandemic, the boomers are losing everything that once defined them; they have fear, but they have no agenda. the millennials on the other hand are adapting better than anyone; it was never their interest to perpetuate a system of closed door meetings, old boy networking, and obfuscation. human separation forces clarity of communication and rigid boundaries between people. that works for those who expect society to protect them; it doesn’t work so well for opportunists who rely on predation in order to survive.

our young are better than we are. they will emerge from this protracted crisis with a healthy skepticism of authority and with an enduring faith in one another. donald trump was a fool. their generation will never vote for a man like him ever again. they’ll never accept a ruler; rather, they’ll expect authority to conform to them. they will reform our world by subtle engagement or disengagement, not through protest or political confrontation. the america that adapts to them will grow little and consume less. it will accept less opportunity for greater security. it will save us from environmental catastrophe or die trying. it will settle into an equality among nations—or better yet, it will move beyond nationhood altogether

10.26.20

the season darkens

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:22 pm by Administrator

i woke up this morning and felt it—the darkness of the season. it was in the brittleness of the leaves. it was in the news of death. it was in the chill of the winds.

maybe nothing has really changed. but it felt to me like something changed, something really moved in the hours since i last fell asleep. it has been moving all along, its heavy belly upon the earth, not with rage or bared teeth but with groans and soft clicks. while the rest of us looked out for sudden and telltale signs, this thing crept upon us from far off, and it was ceaseless in its approach. and now it is here. indeed, it is everywhere.

a young man that i knew at work died of covid yesterday. he was 21. there are now five confirmed cases of reinfection throughout the world, which means to me that reinfection is not only possible but probably already widespread. how can a vaccine address all the strains that are emerging across the globe? is there an end in sight, or will we continue to live with this pandemic for years, as it evolves, and reinfects us, and breaks our way of life one unseen and solitary death at a time? the darkness of this season settles upon us, and we thought that it would pass over us but there is no blood offering that can be made for this kind of a plague.

i miss you, the life of rites and rituals and murmured promises, where we knelt in the light of candles and imagined ourselves a community. here where the shadows crawl out of blackened trees, we live alone, we suffer alone, and we die fused to plastics and metal machines, far from anything resembling home. there is no end to this loneliness

10.21.20

liberalism, in the context of libertarianism

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:56 pm by Administrator

my wife sent me an article today from the Atlantic, about how marriage (as opposed to other kinds of friendships and relationships) is arbitrarily the center of american social life. the article resonated with me very much and triggered a variety of other interesting reflections that i have not entertained for a long time. is lifelong monogamy important or even realistic? what is the purpose of a marriage relationship? how do we create meaningful social networks that meet our core human needs? what is the role that broader society can and should play in meeting the basic needs of people, particularly those without intimate social networks?

for this entry, i’ll share a series of thoughts, in no particular order and without a distinct conclusion in mind.

1. my father taught me from a young age that marriage is first and foremost a business relationship. most people i’ve met in life have bristled at this characterization, but i’ve generally found it to be true. if you’re lucky enough to find the right individual, your marriage partner can help you manage the innumerable and often unpredictable challenges of navigating a complex, ultra-differentiated post-industrial society. and for sure, if the marriage fails, the business repercussions are immediate and severe; by some analyses, a failed marriage ending in divorce can be the single most costly development that an individual can experience in his lifetime, worse even than physical disability.

2. a single person is unlikely to meet one’s every wish, need, and desire throughout the majority of a lifetime. i think that’s self-evident and reflected in the very high rate of divorce in most nations. had it not been for my religion at the time, i’m not sure that i would have agreed to sexual monogamy as an implied precondition for marriage. and i’m not sure i would have entered marriage with the expectation that my spouse also be my best friend. as life would have it, my wife did end up being my best friend, but i think that this was born out of necessity after sixteen years of cohabitation.

3. the american emphasis on the nuclear family as one’s primary means of social support is actually very odd, illogical, and highly disadvantageous to most individuals. in particular, it places children at very high risk, because abusive parents have dominion over them, and because in the absence of highly functioning parents children are inevitably abused by society. the foster parenting system and the juvenile correction system demonstrate very clearly what happens to children who are not well served by the nuclear family unit. essentially, american society as a whole denies responsibility for individual children. while almost all parents would agree that it takes a village to raise a child, most children are lucky to have one person really looking out for them.

4. by forcing so much responsibility onto the nuclear family unit, and by reserving such few resources (comparatively speaking) for the care of low-functioning individuals who lack the support of close family (such as our elderly), american society makes it very clear to all of its citizens that individual survival and autonomy should be prioritized over the collective well-being.

5. this is why the discourse on welfare, unemployment, social security, and the redistribution of wealth strike many (if not most) americans as terribly ironic. if our government actively defers responsibility for mitigating the precarity of human existence (and in fact chooses to leverage this risk in order to drive a more productive economy), then why should taxes be devoted to anything beyond the essentials of infrastructure necessary to mutual survival? how can the redistribution of wealth in any form be remotely justified?

6. and here is where the core libertarian spirit of american culture comes into conflict with some of the liberal ideals implied by a constitution devoted to the reversal of authoritarian tyranny. we have chosen to live in a country in which we are responsible for taking care of ourselves; but we recognize that no nation built upon the blatant abuse of power can be sustained. so we have agreed to a social contract that demands the redistribution of wealth as a precondition for the legitimacy of a government that has built a nation on the backs of slaves, indentured servants, and drafted soldiers. to the extent that this serves an interventionist agenda, the libertarian within us froths at the mouth and cries foul. but to this extent that this undermines the stability of the nation, the moral agitant within us already aggrieved by the burden of self-care channels his mortal anxieties into the rage of liberalism. in america, liberalism is sublimated rage.

6. in this context, i am wonderfully conflicted. in my adult life, i have indirectly supported several wars that i was vehemently opposed to, but i had no choice in how my taxes were used. generally, i am skeptical of my government’s agenda; i find that our government uses our taxpayer dollars irresponsibly and inefficiently; and i believe that the government bureaucracy is oversized, overly involved in legitimizing itself, and overtly dedicated to building a military-industrial complex that perpetuates injustices and warfare throughout the world. the libertarian in me opposes this kind of government, which does little to help my family while doing much to force us into economic bondage through debt and legal obligations.

7. as such, i strongly support gun ownership, as a necessary recourse in the event of government tyranny or social unrest. an armed populace is the last defense of the citizenry against the abuse of governmental authority.

8. at the same time, it is very obvious to me that the government has played an active, enduring, and long-standing role in privileging some at the expense of others, through segregative institutions such as slavery, the draft, university admission processes, corporate hiring practices, property taxes, and a thoroughly broken public schooling system, all of which continue to oppress women, LGBTQ individuals, immigrants, and people of color. these injustices have to be reversed; and the consequences of these injustices do have to be mitigated through the redistribution of wealth. and without a tax policy that achieves this end, we ultimately delegitimize our government, law, and way of life as americans. there is no nation without appropriate redress.

9. so i am a liberal by necessity and a libertarian only because our society compels us to be individualists. ayn rand captures the essential spirit of americanism; what other moral philosophy is remotely feasible in the context of the society we have created?

10. and yet i would vastly prefer a different way of life: a society in which the fate of my children does not hinge entirely on my ability to stay healthy and to provide for them; a society in which i know that i will be looked after if i am disabled and unable to care for myself; a society in which i know that i will die in the arms of a community built upon a common, deep belief in the importance of mutual care. it is too difficult to navigate this society without help. it is too difficult to live under the arbitrary authority of one cretinous american president after another. i want to live in a society in which common sense and basic compassion always prevail. this is idealistic, and it is anything but american. but i want to live in a society in which i am not compelled to be a libertarian.

10.20.20

the costs of winning

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:05 pm by Administrator

for the eagles and for the democrats, there are costs to winning. in any ordinary year, i might root for both, but i’m not sure winning is the best thing for either team right now. i’ll endeavor to explain.

for the eagles, my perspective is very straightforward. the eagles may proceed to win about 4 of their remaining 10 games, based on the strength of the schedule remaining. at 5-10-1, they may win the division, lose in the wild card round, and finish with pick 21 in the 2021 draft, or they could cede the division and end the year with a top-10 draft pick (probably 8th or 9th based on historical trends). winning the division could mean a difference of 13 spots in the 2021 draft. that is massive. and it’s especially important for a team like the Eagles that is in a particularly bad situation because of their salary cap outlook, their imminent need to cut or trade core talent, and their desperate need to begin rebuilding the team through the draft. the eagles are not a particularly talented team right now, and they figure to be even less attractive on paper by March of 2021. they need a high draft position now.

from all appearances, a top-10 pick in this year’s draft could be critical to addressing the eagles’ main roster needs, which are (in order of importance) linebacker, cornerback, safety, defensive end, and wide receiver. 2021’s defensive ends and wide receivers are difficult to project and probably subpar in comparison to recent draft years, with ja’marr chase possibly being the only standout player at either position. i think the eagles need to focus on linebacker and cornerback in the top 2 rounds, and a top-10 pick could be the difference between an instant year one starter in micah parsons or caleb farley and an uncertain prospect with potential like chazz surratt or paulson adebo. we need foundational defensive players now—and speculative picks late in the round will not cut it for us this year.

beyond draft position, there’s another critical reason why the eagles need to lose out. it’s time to clean house. like i’ve written ad nauseum, management has been looking for a way to keep the band together, but the band is broken. we have a head coach who can’t script a consistent offense; we have a quarterback with fatal mental and technical flaws; we have a defensive coordinator who reliably puts the NFL’s most predictable, beatable defense on the field; and we have a long list of role players who drop balls, miss tackles, and break coverages because of poor training and discipline. i don’t buy the narrative that this is a resilient team that makes the most of a bad situation tainted by injuries and bad luck. it’s a team in rapid decline that’s done little to maximize the talent on its roster.

if we lose out and end up with 4 or fewer wins and no division title to show for it, i think that management will have no choice but to kick out pederson and schwartz—and they may even be willing to make the bold move of trading wentz. all three moves would be in the best interests of the franchise. most everyone in philadelphia would disagree with me right now; but after a miserable 3-12-1 season, i think the fan base would be vastly more amenable to a sea change. sure, the eagles could go out and win 6 or 7 games this year by accident, make playoffs, and maybe even escape with one playoff win as a massive underdog, and then we could all think about how much better this team will be with better health. but that’s a trap. it’s the worst possible outcome for a team that has no future in its current construction. in 2020, losing is winning for the eagles.

i would say the same for the democrats. the next administration is going to inherit a disaster. we are facing an accelerating pandemic that will plague public health and the economy for another two years. given the rising pressures on the economy caused by persisting high unemployment, rising debt, and contraction of growth, the lucky winner of this election will have to raise taxes and institute austerity measures. moreover, there will be plenty of difficult geopolitical crises to manage, as regime changes and escalating regional conflicts across the world test america’s capacity to retain its influence while funding its domestic priorities. the congress and white house that inherit this situation will likely be entirely turned over within the next 4-6 years. it’s an unenviable position that is sure to sink anyone who gets on the ship.

if trump wins reelection, he will further galvanize the left—a positive cultural shift in my view—and will undoubtedly fail to produce the results over the next 2-3 years expected by his constituency. there’s no path to success for any president placed in this situation, but it’s very possible that the public outcry against Trump and his political party could damage the political prospects of the Right for an entire generation. taking the long view, this is the fundamental shift that the country may need in order to make the sweeping legislation necessary for the long-term sustainability of our species—the Green New Deal, no less.

so here’s the deal. the eagles need micah parsons, a new head coach, and jalen hurts at quarterback, and the Democrats need the white house and a supermajority in both houses of congress by 2024. we get none of these things by winning now.

10.19.20

newton and past lives, a moment on the mountain

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:54 pm by Administrator

a week and a half ago, i was hiking my way down a mountain that was enshrouded in fog. my wife was somewhere ahead of me on the trail, but i had been on my own for the better part of an hour when my thoughts drifted to memories of my father. it is difficult to explain this, and perhaps i’ll save these thoughts for another time, but i have recently come to believe in the reincarnation of human consciousness. and when i thought of my father’s troubled life, i wondered what kind of timeless soul would have chosen to return in his form, to journey through his particular life of much anger and suffering. this idea reflects something else i have come to believe as well: that as michael newton suggests through his writings, we choose the lives that we will return to on this planet, based on the things we are determined to experience in order for our journeys to progress.

anyone who knew my father knew right away that there was a powerful energy of hurt and anger that he struggled his whole life to restrain or to channel into good. for many years, i ascribed it to his childhood experience of war, but intuitively i knew that this kind of energy was embedded in something more fundamental, something that has echoed through generations of war. eckhart and my buddhist teachers would not hesitate to call this his karma, but until recently i did not really understand what karma is. but there on the enshrouded mountain, i felt it for the first time. karma is the weight and intention of the soul that considered the possibility of returning to the world in my father’s form; it is the trajectory of the journey that has taken shape over centuries, if not millennia, demanding not merely a reckoning but an utter reconciliation. reflecting on this helped me to realize that my father’s life did not beg for redemption; his life was a stage of a journey that requires no redemption, because it is inherently divine.

i felt many things in that moment about my father’s past lives, things that i cannot describe easily in words. but i was left with one very poignant image. upon the crest of the ridge to my left, i saw him in his next reincarnation, a child sitting quietly and looking out upon the ocean, serious in his thoughts but untroubled by the world around him. it was the life of simplicity, of quiet reflection and peace. seeing my father in this way caused a ripple through my being. how can i describe what happened to me in that moment? it was affection for that child. it was relief at seeing his peace of mind. it was bliss at knowing that he was finding his way forward in the universe. and it was sadness too, because once upon a time that child was my father, but he will not remember it.

what followed was a strange stream of thought about my own journey through lives and through that interspace between lives. this too is hard for me to describe in words, but i can tell you that i felt them. i felt these people who were myself and still are. i could separate them from me and regard them as different beings, and yet they were inseparable from me because i am their continuation. in the midst of this mysteriously intense web of interactions developing in this sudden space of awareness, i specifically became aware of her. i could feel her care for me, a care i once believed that i could only show to myself. and with great compassion and understanding, she touched me more than she talked to me—but i did sense her voice, a voice not unlike the one i attributed to God for so many years. strangely enough, that is when i realized what jesus experienced at what we now call the “transfiguration”. those spirits, in the forms of elijah and moses, were indeed the past lives of christ.

she told me that i have searched throughout my entire life for the one thing i should be doing. my mission. my calling. but this has thwarted me, and so i have become a wanderer, unsuited to the things i do and troubled on account of that. and in describing me in this way, i saw my life in the way that she must have understood it, before she chose it for herself. we could not let you be about any one thing, because we needed you to be able to hold anything, she told me. there is something we want to give the world through your life, but it will take time for you to find it. but be confident in this: you will give this thing, and then our journey will be finished. and then she was gone, she and everything else around her, that world of spirits. i was crying and i was alone, but i was not really alone.

michael newton describes this whole strange order of things in the space between lives. i don’t understand why, but i knew these things even before i read them—and his account of what transpires between death and rebirth immediately resonated with me. and this is surprising to me, because even two years ago this would have all struck me as bizarrely fantastical thinking, wholly incongruent with the “one life to live and then judgment” theological idea promulgated by the apostle Paul. but it is consistent with the reincarnational philosophy inherent to just about every other enduring religious tradition, including buddhism and orthodox judaism. the things i tried to make myself believe in the church never stuck with me, not deeply, because they only captured something of the truth that i already apprehended. i think that there were reasons for what Paul taught his contemporaries about the soul’s journey, and perhaps they are best described in this way: that the cycle of suffering need not continue if enlightenment is discovered in this lifetime—and that is always and imminently possible