What about what-aboutism?

That’s the headline for my latest article, which appears here in today’s Jerusalem Post.

It erupts every time someone posts something that criticizes the riots and rioters who wrecked parts of the US Capitol last week.

The response is immediate: Comments with links to reports about unrest in the ‘60s or rioting during the racially-inspired protests last summer. And the question, “Why don’t you people (especially Joe Biden) condemn those riots?”

It doesn’t matter whether the charge is true or false. Well, yes, it does, since truth always matters. It’s false.

But much more important are these basic questions: What difference does it make whether someone condemned some other incident of violence? And why don’t the apologists condemn the storming of the Capitol?

Do they really think that there is a moral equivalence between actions and responses (riots and condemnation), or between destroying random property and attacking the seat and symbol of the federal government?

They insist that anyone who doesn’t condemn one kind of violence has no right to condemn another kind. And all the while, they’re doing exactly that—condemning what they perceive as leftist violence last summer (a wild oversimplification of the angry response to two centuries of racism) and the premeditated, planned, and carefully executed plan to storm the Capitol and disrupt or stop the process of affirming the results of an election for President.

There are two terms for this dialogue-destructive behavior: “What-aboutism” and “deflection.”

What-aboutism is straightforward. You post something critical of the actions of one side, and that side responds with, “But what about the misdeeds on your side?”

The obvious logical fallacy is that even if both sides have done things that are wrong, criticizing one does not justify the other. Even if Black Lives Matter led riots in the summer, that doesn’t justify the assault on the Capitol last month. And vice versa, or course.

Deflection is more sophisticated and more cynical. By posting outlandish and false charges against the critics, deflection is aimed at skewing the argument away from the original subject and onto another one. Like, “Joe Biden didn’t condemn the Black Lives Matter violence.” “Yes, he did.” ”No, he didn’t.” And on and on until the original subject is buried in an avalanche of irrelevance.

I posted the following (rather mild) observation as the Washington assault was still going on:

“Just a few thoughts…

“How is it possible that the Capitol wasn’t ringed three deep with riot police?

“Can you imagine the death toll if blacks stormed the Capitol?

 “And finally… This isn’t the end. With any luck it’s the middle.”

That unleashed a torrent of heated comments, complete with links to graphic photos and conspiracy theories from dubious sources, all aimed at showing how the “left” is the real bad guy here.

Exasperated, at one point I responded: “Your level of what-aboutism and deflection has reached unprecedented heights. I bow my head before you in reverence.”

Missing from all those comments was even a hint of disagreement or discomfort with the storming of the Capitol by hundreds of rioters who did, indeed, succeed in forcing their way into the building and disrupting the workings of the American legislature.

This is something that did not happen during the Vietnam War, during World War II, not even during the Civil War. The only parallel in American history is the British burning the Capitol in the War of 1812.

(When I posted that as a comment, I got a well-reasoned, thoughtful response from the original author: “That’s absurd.” That’s typical of anti-social media.)

Here is the most troubling aspect: What-aboutism and deflection have the aim of countering or covering up the crimes of “your” side by attributing the same level of misbehavior to “my” side—with no hint of regret or remorse, no recognition of the danger of this extent of polarization that amounts to de-legitimization, even hate, of the other side.

So let’s make our stand clear. Violence is wrong, whatever the motive, whatever the background, whatever the history. But more than the need to condemn it, we must look for ways to prevent it. That doesn’t mean only reinforcing the guard around public buildings. It means addressing grievances and finding solutions, finding ways to restore the trust the people once had in their institutions—and in each other.

—   —   —

Correspondent MARK LAVIE has covered the Middle East for major news outlets since 1972. His second book, “Why Are We Still Afraid?” looks back at his career and comes to a surprising conclusion.

Vaccinating against corona the right way

I’ll spare you the photo of me getting my second corona vaccination, but I have to “brag” about how Israel is getting this done quickly and efficiently. As of now, almost a quarter of the people here have been vaccinated, far and away the best proportion in the world.

Here in Rehovot, a small city south and inland from Tel Aviv, second shots are administered in a large community center.

I showed up a few minutes early. I swiped my card to get a number. Before me was an L-shaped row of stations, 12 in all, where nurses administer the vaccine. I got in ten minutes before my appointed time. The nurse swiped my card again, asked me a few questions, especially whether I had any reaction to the first one, and then gave me the shot.

I walked back to the entrance of the hall, and there, waiting for me, was a certificate that I’d completed the two-course vaccination. It’s recommended that you sit down for 15 minutes to make sure there’s no allergic reaction, so I did, and pulled out my phone–and there, waiting for me, was an email pdf from the HMO, explaining the process and listing the possible side effects.

The key to this amazing process is the HMO system. Every Israeli belongs to one of four HMO’s and has a magnetic card. All of them have clinics around the country. Mine has at least four in my city, but they decided to move the second round to this community center to avoid mix-ups and overcrowding.

It’s not magic, folks–any country can do this if it wants to.

Corona crisis: What would Joseph do?

Imagine that biblical hero Joseph is ruling Israel today, facing the corona pandemic crisis. What would he do?

We’re reading about Joseph and his exploits these days in our weekly Torah portions. He went from offensive teenager to captive slave in a dungeon to de facto ruler of Egypt. His brothers betrayed him, but in the end, he forgave them.

As a ruler, Joseph’s methods were cruel. He knew, through his divinely inspired interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, that Egypt would face a seven-year famine after seven years of bumper crops.

He had two choices. He could have put out a statement to the people, urging them to gather and store their extra crops to prepare for the drought. Instead, he taxed the people in the form of a portion of their crops (some say a fifth, but that appears to be a mistranslation), and he set the grain aside in the kingdom’s own warehouses.

When the famine hit, the people had to turn to Joseph for food. Again, he had two choices. He could have opened the warehouses and handed out the grain to the needy. Instead, he forced the people to buy the grain. When they ran out of money, he took their land. After the land was gone, he took them as slaves.

According to today’s standards, and that’s the easily criticized premise of this article, Joseph was not exactly a populist or a man of the people. Faced with the corona crisis, he would have forced people to close their businesses, lose their income, eat through their savings, and with the exception of small amounts of compensation handed out to the wealthy as well as the poor, let them suffer—leading to hardships, hunger, and even domestic and public violence.

Oh, wait. That’s kind of what we’re doing. Though to be fair, if Joseph were true to his allegiances—the kingdom before the people—he would probably have sold the vaccinations instead of providing them through HMOs for no extra charge. At least we’re not going that far.

Also to be fair, our people are not doing their part, either. By failing to wear masks consistently, stay away from crowds, and wash hands often, we have brought much of this problem on ourselves. Governments have been setting the wrong examples, with officials flouting their own rules and arrogantly putting out ads about color-coded ratings that determine corona limitations that read, “Our rating depends only on you.” You, not us. Again to be fair, my city changed its ads to “us” after I complained, but the billboards on the main roads still say “you.”

Clearly, there was/is a better way to deal with this crisis. For an example of a more enlightened leader, we can look back at the current Torah portions.

Joseph may have saved the kingdom, but it was Judah who saved the future Jewish people.

First, he talked his brothers out of killing the obnoxious, bossy teenaged Joseph, selling him into slavery instead. Then he persuaded his elderly father to part with his beloved son Benjamin as the only chance to see the Egyptian strongman again and buy more food.

The strongman, Joseph, Benjamin’s only full brother, plotted to keep Benjamin with him. We don’t know what he would have done to the other brothers, but chances are it wouldn’t have been pretty.

Into the breach jumps Judah. In the longest speech in the Bible, he entreats Joseph to let Benjamin go, offering himself as a slave instead. He mentions their father 14 times, plucking his brother’s heartstrings, and leading Joseph to realize that these are his brothers, after all, and he owes it to them, and certainly to their father, to come clean. He reveals his true identity and invites them to join him in Egypt.

How did Judah know what to do?

There’s a clue a little farther back, when Judah is tricked by his daughter-in-law into fulfilling the requirement of providing her a husband after two of his sons died, and he admits he was wrong.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…

You won’t hear this anywhere else—but it’s clear to me that Judah knew he was talking to Joseph when he started his speech. He had brought Benjamin to Joseph’s table, watching him get special treatment though he was the youngest. He looked at Joseph, looked at Benjamin, looked back at Joseph, and he recognized who they were—brothers. Then he devised a speech designed to appeal to Joseph’s innate sense of goodness, justice, and family loyalty. It worked.

So now, with the corona crisis, we can ask—what would Judah do?

It is, after all, Judah who becomes the forerunner of the Jewish people—not Joseph. Judah is the one with the people’s touch. Judah is the one who leads by example, not by decree.

Forgive me for the wild extrapolation. I actually dislike it intensely when people judge past eras on the basis of modern standards, or ascribe modern words and actions to biblical figures, and that’s what I’m doing here.

Even so…a leader like Judah, who puts the interests of his people before his own…would find a better, more humane way to deal with the corona challenge.

Perhaps Judah would lead his people (us, not you) into voluntary compliance with regulations, not police enforcement, because it’s the right thing to do. Perhaps he would mobilize the government and charities to help those in need.

Perhaps—and this is what’s missing here today—he would create a reality in which we are all in this together, we all have responsibility for each other, and we will do the right thing for the sake of us all. Masks, distancing, and hygiene. It’s not that hard.

Then, Judah would say, we wouldn’t need lockdowns at all.

—   —   —

Correspondent Mark Lavie has been covering the Mideast since 1972. His second book, “Why Are We Still Afraid?” relives his experiences and comes to a surprising conclusion.

A new Middle East you didn’t see coming

Here’s my fantasy about how the Middle East will develop in the wake of the normalization between Israel and a number of Arab nations. Could it happen? We’ll see…

A ‘New Middle East’ You Didn’t See Coming

By Mark Lavie

“Bahrain and UAE have signed the Abraham Accords with Israel, ending decades of hostility and ushering in a new era of Mideast cooperation.” – news reports, October 2020

“Sudan and Morocco join in agreement frenzy.”—news reports

Could this actually happen?

Frustrated by decades of Palestinian obstinacy, eager to cement new Middle East alliances, moderate Arab nations were finally moving to put the Israeli-Palestinian issue behind them and remove that thorn from beneath their saddle.

They launched a two-pronged invasion, a sort of pincer operation, but not the classic kind. One Arab army entered Gaza from Egypt, while the other rolled into the West Bank from Jordan.

Israel played no active role in the invasion. It had already agreed to the terms of an arrangement, maintaining control of its main settlement blocs while evacuating some of the smaller outposts in the heart of the West Bank—and finally receiving an internationally recognized border on its eastern front.

No one was calling this “peace.” The new Middle East was not one of peaceful relations among all its nations. Instead, it was a battleground mostly of Shiite Muslims on one side and Sunni Muslims on the other.

Because of Iran’s nuclear weapons program and its repeated threats to destroy the Jewish state, Israel fit easily into the Sunni camp led by Saudi Arabia. One by one, the Sunni nations went public with their relations with Israel, formalizing them—some with agreements they called “peace,” others sufficing with security and economic relations they preferred not to label, at least for now.

On the opposing side were Iran, Qatar and Syria, along with swaths of what used to be Iraq—and the Palestinians, who had thrown in with Iran and Qatar.

After decades of demanding that Israel offer the Palestinians a state of their own, then watching the Palestinians turn down repeated offers of just such a state, the latest in 2000 and 2008, the Sunni Arab nations decided that it was in their interest to bring Israel into their alliance instead of continually beating the Palestinian drum. In most cases, it didn’t mean hugs and kisses between Israelis and Arabs—not even with Egypt and Jordan, the first two Arab nations to sign full peace treaties with Israel.

Such a lovey-dovey relationship wasn’t the goal anymore, if it ever was. The realigned Middle East was a place of interests and alliances based on practical politics. By rejecting Israeli peace offers and then cursing Arab nations that warmed up to Israel, the Palestinians had put themselves on the wrong side, as far as the Sunni Arab nations were concerned. The Palestinians were no longer needed as a faux issue to distract Arab people from their real problems—the Palestinians had become part of the problem.

The two invading armies quickly deposed the rulers in the West Bank and Gaza and set up military governments. Instead of the peaceful end of decades of Israeli occupation, instead of the independent state the Palestinians rejected repeatedly, the Palestinians now faced the ruthless military rule of their Arab “brothers”—bans on demonstrations, bans on strikes, bans on “resistance” against Israel—and enforcement with a shoot-first, ask-questions-later mentality.

For Israel, though, the day-to-day change was minimal, besides the loss of Palestinian workers, who would not cross the new border at least in the beginning, and the painful resettling of a few thousand Israelis from the West Bank into Israel proper. Beyond the outcry of the now ignored professional Israel haters, no one paid attention. The Iran-Saudi conflict was much more important.

The main practical change for Israel was deployment of its military.
Alongside the two-pronged invasion, and in coordination with its Arab allies, the Israeli army pulled out of the West Bank after decades of costly and bloody occupation. Instead, the Israeli military would concentrate on its tasks in the new alliance—monitoring Iran and its allies, maintaining its deterrence in the form of advanced weaponry and providing intelligence to the allied forces.

  • OK, that was “fun.” Could it happen?

Probably not exactly as outlined here. But yes, there are signs of a sea change in the Arab world when it comes to both Israel and the Palestinians.

Within days of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signing peace agreements with Israel, Saudi Arabia started aiming harsh criticism at the Palestinian leadership.

That’s the same Saudi Arabia that sponsored the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which basically said Israel must hand over all the disputed territories to Syria and the Palestinians, and then the Arab world would make peace with Israel. The current trend is the opposite—Arab nations allying with Israel despite the intractable Palestinian issue.

Here’s what’s new in the new Middle East: After the Arab Spring started the process of political change in the region, mostly by its failure—a new generation of leaders is recognizing that ideology by itself isn’t enough. In a tough world, interests are more important.

Israel has understood that, on an official and military level, for decades. Its relations with Egypt and Jordan are called “cold peace.” They are anything but cold. The three nations cooperate on many levels, but find it convenient to keep them out of the headlines for domestic reasons.

Just as the Arab nations have stirred up anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel for domestic politics, so Israel’s leaders have harvested electoral benefits from stoking fear of enemies near and far. If that era of unrealistic fears comes to an end with the new regional alliances, then Israel will be the real winner here.

—   —   —

Correspondent Mark Lavie has been covering the Middle East since 1972. His second book, “Why Are We Still Afraid?” is available on Amazon.

Egyptian soldiers on duty in Cairo (Mark Lavie)

Excerpt from “Throw away the axioms”

Further, what matters is what Iran does, not what it says. In the Mideast, public statements play a different role than they do in the West. In the US, reporters dutifully tote up campaign promises and trot them out to show how candidates don’t keep them. In the West, if you promise something, you’re supposed to do it.

In the Mideast, not so much. Making a strong statement is often the equivalent of doing something. You’ve said it, now let’s move on.

Egypt’s media frequently run anti-Israel content. Conspiracy theories abound, blaming the Zionists and their all-powerful Mossad for everything that’s wrong. So when I started working in Egypt as a journalist in 2009, and especially after I moved there in 2011 for a two-year residence, I expected some tensions when people discovered I’m a Jew and an Israeli.

Quite the opposite. I was warmly welcomed by the dozens of Egyptians in my office, all of whom knew I’m an Israeli. Outside, people who discovered I’m Jewish didn’t tone down their positive behavior. Hating Israel is part of the culture, all right—but it’s nothing personal, and it’s not a big deal. Recently a well-versed and well-traveled expert in Arab affairs laughed with delighted approval when I observed, “Egyptians hate Israel the way I hate broccoli.”

And the fact is, Egypt and Israel have close relations in the fields of economics, military and intelligence. Most of them are out of the public eye. Even key economic agreements, like the QIZ pact that benefits millions of Egyptian workers, are not talked about.

Of course it would be nicer if these beneficial arrangements were public, and if Egyptian media stopped charging that Israel sells poisoned seeds to farmers and sends sharks to frighten tourists away. One day that might happen. But it’s not that important in the larger scheme of things.

Rave review of “Why Are We Still Afraid?”

This is a landmark book on English-language Israeli journalism over the last four decades, but also a moving personal story from behind the headlines.

That’s an excerpt from a review of my book in the prestigious magazine “Jerusalem Report.” Here’s an other one:

The author’s intent by delineating the conflicts he witnessed since arriving was somewhat prescient: “This is a composite story of how we have progressed from really awful events that shocked our people to events that are awful but not as awful, yet they shock our people just as much, here and abroad. It’s a mentality thing.” 

That’s just a taste. Here is the whole review.

The book looks back on nearly half a century of my reporting from Israel and draws a surprising conclusion, It’s available on Amazon, $2.99 for the ebook (with color photos), and $18.99 for the paperback.

Welcome to our beautiful Corona hotel!

A two-week “vacation” in a Corona hotel! That’s one of three new solutions for stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Israel.

We’ve tried several methods already. They include requiring masks and social distancing. Imposing lockdowns of various degrees. Closing schools, then reopening them.

They’ve failed. But instead of yet another rant about how Israelis are all to blame for the daily spike in active cases, the increase in numbers of seriously ill, and the ever-nearing collapse of the health care system, let’s make this clear:

The majority of Israelis do try to follow the rules. At the Ramla shuk, where I go every week, most of the shoppers and stall keepers wear masks. About half wear them properly.

It’s a minority who flout the regulations. Even if you take a day with 600 people at a mass wedding, 10,000 at a demonstration, 3,000 at bars and restaurants, and 1,000 at parties—then you count the same numbers for a month, using different people each time—it’s still a small but significant minority—but extremely “newsworthy.” The rest of us are doing what we can to stay safe, even if we’re not wearing our masks right.

Let’s not go into the incompetence of the Israeli government in handling this crisis and creating unbearable confusion (not “unexplained” as in the sign on my synagogue door). That’s been raked over and over, and there’s not much left to say. Just this observation—it’s our government, it represents us, and we voted it into office.

The political distortions that brought this about are the theme of my second book, “Why Are We Still Afraid?” So I won’t repeat that here. There is, however, an aspect of Israeli society and mentality that is contributing to the crisis.

In other developed countries, when the government passes a law or puts out a regulation, the first impulse is to comply. At some point citizens, especially the wealthy, may look for loopholes or exceptions, but by and large, people follow the edicts of their governments.

Here in Israel, our response to a new regulation often is, “How can I get around this?” A law is worth following only if there’s a chance we might get caught breaking it.

The question you hear when the government imposes a new Corona restriction is, “How are they going to enforce that?”

  • So the first solution is to change the mentality. I can hear you saying, “Right. Good luck with that.” So let’s take a first step. Instead of presenting each new measure as a “gezera” or punishment, the government should present it as a benefit.

Why are we wearing masks? To make a fashion statement? Of course not. We’re wearing masks to protect ourselves and others from the virus. This should not be a matter of, “you’ll pay a fine if we catch you without a proper mask.” People aren’t wearing their masks on their wrists because they actively want to harm their neighbors and grandparents. They’re doing it as a reflex—“I won’t get caught.” So instead, let’s appeal to the better nature of people and get them to wear masks because it’s the right thing to do, not because they might be punished if they don’t.

Likewise, selective lockdowns should be presented as a way of controlling the spread of the virus, not punishing the people who have caught it.

The second solution is more practical. It is highly uncomfortable to wear a mask over your nose and mouth for any length of time, especially in the summer. There’s a common practice of wearing a mask around your chin and raising it to cover your mouth and nose if you see someone approaching—a big “if” at best.

  • So here’s my idea: Let’s start promoting the use of face shields. There are conflicting studies about whether face shields are as effective as properly worn masks. The jury is still out on that. They’re best worn together with cloth masks—but face shields alone are undoubtedly more effective than under-the-nose masks, chin masks, wrist masks, and no masks.

Israel’s Health Ministry does not recognize face shields as effective enough, and you can’t get into a hospital or clinic while wearing one—but it’s time to consider the better-than-nothing factor, especially outdoors, where the danger of COVID-19 transmission is markedly less than indoors.

So we’ve suggested changing the Israeli mentality toward regulations, and we’ve tried getting people to wear masks because it’s responsible behavior, or at least wear a face shield. However, these are long-term solutions, and we’re in a crisis situation. We may already have crossed the point of no return where the pandemic spins out of control, and we may be facing a year or more of extreme hardships before a vaccine is available. And even then, it’s unlikely that our government, or any other government that depends on getting elected, will have the guts to make a safe, reliable vaccination compulsory for everyone except a small number of medically challenged citizens.

  • Here’s the short-term solution, in keeping with the prevailing attitudes of both the government and the people toward regulations: People who are caught violating a Corona regulation, whether it’s masks, gatherings, or curfews, are immediately sent for a two-week stay at a Corona hotel.

As of the end of August, there were 28 Corona hotels here. Their object is to remove Corona patients from their homes and neighborhoods to prevent their spreading the disease to relatives and neighbors. So the hotels are, by definition, the best place to go if you want to guarantee catching the disease.

So you think that COVID-19 is just a form of the flu? That it only hits old folks? That the government is handing this all wrong? So why bother following the regulations? Off you go to a Corona hotel for a nice two-week stay. Then we’ll talk. If you can.

That might be frightening enough to persuade even the most recalcitrant, skeptical, or cantankerous Israelis to wear a mask, wash their hands, stay away from crowds, weddings, and demonstrations, and follow the rules.

And that would stop the spread of the virus in its tracks.

—   —   —

Correspondent MARK LAVIE has covered the Middle East since 1972.

Halacha and COVID-19—fateful choices

We Orthodox Jews appear to be having a “Coronavirus contest”—who can say “no” the most.

  • A rabbi rules that people praying on close but separate balconies can’t be considered a “minyan,” a prayer quorum of ten men.
  • A rabbi informs a worshipper that a certain mask is improper because the straps holding it to his face go behind the head and get in the way of the straps of his tefilin.
  • Another rabbi tells worshippers lined up on two sides of a narrow street for social distancing that they don’t constitute a single minyan.
  • A “Corona monitor” at a synagogue confronts a worshipper, calling him a “liar” and a “cheater” for the heinous crime of wearing a face shield instead of a mask.
  • Citing Health Ministry restrictions, a synagogue closes its women’s section.

This is the face of Orthodox Judaism as the pandemic drags on—and there is every reason to believe that it will drag on for at least a year.

How long will it take until people rebel against this unreasonable behavior and either stop taking part in services or try a different stream of Judaism?

READ MORE HERE

“Be Afraid” is the wrong message

“Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

That appears to be the message of various arms of the Israeli government, warning their people in panic-stricken terms about a “second wave” of COVID-19 infections, with “thousands of deaths.” ahead.

Some say we can keep that under control by following the rules–wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. Others say it doesn’t matter–sooner or later, most of us will catch the disease, and then old folks will die by the thousands.

I’ll admit straight out that I’m not a mathematician, and I don’t have a degree in statistics. I do have some basic knowledge of both, and that’s all I need to declare that the numbers we’re getting at this time do not justify the five-alarm fire we’re hearing about.

Here are the latest statistics I have:

Total number of cases in Israel: 20,533

Total active cases now: 4,598

Total patients in serious condition: 39

Total on ventilators (part of the 39): 29

Total deaths from COVID-19: 305

Total new cases on last full day of testing: 349

You can note that the 349 new cases is the highest daily total we’ve had since April. You can note that the death toll is rising by one or two a day. You can hear the warnings about exponential increases in new cases unless we take immediate action.

OR…

You can note that of the nearly 4,600 active cases, only 39 are in serious condition–amounting to a tenth of one percent. The death toll of 305 is 1 1/2 percent of total cases.Indeed, 324 new cases is 10 times the daily amount from the height of the lockdown. The increase in new cases is linked to several developments: First, the easing of restrictions, allowing people out of their houses and back to work. Second, the reopening of schools. Third, significant increase in testing, especially asymptomatic school kids who happened to be within shouting distance of an active case.

It’s actually a wonder that the numbers of new cases aren’t significantly higher, because of the last two items on the list–which point to discovery of active cases that might well have gone unnoticed before the reopening of schools and mass testing of classmates.

People my age don’t like to go here–but the fact remains that we golden agers are the ones who suffer the most from COVID-19 infections. A stat from a few days ago showed that the average age of fatalities in Israel is 80.7. There are horrendous cases of younger people becoming extremely ill with ongoing, lingering effects, but the breathless news reports are anecdotal, because these cases appear to be exceptionally rare.

This is the place to recall that the original goal of the measures like social distancing and lockdown was to “flatten the curve”–not to eradicate the disease, which is impossible. We have lost sight of that goal. Instead, we have Health Ministry people warning of the system being overrun with thousands of critically ill patients, and not enough ventilators for them.

The reality is quite different. Israel has several thousand ventilators available now and several thousand more on order, set to arrive by mid-summer, though of course there could be delays. But look how many patients are on ventilators now–29. So there’s a lot of room for expansion here if we need it.

So is the prime minister’s threat of a new lockdown warranted? No, and that’s not even the direction the government itself is taking. The new approach is to lock down specific places where there’s a significant outbreak, close schools where there are cases (anyway, summer vacation is upon us), and quarantine people who might have been exposed. As we learn more and more about this new disease, it’s becoming clear that the best measures are the ones we’ve been told to take all along: Wear masks, wash hands, and maintain social distancing where possible. Simple, mundane, boring–and effective.

None of this is meant to even hint that the crisis is over. It’s not going to be over. What it’s intended to show is that we need to learn how to live with it. If we take a breath, examine our lives, and figure out how to live, not just survive, in a new reality that is not going to go “back to normal,” then we can begin to plan with cool heads for a new way of life.

front cover

I understand that scare tactics are a way of getting people to comply with government policy. But they backfire. When it doesn’t all hit the fan, people are liable to conclude that the

whole thing was overblown, and they can just go back to the way they lived before.

I wrote this book before the COVID-19 crisis, and its lessons are not derived from the pandemic–but the conclusion is the same: In the long run, keeping the people afraid is destructive, depressing, and counter-productive.