This title is not stated as a threat or with any glee. It is written with trembling knees, a heart full of prayer and sincere desire that anyone reading it may find Life and NOT perish. The title is simply the statement of three facts which I will address in three blogs. Though Jesus spoke much more about the Kingdom of Heaven, we would be remiss if we skipped these subjects that He and the Bible address.
Some would like us to believe in fairy tales; happily ever after endings without consequences for wrong behavior. Or at least, let’s provide some context which makes wrong choices understandable and tolerable since the villain had it so rough. So Wicked becomes a Disney retelling of Sleeping Beauty that makes Maleficent an unfortunate victim of her circumstances. Romulans actually are nice guys, just with slightly different means of expressing the same values as Federation members. Natasha Romanoff (or Black Widow) had a rough childhood; fortunately, she falls in love with a good guy and joins the Avengers. Severus Snape, the epitome of evil with black cape, boots and a penchant for scaring Potter’s goodniks, turns out to be working for Dumbledore all along. Another black-robed villain, Darth Vader is given reasons for his turn to the dark side. And the Terminator turns out to be a misunderstood robot who just needed reprogramming. Don’t we all?
So in this alternate universe Hitler would be mistreated by his dad and abused by a Jewish teacher. Stalin was a nice kid who just got involved with the wrong crowd, and Pol Pot was very poor and had to steal food to survive as a child.
Unfortunately, alternate “universes” do not exist (with no apologies to Stephen Hawking). By definition, universe means ”the totality of known or supposed objects throughout space; the cosmos.” There cannot be another “universe” that contains that totality; that is an absurdity for which there is not a grain of evidence except in the minds of Star Trek viewers like Hawking.
Not Innocent, Only Incompetent
We are the product of choices we make throughout life, beginning with infancy when we want the blocks the other baby has. Shortly after most children master “Mama,” most also learn “Mine!” Children are not innocent; they are simply incompetent. Given the power, the mass of them would eliminate any opposition with a flick of Potter’s wand and simply kill anyone that prevents them from getting their way.
You and I were like that! We had to be taught that there were better things than getting our own way all the time. Most of those lessons were learnt through experience, the best teacher, but hardly the kindest.
In The Great Divorce, C.S.Lewis illustrates these choices among those who refuse Heaven because of what they want. From the dishonest intellectual to a greedy materialist; from a religious hypocrite to a self-deprecating egomaniac; from a mother who preferred to drag her child into hell rather than forfeit control to a tragedian who loved his own misery rather than accept joy that was offered. “Better to reign in hell than serve in Heaven.” (Milton)
There are those who will choose their own way rather than God’s way even at the pain of death. And from their choices will come every kind of evil from murdering unborn children to killing the elderly who no longer “contribute to society” to justifying what once were considered perverse lifestyles. Like Lewis’ Ghosts they will couch their evil in beautiful sounding words like Social Security, Affordable Care, For The People, Toleration or Government Protection, but what they really want is selfish aggrandizement, physical comfort, control of others and power for themselves.
Can’t We All Just Be Nice?
Evil is real and it does not go away just because we try to be “nice” to each other. Real love is much harsher than the pablum pop psychology puts out today. If a neighbor’s house is on fire, would we be “nice” and say, “Let’s not upset him; wait till it’s convenient to tell him?” NO, the “loving thing” to do would be to bang on his door, disturb his “peace,” and warn him to get to safety! So it is that if we fail to warn people of the reality of evil and its consequences, we are simply “nice neighbors” who do not care if our acquaintances die.
Trying to be nice to some people is like appeasement of Hitler just prior to the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. There was a madness sweeping Europe and the Führer was simply its pawn. This does not excuse him of the war’s atrocities, but remember he was as deceived as those he was deceiving (See 2 Timothy 3:12-13), an evil-doer going from bad to worse.
Paul had this to say to his protégé pastoring in Ephesus:
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” (1 Timothy 4:1-3)
And again some time later:
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.” (2 Timothy 3:1-9)
Children of the Day
We are called to be light in a darkening world, salt to a rotting, tasteless culture (Matthew 5:13-16). The times will become darker yet, as political leaders lie more, as religious conviction becomes labeled “Hate Speech,” as bureaucratic alignments for economic and national interests bring together enemies of Israel, as whole societies “call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:8-30)
However, though evil is real and becomes more evident, we are called “to walk in the Light, even as He is in the light.” (1 John 1:5-9) We must stand distinctly apart from liars and deceivers who say, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:13-15) And we pray for the deceived that they may see the Truth (Ephesians 4:18-19)
The Children of the Day recorded this song back in 1979 based on 1 Thessalonians 5:5-9.
When your heart is dark and empty and new shadows start to fall;
When cluttered fears and sin are the writing on your wall;
Your confusion and your doubts are always lurking left and right,
Don’t try to drive the darkness out; you just turn on the light.
We’re the children of the light, and we’re the children of the day.
We need not always stumble in an ever darkening way.
Though the darkness will close in around with shadows everywhere,
Still Jesus Christ is in our life, the Light of the world is there.
Changchun is a medium city in China, but the largest in Jilin Province. The view from our hotel for the summer, a night view up the street and the entry to “our part” of Jilin U’s campus (~75,000 students in 2017). Photographers documented every meeting, and I played “gotcha” with one of them.
Self-help, self-improvement, self-actualization, self-worth, Self Magazine, self-love. There is even a Self-Help Credit Union and books about self-massage. And don’t even get started on seminars and classes one can take for any of these endeavors. Oprah, Deepak, Covey, Maxwell, Robbins, Dr. Phil and a plethora of others make a fortune every year from our need to “find ourselves” . . . as if you cannot look in a mirror and say, “Oh, there I am.”
The first thing to recognize about the “self” phenomenon that began in the 1970s is this foolish idea that we need “to learn to love ourselves.” That’s as absurd as “trying to figure out if I am a man or woman.” Hey, follow the “science” and look in your pants. This is like trying to figure out if the sun is bright or if rain is wet. The sun IS bright by its nature; by the way it was created and what it was created to be. The rain IS wet because it is made of water, and by definition you cannot use water in “dry-cleaning;” otherwise the cleaning would be wet-cleaning.
Just as the sun is bright and rain is wet, we love ourselves. This first principle is in Ephesians 5:29. You can no more hate yourself than the rain can be dry. So how do we understand negative thoughts and self-deprecation we often encounter? We are always of two minds, and the “self-love” gurus never seem to understand this.
If the Bible is correct, and I would (and do) stake my life on it, we need to reorient our thinking to correctly assess what we understand to be self-hate. I love myself, but sometimes I do things that I know are not good for me or others. (See Romans 7:15-20.) And the more I love myself AND understand that the thing I do is not good for me, the more I will hate what I do. Too much of our pop psychology from the 1960s on to the present time misreads this spite for what I do as spite for my self, demonstrating a lack of critical analysis skills. It also shows a significant misconstruction of the human mind. Many professional psychiatrists and psychologists now have been fed lies about self-hate and graduated with this misunderstanding.
The social and cultural revolution that occurred in the 1960s carried over into the 70s with what Tom Wolfe called the “Me Generation” that was focused on examining our own belly buttons to the point that we lost sight of what it was to be a person. And it has not become any better for newer generations. Stare at the sun long enough and you will not see it anymore. Stare at your own reflection in a mirror and you will lose sight of what really matters . . . for yourself and for others.
The saddest part of this is that some of the “self-help” stuff is right. If you read some blogs or scan the web about self-love, there are some excellent guidelines for caring for others or living at peace, eating better food or disavowing racism. Do these things and, yes, you will find yourself happier, more fulfilled and living healthier and better than ever. But the question comes, is being happy the ultimate goal of my life? “People who are entirely wrapped up in themselves make pretty small packages.” (Harry Emerson Fosdick, 1942)
The key consideration is motive. Why do we do the things we do? The Son of Man did not come to do His own will, but the will of His Father who had sent Him. (John 6:38) God does not look on outward appearances as we do (1 Samuel 16:7), but looks at our motives. When I indulge in self-help because it is good for ME, my motive is sinful, even if the action is good. Even action that is self-sacrificial or self-deprecating is nothing more than banging a gong if the motive is only for me. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) Even writing a brilliant blog (🙄) is of no value to the Kingdom of God if all I want is more followers and accolades of readers.
Separating our “selves” from what we do is almost impossible for us. The concept is easy enough to understand: consider when you look at a beautiful painting or the Grand Canyon; when you smell a delicious New England Boiled Dinner about ready to be served; when you feel the warmth of a loving embrace; when you hear a philharmonic orchestra play a Beethoven symphony perfectly. In all of these occasions we are somehow transported “out of ourselves” to a point of delight without focus on us. Ideally, this is how we should live! Not as a Buddhist in “absorption into the infinite” nor in a state of impersonal nirvana, and certainly not with a focus on how much “I enjoy” this.
Rather, there is a position of satisfaction in savoring something without “self-consciousness.” It is not a place of hating oneself or of putting oneself down; nor is it a place of exalting oneself, of loving and caring for yourself over concern for others. It is simply NOT thinking about yourself.
There is also a place of discomfort where we are concerned for someone else, worried for another’s well-being, hopeful for something for someone besides ourselves. This is also a field of UN-self-consiousness.
So where does that leave us? Always coming before the Creator with humility and repentance for being less than He created us to be. C.S. Lewis commented somewhere that we are either repenting of a sin, contemplating a sin, or committing a sin, this being our constant habit. It would seem rather dismal except that whenever we are in that place of repentance, God lifts us out of our “selves” and gives us joy for the moments that we are UN-self-conscious. And this comes because of His grace to us, His unmerited favor that the Holy God of the universe lavishes on us who are so unholy.
So give up reading on “how to be happy,” forget about “finding yourself,” or “realizing your potential.” No need to “Run The World.” Most of all, lose any misconception about a need to love yourself more or more perfectly. You can no more improve on your love for yourself than you can make rain any wetter.
Instead focus on Him, on His Presence, on His purposes. Learn to know Him, not as an abstract idea or philosophy, but know Him as a person. Granted, an infinite and undefinable person, but He is here and He is not silent. It is NOT all about me . . . or you.
May 14, 2017 Arriving in China, we left Beijing for Chang Chun to visit Jilin University with some other UK profs. I love clouds (and hamming for my camera; “We’re going down! Oh, we’re landing.”). The hotel where we stayed was amazingly disciplined, and close enough to JU to walk there with our Teaching Guide and Living Assistant. More on the campus next week. The campus entry has a relief of their alma mater song. Hey, even though it was May, Anita and I had on green which I needed to show you today for St. Pat’s Day. Note my pens and her shoelaces as we visited with students promoting various clubs on campus.
Well, spring WAS in the air . . . until Monday morning, when Anita and I started to go on our first of two one-mile walks. We stepped outside without having checked the weather app, and immediately ran back inside! The 55-60⁰F (13-15⁰C) temps we enjoyed on Sunday were gone, and the 40⁰F (4.5⁰C) bluster was blowing down to a 32⁰F (FREEZING) wind chill. So after putting on our winter coats and Mongolian hats, we headed back out. “There’s no such thing as too cold; only inadequate clothing!” (Ron Gifford, Canadian) 😁
So that has nothing to do with this “food blog” today. Sunday afternoon the “baking bug” bit me again as I was ogling the strawberries Anita had bought, and wondering if I should try another pie or something new. Thinking of the pie as more of a wintery treat, I decided on cupcakes, but with some idiosyncratic attempts to make them “my own.” (Some would say “idiotic” but we’re not listening to them! 😂) This blog, btw, comes on the heels of Smitha’s Bake Love’s blog which has such fantastic floral buttercream cupcakes that I could almost taste them on the computer screen. Please read about my cupcakes before visiting her site, as once there you will find delicious cakes, breakfasts, breads, cookies, and even soups, salads and almond milk and you may never leave! She politely tried to encourage me as a beginner, but I guess that’s what happens when you see what the pros can do 😞.
As usual, start with getting everything together to make sure you have what you need. Yields 12 cupcakes.
- 1-1/4 cup all-purpose flour (300 mL)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder (5 grams)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (2.5 grams)
- 5 tablespoons softened unsalted butter (65 grams)
- 1/2 cup brown sugar (120 mL)
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (2.5 mL)
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup whole milk (60 mL)
- 3/4 cup medium chopped strawberries (180mL)
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (120 mL)
Directions: Preheat the oven to 350⁰F (175⁰C).
Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.
In a larger bowl, beat the butter, vanilla and sugar together at medium speed until it is as fluffy as the sugar will let it get. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl with each stage of the beating.
Add the first egg, blending it completely for at least one minute. After it is fully blended, add the second and thoroughly blend it as well, again scraping the sides. Beat for at least one additional minute on medium speed.
Add about 1/3 of the dry flour mixture and beat at medium speed to fully mix.
Follow this with about 1/2 of the milk and again beat to fully mix.
Repeat with the remaining dry mixture and milk, and beat until the batter is smooth.
Add the walnuts and then gently fold in the strawberries without beating.
Spoon into lined a muffin tin pan, filling each cup about 3/4 to 4/5 full.
Bake for 15 minutes, until the tops are cracking and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the pan for about 15 minutes before removing.
Cook’s privilege. 😉
For the Strawberry Butter Frosting you will need:
1/2 cup of pureed strawberries
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1-1/2 cup powdered sugar (confectioners)
3/4 cup softened butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch of salt
Directions: While the cupcakes are cooling, place the strawberries and brown sugar in a blender to puree. I tried to use my Cuisinart Smart Stick chopper, but it was not nearly fine enough, so I put it in the Osterizer blender and pulsed it to thoroughly puree it.
If you want reeeally smooth frosting, press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve before heating, but since the only sieve I have as yet is not very fine, I just put the mixture into the saucepan over medium heat for five minutes. Once it begins bubbling, stir very frequently to constantly to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. The puree should reduce to about 1/3 cup. (Note: in my picture I made waaaay too much because I started with 1-1-2 cup of chopped strawberries! 😱)
After removing from heat, cool the mixture completely in the refrigerator or freezer.
Beat the butter and powdered sugar together with the vanilla and salt until it is light and fluffy.
Once the puree is cold, add it to the butter mixture and beat on high speed for three minutes or until it is very fluffy.
If it is too thin gradually add more powdered sugar until it reaches a slightly firm consistency. Remember, it will set a little more when it is refrigerated and the butter congeals.
However, if it is too thick, thin it down by adding little by little a few drops of milk.
Spread the frosting on the cupcakes and enjoy! If you want it really fancy like Smitha’s Bake Love, you will have to get an icing pipe with its various tips which I do not have yet.
Since fresh strawberries are in the mixes, the cupcakes should be refrigerated. If you have leftover frosting (and I had a LOT!), store it in the fridge as well and use if for buttering toast or spreading on bagels.
I topped each of the cupcakes with a strawberry that had been marinated with sugar for an hour.
Since Anita does not care for sweets much, I left half the cupcakes unfrosted, but actually the strawberry butter is not too sweet, certainly not as sweet as Anita. 😊
Well, it’s that time of the year again. After a year of pandemics and elections, it is time for the US Congress to address one of the stupidest laws they have ever enacted! And this is noted with full awareness of the ACA (aka Obamacare – “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” – Nancy Pelosi, March 9. 2010). This presupposes the For The People Act that centralizes elections, disenfranchises states and degrades the integrity of the elections by “the people” it supposedly is FOR. It assumes you know about the $1,900,000,000.00 ($1.9 trillion) Covid Relief Package that has less than $1,900,000.00 ($1.9 billion) for covid relief, less than 1/10th of the bill.
Even with these boondoggles, the stupidest law the U.S. Congress has ever passed was the Daylight Saving Time Act of 1918! Because of confusion over when states would adopt DST, it was codified into uniform compliance by the Uniform Time Act of 1966 (unless states wanted to opt out, which Arizona, Hawaii and half of Indiana did). Now Daylight Saving Time begins with “Spring Forward” at 2am on the second Sunday of March every year. When 2am hits, we are supposed to move our clocks forward to 3am, skipping that hour. Standard Time resumes with “Fall Back” at 2am on the first Sunday of November. When 2am hits, we try to reverse the damage by moving the clocks backward to 1am, repeating the 1am hour over again. Then we do it all again in the spring.
Now, let’s up the absurdity! This year, again, a group of congresspeople and senators have proposed the Sunshine Protection Act which would make Daylight Saving Time PERMANENT, so that we do not have to change our clocks every other season. After all, if the government does not protect the Sunshine, who will!? A reasonable person might ask, WHYYYYY!? If you are going to get up an hour earlier every day of the year, why not just leave the clocks alone and go with the Greenwich Meridian Time standard that the US adopted in November of 1883 and was standardized to the world in 1884?
Two stories to illustrate the asininity of this idea:
One is the apocryphal tale of why DST was ever adopted.
It seems some congressmen were concerned about getting reelected and felt they needed something to show their constituents that they were not just sitting around the Capitol lounge and gym smoking stogies, drinking martinis and getting tax-payer funded massages, even though that is exactly what they were doing.
One suggested, “Why don’t we vote to give everyone an extra hour every day? You know, to work longer and pay higher taxes, but we could say it was so they could spend more time with their families.”
Everyone jumped on the bandwagon immediately exclaiming “Capital idea!” until a freshman congressman, who was unschooled in the finer arts of making laws, noted, “But that would wear out in about two weeks when people would be going to bed at sunup and rising at sundown.”
After some substantial grumbling about mouthy young upstarts needing to learn their place, one of the elder statesmen said, “Well we can just subtract the extra hour from the morning and that way everyone will get the extra hour without confusing the clock-makers who would have to make 25 hour clocks. Besides I don’t have that many voting clock-makers in my district.”
The measure passed with full bi-partisan support and was signed into law by Woodrow Wilson, who was busy planning to catch the Spanish Flu when he attended the League of Nations meeting the next year, and could not get reelected for a third term if he had slowed down the earth’s rotation to actually give everyone an extra hour.
The second story is a true one about a secretary I once knew in an office in which I worked. Spring was on the horizon and we were discussing the coming change of the clocks. I noted that, “If it is really so important to have an extra hour of daylight in the evening, why can’t we just start and quit work an hour earlier?”
The secretary looked aghast! “Oh, C.A., I have to get up at 6am to get here by 8 as it is. I could never get up at 5am.”
The befuddlement in my brain was difficult to speak through, but I finally managed to say, “But you ARE getting up at 5am; you’re just calling it 6am for the summer!”
I would like to suggest an alternative proposal that we set our clocks BACK five hours! That way we could all sleep in until noon and miss the rush hour traffic going to work, right? This proposal makes the same sense as “permanentizing” DST year-round.
And so the idiocy we call Daylight Saving Time (and that many people mispronounce as Daylight SavingS Time) may not be going away any time soon. In fact, if our brilliant congresspeople have anything to say about it, DST might not go away ever! Just think of how much we will protect the sunshine and the time we will save THAT WAY! Now I wonder what they will do while smoking stogies, sipping martinis and getting massages.
This is a rather lengthy guest blog, over 3000 words, compared to my usual blogs of about 1000, but Dr. Atlas is well worth a little extra time to read.
by Dr. Scott W. Atlas, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University
The following is adapted from a speech delivered on February 18, 2021, at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar in Phoenix, Arizona.
The COVID pandemic has been a tragedy, no doubt. But it has exposed profound issues in America that threaten the principles of freedom and order that we Americans often take for granted.
First, I have been shocked at the unprecedented exertion of power by the government since last March — issuing unilateral decrees, ordering the closure of businesses, churches, and schools, restricting personal movement, mandating behavior, and suspending indefinitely basic freedoms. Second, I was and remain stunned — almost frightened — at the acquiescence of the American people to such destructive, arbitrary, and wholly unscientific rules, restrictions, and mandates.
The pandemic also brought to the forefront things we have known existed and have tolerated for years: media bias, the decline of academic freedom on campuses, the heavy hand of Big Tech, and — now more obviously than ever — the politicization of science. Ultimately, the freedom of Americans to seek and state what they believe to be the truth is at risk.
Let me say at the outset that I, like all of us, acknowledge that the consequences of the COVID pandemic and its management have been enormous. Over 500,000 American deaths have been attributed to the virus; more will follow. Even after almost a year, the pandemic still paralyzes our country. And despite all efforts, there has been an undeniable failure to stop cases from escalating and to prevent hospitalizations and deaths.
But there is also an unacknowledged reality: almost every state and major city in the U.S., with a handful of exceptions, have implemented severe restrictions for many months, including closures of businesses and in-person schools, mobility restrictions and curfews, quarantines, limits on group gatherings, and mask mandates dating back to at least last summer. And despite any myths to the contrary, social mobility tracking of Americans and data from Gallup, YouGov, the COVID-19 Consortium, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have all shown significant reductions of movement as well as a consistently high percentage of mask-wearing since the late summer, similar to the extent seen in Western Europe and approaching the extent seen in Asia.
With what results?
All legitimate policy scholars today should be reexamining the policies that have severely harmed America’s children and families, while failing to save the elderly. Numerous studies, including one from Stanford University’s infectious disease scientists and epidemiologists Benavid, Oh, Bhattacharya, and Ioannides have shown that the mitigating impact of the extraordinary measures used in almost every state was small at best — and usually harmful. President Biden himself openly admitted the lack of efficacy of these measures in his January 22 speech to the nation: “There is nothing we can do,” he said, “to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.”
Bizarrely, though, many want to blame those who opposed lockdowns and mandates for the failure of the very lockdowns and mandates that were widely implemented.
Besides their limited value in containing the virus, lockdown policies have been extraordinarily harmful. The harms to children of suspending in-person schooling are dramatic, including poor learning, school dropouts, social isolation, and suicidal ideation, most of which are far worse for lower income groups. A recent study confirms that up to 78 percent of cancers were never detected due to missed screening over a three-month period. If one extrapolates to the entire country, 750,000 to over a million new cancer cases over a nine-month period will have gone undetected. That health disaster adds to missed critical surgeries, delayed presentations of pediatric illnesses, heart attack and stroke patients too afraid to go to the hospital, and others — all well documented.
Beyond hospital care, the CDC reported four-fold increases in depression, three-fold increases in anxiety symptoms, and a doubling of suicidal ideation, particularly among young adults after the first few months of lockdowns, echoing American Medical Association reports of drug overdoses and suicides. Domestic and child abuse have been skyrocketing due to the isolation and loss of jobs. Given that many schools have been closed, hundreds of thousands of abuse cases have gone unreported, since schools are commonly where abuse is noticed. Finally, the unemployment shock from lockdowns, according to a recent National Bureau of Economic Research study, will generate a three percent increase in the mortality rate and a 0.5 percent drop in life expectancy over the next 15 years, disproportionately affecting African-Americans and women. That translates into what the study refers to as a “staggering” 890,000 additional U.S. deaths.
We know we have not yet seen the full extent of the damage from the lockdowns, because the effects will continue to be felt for decades. Perhaps that is why lockdowns were not recommended in previous pandemic response analyses, even for diseases with far higher death rates.
To determine the best path forward, shouldn’t policymakers objectively consider the impact both of the virus and of anti-virus policies to date? This points to the importance of health policy, my own particular field, which requires a broader scope than that of epidemiologists and basic scientists. In the case of COVID, it requires taking into account the fact that lockdowns and other significant restrictions on individuals have been extraordinarily harmful — even deadly — especially for the working class and the poor.
“There is a land full of wonder, mystery, and danger. Some say, to survive it, you need to be as mad as a hatter. Which, luckily, I am.” — Mad Hatter
Optimistically, we should be seeing the light at the end of the long tunnel with the rollout of vaccines, now being administered at a rate of one million to 1.5 million per day. On the other hand, using logic that would appeal to Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter, in many states the vaccines were initially administered more frequently to healthier and younger people than to those at greatest risk from the virus. The argument was made that children should be among the first to be vaccinated, although children are at extremely low risk from the virus and are proven not to be significant spreaders to adults. Likewise, we heard the Kafka-esque idea promoted that teachers must be vaccinated before teaching in person, when schools are one of the lowest risk environments and the vast majority of teachers are not high risk.
Worse, we hear so-called experts on TV warning that social distancing, masks, and other restrictions will still be necessary after people are vaccinated! All indications are that those in power have no intention of allowing Americans to live normally — which for Americans means to live freely — again.
And sadly, just as in Galileo’s time, the root of our problem lies in “the experts” and vested academic interests. At many universities — which are supposed to be America’s centers for critical thinking — those with views contrary to those of “the experts” currently in power find themselves intimidated. Many have become afraid to speak up.
But the suppression of academic freedom is not the extent of the problem on America’s campuses.
To take Stanford, where I work, as an example, some professors have resorted to toxic smears in opinion pieces and organized rebukes aimed at those of us who criticized the failed health policies of the past year and who dared to serve our country under a president they despised — the latter apparently being the ultimate transgression.
Defamatory attacks with malicious intent based on straw-man arguments and out-of-context distortions are not acceptable in American society, let alone in our universities. There has been an attempt to intimidate and discredit me using falsifications and misrepresentations. This violates Stanford’s Code of Conduct, damages the Stanford name, and abuses the trust that parents and society place in educators.
It is understandable that most Stanford professors are not experts in the field of health policy and are ignorant of the data about the COVID pandemic. But that does not excuse the fact that some called recommendations that I made “falsehoods and misrepresentations of science.” That was a lie, and no matter how often lies are repeated by politically-driven accusers, and regardless of how often those lies are echoed in biased media, lies will never be true.
We all must pray to God that the infamous claim attributed to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels — “A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth” — never becomes operative in the United States of America.
All of the policies I recommended to President Trump were designed to reduce both the spread of the virus to the most vulnerable and the economic, health, and social harms of anti-COVID policies for those impacted the most — small businesses, the working class, and the poor. I was one of the first to push for increasing protections for those most at risk, particularly the elderly. At the same time, almost a year ago, I recognized that we must also consider the enormous harms to physical and mental health, as well as the deaths attributable to the draconian policies implemented to contain the infection. That is the goal of public health policy — to minimize all harms, not simply to stop a virus at all costs.
The claim in a recent Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) opinion piece by three Stanford professors that “nearly all public health experts were concerned that [Scott Atlas’s] recommendations could lead to tens of thousands (or more) of unnecessary deaths in the U.S. alone” is patently false and absurd on its face. As pointed out by Dr. Joel Zinberg in National Review, the Great Barrington Declaration — a proposal co-authored by medical scientists and epidemiologists from Stanford, Harvard, and Oxford — “is closer to the one condemned in the JAMA article than anything Atlas said.” Yet the Great Barrington Declaration has already been signed by over 50,000 medical and public health practitioners.
When critics display such ignorance about the scope of views held by experts, it exposes their bias and disqualifies their authority on these issues. Indeed, it is almost beyond parody that these same critics wrote that “professionalism demands honesty about what [experts] know and do not know.”
I have explained the fact that younger people have little risk from this infection, and I have explained the biological fact of herd immunity — just like Harvard epidemiologist Katherine Yih did. That is very different from proposing that people be deliberately exposed and infected — which I have never suggested, although I have been accused of doing so.
I have also been accused of “argu[ing] that many public health orders aimed at increasing social distancing could be forgone without ill effects.” To the contrary, I have repeatedly called for mitigation measures, including extra sanitization, social distancing, masks, group limits, testing, and other increased protections to limit the spread and damage from the coronavirus. I explicitly called for augmenting protection of those at risk—in dozens of on-the-record presentations, interviews, and written pieces.
My accusers have ignored my explicit, emphatic public denials about supporting the spread of the infection unchecked to achieve herd immunity — denials quoted widely in the media. Perhaps this is because my views are not the real object of their criticism. Perhaps it is because their true motive is to “cancel” anyone who accepted the call to serve America in the Trump administration.
For many months, I have been vilified after calling for opening in-person schools — in line with Harvard Professors Martin Kulldorf and Katherine Yih and Stanford Professor Jay Bhattacharya — but my policy recommendation has been corroborated repeatedly by the literature. The compelling case to open schools is now admitted even in publications like The Atlantic, which has noted: “Research from around the world has, since the beginning of the pandemic, indicated that people under 18, and especially younger kids, are less susceptible to infection, less likely to experience severe symptoms, and far less likely to be hospitalized or die.” The subhead of the article was even clearer: “We’ve known for months that young children are less susceptible to serious infection and less likely to transmit the coronavirus.”
When the JAMA accusers wrote that I “disputed the need for masks,” they misrepresented my words. My advice on mask usage has been consistent: “Wear a mask when you cannot socially distance.” At the time, this matched the published recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO). This past December, the WHO modified its recommendation: “In areas where the virus is circulating, masks should be worn when you’re in crowded settings, where you can’t be at least one meter [roughly three feet] from others, and in rooms with poor or unknown ventilation”—in other words, not at all times by everyone. This also matches the recommendation of the National Institutes of Health document Prevention and Prophylaxis of SARS-CoV-2 Infection: “When consistent distancing is not possible, face coverings may further reduce the spread of infectious droplets from individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infection to others.”
Regarding universal masks, 38 states have implemented mask mandates, most of them since at least the summer, with almost all the rest having mandates in their major cities. Widespread, general population mask usage has shown little empirical utility in terms of preventing cases, even though citing or describing evidence against their utility has been censored. Denmark also performed a randomized controlled study that showed that widespread mask usage had only minimal impact.
This is the reality.
Those who insist that universal mask usage has absolutely proven effective at controlling the spread of the COVID virus and is universally recommended according to “the science” are deliberately ignoring the evidence to the contrary. It is they who are propagating false and misleading information.
Those who say it is unethical, even dangerous, to question broad population mask mandates must also explain why many top infectious disease scientists and public health organizations question the efficacy of general population masking. Tom Jefferson and Carl Heneghan of the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, for instance, wrote that “despite two decades of pandemic preparedness, there is considerable uncertainty as to the value of wearing masks.” Oxford epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta says there is no need for masks unless one is elderly or high risk. Stanford’s Jay Bhattacharya has said that “mask mandates are not supported by the scientific data. . . . There is no scientific evidence that mask mandates work to slow the spread of the disease.”
Throughout this pandemic, the WHO’s “Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19” has included the following statement: “At present, there is no direct evidence (from studies on COVID-19 and in healthy people in the community) on the effectiveness of universal masking of healthy people in the community to prevent infection with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19.” The CDC, in a review of influenza pandemics in May 2020, “did not find evidence that surgical-type face masks are effective in reducing laboratory-confirmed influenza transmission, either when worn by infected persons (source control) or by persons in the general community to reduce their susceptibility.” And until the WHO removed it on October 21, 2020 — soon after Twitter censored a tweet of mine highlighting the quote — the WHO had published the fact that “the widespread use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not yet supported by high quality or direct scientific evidence and there are potential benefits and harms to consider.”
My advice on masks all along has been based on scientific data and matched the advice of many of the top scientists and public health organizations throughout the world.
The Politicization of the Search For Truth
At this point, one could make a reasonable case that those who continue to push societal restrictions without acknowledging their failures and the serious harms they caused are themselves putting forth dangerous misinformation. Despite that, I will not call for their official rebuke or punishment. I will not try to cancel them. I will not try to extinguish their opinions. And I will not lie to distort their words and defame them. To do so would repeat the shameful stifling of discourse that is critical to educating the public and arriving at the scientific truths we desperately need.
If this shameful behavior continues, university mottos like Harvard’s “Truth,” Stanford’s “The Winds of Freedom Blow,” and Yale’s “Light and Truth” will need major revision.
Big Tech has piled on with its own heavy hand to help eliminate discussion of conflicting evidence. Without permitting open debate and admission of errors, we might never be able to respond effectively to any future crisis. Indeed, open debate should be more than permitted — it should be encouraged.
As a health policy scholar for over 15 years and as a professor at elite universities for 30 years, I am shocked and dismayed that so many faculty members at these universities are now dangerously intolerant of opinions contrary to their favored narrative. Some even go further, distorting and misrepresenting words to delegitimize and even punish those of us willing to serve the country in the administration of a president they loathe. It is their own behavior, to quote the Stanford professors who have attacked me, that “violates the core values of [Stanford] faculty and the expectations under the Stanford Code of Conduct, which states that we all ‘are responsible for sustaining the high ethical standards of this institution.’” In addition to violating standards of ethical behavior among colleagues, this behavior falls short of simple human decency.
If academic leaders fail to renounce such unethical conduct, increasing numbers of academics will be unwilling to serve their country in contentious times. As educators, as parents, as fellow citizens, that would be the worst possible legacy to leave to our children.
I also fear that the idea of science as a search for truth — a search utilizing the empirical scientific method — has been seriously damaged. Even the world’s leading scientific journals — The Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine, Science, and Nature — have been contaminated by politics. What is more concerning, many in the public and in the scientific community have become fatigued by the arguments — and fatigue will allow fallacy to triumph over truth.
With social media acting as the arbiter of allowable discussion, and with continued censorship and cancellation of those with views challenging the “accepted narrative,” the United States is on the verge of losing its cherished freedoms. It is not at all clear whether our democratic republic will survive — but it is clear it will not survive unless more people begin to step up in defense of freedom of thought and speech.
Scott W. Atlas is the Robert Wesson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He previously served for 14 years as professor and chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center. He earned his B.S. from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and his M.D. from the University of Chicago School of Medicine. An ad hoc member of the Nominating Committee for the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology, he was a senior health care advisor to a number of presidential candidates in 2008, 2012, and 2016. From July to December 2020, he served as Special Advisor to President Trump and as a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. He is the editor of Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain and Spine, now in its fifth edition, and is the author of several books, including Restoring Quality Health Care.
I had a good blog planned for today and was writing it in my head a couple nights earlier in the week. Then came Thursday.
Anita and I had bypassed our opportunity for the Pfizer vaccines as I am one of “those skeptics.” Using a new process for vaccination (mRNA) would suggest prudence in waiting for the dust to settle and see that there are no long-term effects in others more willing to venture into the unknown. Add that the government pushed so hard and so fast . . . I am still of Ronald Reagan’s mind: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'” (August 12, 1986) I can just wear a mask and stay six feet away from anyone without one.
However, when we discovered an Ensemble 2 Clinical Trial for the Janssen (J&J) vaccine to be conducted at UK (University of Kentucky, not the real UK under the Queen’s domain 😉), I immediately wanted to be one of the 200 recruited here to participate.
One: The Ensemble 1 Phase 3 CT had over 45,000 participants with not one life-threatening adverse event, and only two minor adverse events, which were quickly resolved. This follows that the Janssen vaccine employs tried-and-true old technology of vaccine preparation, utilizing an adenovirus that causes common colds, modified to produce the coronavirus “spikes” without the coronavirus.
Two: There is no special sub-freezing temperature required. I have seen too many mistakes in simple lab procedures to trust the huge roll-out of -80⁰C (-112⁰F) storage and shipment of vaccines. Now, they claim Pfizer does not need those extremes for short terms, but that was not the story a week ago. A vaccine that requires only normal refrigeration just looks safer to me.
Three: The protection, while lower than the Pfizer and Moderna double-dose vaccines, is close enough to single-dosages of those. And the Ensemble 2 CT is going to test the idea that may bring the Janssen vaccine in line with the double-dosed results of Pfizer and Moderna. We will be given two injections several weeks apart.
So Thursday, March 4, Anita and I went through all the paperwork and consent forms to participate and were given double-blinded injections. (Blind participation means the participant does not know if they are getting a treatment or placebo, but the researcher knows; double-blind means neither the participant nor the researcher knows if they are receiving the treatment or placebo.) We both received injections and went to bed fine that night. But on Friday I could feel every muscle in my body and some I did not even know I had! Every joint was painful to move, not severely, but enough that we figured I either got the “real McCoy” in the trial, or was having a reeeealy significant “placebo effect” reaction. Very slight elevation of temperature (for me: 98.3⁰F; usually 97⁰ or lower) and a mild headache. My wife says I am a really cool guy, and usually give headaches rather than get them. 😏
Fatigue plagued me quite a bit yesterday when I usually work up this blog, and I spent a lot of time in bed, as I would usually do if I had a cold. So today, no philosophy, no theology, no living advice and no recipes. Just a brief report on why I am posting a boring blog instead of my usual brilliance. 🙄
Did Anita get the vaccine or placebo? She usually handles colds much better than me, and Dr. Greenberg, the excellent primary investigator at UK, says 25% of people so far who received the Ensemble 1 vaccine did not have any reactions. If the decision is made by Janssen to ‘unblind’ the study, and she finds out that she only received the placebo, she can go back for the Emergency Use Authorized vaccine.
If you want to know more about the Janssen vaccine, try this website here for information without lots of “medical technologese.” And just for the record, I do not have any affiliate connections to anything I ever recommend in my blogs.
Stay safe, stay warm and love your neighbor as you love yourself.