Discover more from Slack Tide by Matt Labash
How I learned to stop worrying and love/hate the face diaper
It seems a cruel trick of nature that Omicron - a purportedly highly contagious COVID variant - is arriving just in time for Jesus’ birthday. (Maybe he should postpone it, and throw a combination birth/resurrection party around Easter.) As if we didn’t already have enough to dread this time of year: the unwanted visiting relatives, the rampant materialism, the endless radio barrage of Mannheim Steamroller’s “Deck the Halls,” a musical experience on a par with being intubated in an ICU.
According to Merriam-Webster, citing the World Health Organization (which, with all their missed pandemic calls, sometimes seems to be named ironically), the Omicron moniker comes from the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet. The 13th and 14th letters of the alphabet (“nu” and “xi”) were skipped over because “nu” sounds like “new” and “xi” is a common surname – as with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the man who some credit for bringing us the Wuhan-coronavirus. Still, I’m not racist or anything – I’m a fan of all things Greek (gyros, Plato, Telly Savalas, sovereign debt defaults). But I still don’t like the ring of it. “Omicron” sounds too much like a failed tech start-up, or something Elon Musk might name his child.
The tired Circle of Pandemic Life is therefore once again repeating itself. Public-health types offer suggestions to mask-up again, even if you’ve been vaccinated. The Resistance sounds the battle cry of “Masks Forever?!!!!” In fact, just two days ago, “Dr.” Sebastian Gorka (he’s not a medical doctor, but plays one on Twitter), tweeted a clip of Anthony Fauci on CNN, claiming, “Fauci finally admits it, it’s masks FOREVER!” Like a high percentage of Gorka’s claims, this one was bunk, too. (Fauci actually said, “One of the things that’s very clear is that if you have to be in an indoor congregate setting in which you’re unsure of what the vaccination status is of the people around you, wear a mask.” )
Gorka, like many grown men throwing hissy fits these days, seems upset that someone suggests taking precautions in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century. It’s one which is now believed to have killed a lot more Americans (787,695, though that number will increase by the time I’m done writing this paragraph) than did the Spanish Flu (believed to be around 675,000), a benchmark The Resistance scoffed at us ever reaching just 21 months ago, when they were still trying to pass COVID off as a bad case of the sniffles.
While we’ve largely gotten used to the astronomical death toll (Americans can acclimate to any calamity, even to Gorka’s embarrassing Relief Factor commercials), it might be worth considering that COVID has now killed more Americans than did the combat deaths in every single war America has ever fought COMBINED, from both World Wars to the Civil War to Vietnam and Korea right down to the invasion of Grenada (666,441 total combat deaths vs. 787,695 COVID deaths). If history doesn’t get your attention, you might be interested to know that COVID has now killed one out of every 420 Americans. Not a bad run for a disease we didn’t even know existed a little over two years ago.
Our grandfathers stormed the beaches of Normandy (mine was literally there, albeit, in the Navy, dropping off the stormers), so they could kick some Nazi ass. Yet how do their tough-guy progeny do their part to preserve civilization? By doing what they do best, whining a lot, loudly and incessantly: I don’t want to wear a face diaper….wahhh! It’s hot in here…..wahhh! How am I gonna do Fireball shots at a Toby Keith concert with my burqa on…..wahhhh!
It’s worse than unscientific, it’s unmanly.
Not that I’m above questioning science. In fact, if science is worth the paper it’s printed on, its very job is to perpetually question itself, since much of what we think we perceive is, as Paul put it in his letter to the Corinthians, through a glass darkly. In fact, new science is constantly undoing the current science’s best understanding of how things work. As I’ve written elsewhere, science is a primitive map of a very mysterious planet. The Science Channel itself has detailed how, if you were an ancient Greek, and believed in the science of the day, you were convinced that the liver circulated blood, not the heart. And even as late at the 19th century, doctors believed washing their hands was unnecessary before surgery, attributing contagions to “bad air,” with disease resulting from imbalances of the four humors (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile). Meaning that if you had blind faith in the science of the day, you’d have a bit of yellow bile on your face now. And the same could be said of everything from Maternal Impression (the theory that maternal thoughts created birth defects) to phrenology to Hollow Earth Theory.
But for whatever it’s worth, I’m still willing to put more faith in the science of the day than I am in whatever “science” Dr. Gorka pulls out of his tochis, or which he might have Seth and Pete do for him from the looks of this creepy commercial. (Come out with your hands up, boys!)
I won’t belabor the current science here, but it generally holds that wearing a mask prevents infection more than not wearing one does. So says the CDC. But if they’re a little too Deep State for you, so also say researchers at Stanford Medicine and Yale, at the Journal of the American Medical Association, at the peer-reviewed scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and at the peer-reviewed British scientific journal Nature. Not enough evidence against “Dr.” Gorka’s Twitter feed? You still wanna see all my peer-reviewed scientific journals and raise me an Alex Berenson? Okay. Here’s a list of 49 scientific studies (there is some overlap with the aforementioned) that say masks work.
Or, if you’re more of a visual learner, here’s a helpful video shot with a high-speed camera:
Are masks perfect at preventing infection? Of course not. (As the above video demonstrates.) But in the middle of a serious pandemic - one in which even the pros aren’t certain how soon the vaccines or natural immunity wane, while 40 percent of the country still refuses or isn’t old enough to get their full Fauci Ouchie (as public-health expert Lauren Boebert calls it) – masks do put a dent in it. Condoms aren’t perfect at preventing pregnancy. Yet we don’t still stubbornly insist that rutting without one is more effective than using one. The imperfect should not be viewed as the enemy of the good. Just because we can only (sometimes) control cancer, not eradicate it, doesn’t mean we encourage people to drink acid-mine drainage or smoke asbestos cigarettes.
Neither is the public-health Taliban making us all wear face diapers everywhere. At least not as sweepingly as the Gorkas of the world would have us believe. Perhaps nobody keeps better up-to-date track of state-by-state mask requirements than the AARP. While things can vary by locality, according to them, only six states still require people to wear masks in indoor public places any longer. Three more additional states have indoor mask mandates that apply only to the unvaccinated. (Though good luck enforcing it.) Only one state (Washington) requires masks outside, but then, only at outside events attended by 500 or more people. Which still leaves four-fifths of the country. Thirty states that had far-reaching mask mandates early on in the pandemic have lifted them, and eleven states never had any at all.
In the People’s Republic of Maryland, where I live, the state doesn’t require masks in public indoor places (though a couple counties do – not mine). So what is my relationship to the mask, you might ask? Love-hate, and kind of helter-skelter. I’m double-vaccinated, and never wear one outside or at family gatherings. Neither do I feed myself through a straw at restaurants. Unsure when my immunity will wane, and having not yet gotten the booster, I do still wear one where I’m coming into close proximity with lots of strangers indoors (especially unmasked ones who are afraid of the Fauci Ouchie), such as in grocery stores or at Toby Keith concerts. (JK on that last one - I’d rather spend the night in a COVID ward, maskless, than go to a Toby Keith concert.)
I have chosen to look on the sunny side of mask-wearing, a necessary evil I’m hoping runs its course. For one, the particular masks I sport (pictured at the top of this piece) is a three-ply black job with an American flag on it. I like to think it makes me look mysterious, but patriotic, like Lee Greenwood robbing a bank. (My Stars’n’Stripes mask was made in Vietnam, but since we spent a lot of time bombing them, I’m not gonna beat myself up over it.)
The mask keeps me warm in winter, and helps me sweat off chin-fat in summer. When I’ve had a hard day of Substacking, I don’t have to shave before going out, neither do I have to worry whether spinach is caught in my teeth, since nobody can see them. It helps me dodge people I don’t want to see. If I walk past Thomas1 in a Safeway aisle, and we both have masks on, I can ignore him, or pretend I didn’t recognize him if he stops me, thus gaining back valuable hours of my time here on earth that I’d otherwise lose to unwanted small talk.
I’m a freedom-lover in every area of my life, mind you. I pee off my porch with great regularity, even though I live in a subdivision, not on a farm. If I see a “Posted” sign, I consider it to be a “fish here” invitation, since no man will keep me away from God’s fish. I never drive the speed limit, I encourage people to let their dogs off the leash to run through my yard, and I prefer to breathe freely. Breathing, being one of my two or three favorite bodily functions.
So does me wearing a mask when I think it’s appropriate make me a handmaiden of the state? No. My state’s not even asking me to do it. In some situations, I’m doing it on my own. Because I want to take care of myself, and the people around me, even if it causes me minor inconvenience. Because I believe that when walking into a store where a minimum-wage clerk is held captive for eight hours a day – where I have a choice to go, but they really don’t, since they need to make a living - I owe it to him or her to ease their fears, rather than to exacerbate them. Because I’m a grown-ass man who wants to do his very small part to help his country get through this and past it, since this virus has not only done in our lungs, but our brains, the latter of which have been rotted by political toxins.
Does that make me a hero like my grandfather and his WW II buddies? Clearly not. Though my grandfather would blanch at the “h” word getting used anywhere near him, as well. He was merely serving. Which is what we should all be doing, serving our country, and our world, and especially each other. Because we’re in a war too – not just with a virus, but with ourselves. And in order to win it, we have to stop being selfish, stop being vengeful, and to stop imagining that we’re Braveheart for breathing on a Food Lion cashier.
Bonus Track: When most people hear the name Kris Kristofferson, one of his most famous lyrics usually comes to mind, from “Me and Bobby McGee”: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” It’s a good line. I like it, too. But when you want to stay free, and know you have plenty to lose, I prefer his song, “The Burden of Freedom.” He first cut it in 1972, but I prefer his older, wiser 2006 version from his “This Old Road” album. We could do worse than making it our new national anthem. From the chorus:
Lord, help me to shoulder
The Burden of Freedom
And give me the courage
To be what I can
And when I am wounded
By those who condemn me
Lord, help me forgive them
They don't understand
Names have not been changed. I just really don’t like Thomas.