Bob Schwartz

American pandemic divide: Understanding the difference between linear and exponential growth

When it comes to attitudes toward the the pandemic, American divides keep cropping up. The latest is masks v. no masks. Then there are Democrats v. Republicans, blue states v. red states, trump v. no-Trump, fact v. fiction, etc.

I note today the most basic divide.

The virus follows an exponential growth pattern. One person infects two. Two infect four. Four infect sixteen. It is multiplicative.

It is does not follow a linear growth pattern, with each new infection adding more cases one by one. It is not additive.

If you don’t understand exponential growth, you don’t understand steep curves, peaks and outbreaks.

I would like to think that almost all American understand the difference between linear and exponential growth, and that a number of those simply choose to ignore it.

But I don’t think so. A number of American are somewhat innumerate, which is the number version of illiterate. American innumeracy is well-documented, though its causes are still an open question—whether a result of education or lack of interest is still debated.

Masks, distancing and other directives are essential precisely because the virus follows an exponential path. If people don’t understand that, that along with a general lack of social concern explains how we got here. And where we might be going.

COVID-19 is people!

Not numbers.

The irony of illness spread: Clean hands, no mask

There are a dozen different ways America got off to a bad late start in responding to COVID-19.

To illustrate one, consider this picture.

Two co-workers or friends are standing close together, neither wearing masks, congratulating themselves on their scrupulous hand washing.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Sanitizing hands and surfaces were stressed early on, even as ramping up of diagnostic testing never (and still hasn’t) reached adequate levels.

At first, regular people wearing masks was not stressed. But in the weeks and months since, there is consensus that as a relatively simple measure, wearing face coverings makes sense.

Unfortunately, that message either hasn’t gotten through to people or is anathema to those who have a political/ideological problem with wearing masks—and who resist protecting those who might get sick or die.

You can wash or sanitize your hands every five minutes. But unless you are absolutely confident through diagnostic testing that you and those you stand near to are not infected, a face covering is just prudent common sense. Which seems to be a bridge too far for a lot of Americans.


“Trump’s Press Secretary Displays One of His Checks in a Little Too Much Detail”

New York Times:

On Friday, Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, did not just reveal that the president was sending his salary to the Department of Health and Human Services to help “support the efforts being undertaken to confront, contain and combat the coronavirus.”

She also displayed the president’s private bank account and routing numbers.

The $100,000 check she held up like a prop appeared to be a real check from Capital One, complete with the relevant details.

The faithless fool directs the faithful to virus hotspots

Today Trump directed all states to open houses of worship as essential.

Religion is important to a number of Americans, and for a number of those, attending services together is a primary practice.

Religion is unimportant to Trump, except as a political tool. He knows nothing and cares less about faith in general, or about the particular faith he cynically claims as his own.

We know from just a few weeks of churches opening in states such as Georgia and Florida that it is a dangerous situation. Churches have had to close after congregants were infected with COVID-19, and in Florida, a Catholic church not only closed, but the priest has died.

There are few regular gatherings riskier than houses of worship, particularly large congregations. Like concerts and movie theaters—and like political rallies—dozens or hundreds of people together for an hour or more, sometimes vocally (loud voices equaling breathing hard), is an ideal environment for transmission.

Reopening of churches is questionable at best right now, though it hurts to see the genuinely faithful denied their usual style of community. But to see someone so faith-free promote the practice is profane.

Humility in the face of the virus is not a strategy. But it is a necessity.

We are seeing all sorts of people and initiatives at the forefront of the response to the virus. Some are brilliant, some stupid. Some knowledgeable, some ignorant. Some arrogant, some humble.

Humility in the face of a towering task is not acceptance or surrender. As in all aspects of our lives, it is recognition of our limitations while we work tirelessly to transcend those limits.

Among the many examples of this, I am thinking of all the work and talk about a vaccine. There is over optimistic talk about the practical possibility of a safe and effective vaccine being widely distributed by end of year or shortly after, an unlikely long shot. Then there are those experts who want to maintain hopeful realism based on past experience with developing vaccines and on how relatively little we know about a virus that first appeared only months ago. That realism isn’t just less than optimistic; it is added weight to already crushing circumstances.

Humility is always needed and always in short supply. Which is why every one of our religious traditions incessantly promotes it. It is not a paradox that we are at our greatest when we are at our least. It is the character of living, as best we can, the complex and elusive reality of paradise here and now.

Trump: “If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.”


The pandemic has been the period of the stupidest things Trump has ever said, which is saying something.

Even though the pandemic is far from resolved, it was widely believed that his suggestion to inject disinfectant as a cure was as stupid as it could get.

Of course it wasn’t.

Yesterday Trump said the following. Please read it slowly. Just as with the beauty of perfect intelligence, perfect stupidity has its own perverse beauty.

“And don’t forget, we have more cases than anybody in the world. But why? Because we do more testing. When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.”

We are sometimes at a loss to describe and explain the range of shortcomings and indecent venality that Trump daily reveals about himself. It is a multi-faceted tragedy, much like the growing list of symptoms that COVID-19 inflicts.

This one quote captures it all. Needless to say, whether or not you count the people suffering and dying of COVID-19 in America, they are still suffering and dying. They are still cases. Cases are not numbers. Cases are people. Cases are facts. It’s just that without the numbers, the facts can be buried, the public impact softened, and the blame averted.

But sick and dead is sick and dead. Even if Trump doesn’t want anyone to know. Or to know just how tragically stupid he is.

Too late.

American Pandemic: “There’s a way to lose more slowly.”

Out of the Past (1947) is the best of all American film noir movies. It contains dozens of lines memorable and quotable, dialogue suffused with fatalistic wisdom.

Jeff and Kathie are at a roulette table. She is losing.

JEFF: That isn’t the way to play it.

KATHIE: Why not?

JEFF: Because it isn’t the way to win.

KATHIE: Is there a way to win?

JEFF: Well, there’s a way to lose more slowly.

The lives of Americans are in the hands of a loser. At this point in response to the pandemic, it isn’t clear exactly what “winning” means, but it is for the moment out of reach. What remains is for the man at the roulette table to figure out is how to lose more slowly.

Spoiler alert: At the end of Out of the Past, both Jeff and Kathie are dead. It is after all film noir.

No pandemic news in the garden this morning.

No pandemic news in the garden this morning.

Comic Books Will Save Us! Free Comic Book Day 2020 Postponed.

Free Comic Book Day:

As the impact and spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to evolve, Diamond Comic Distributors is aware that Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) will be impacted to varying degrees throughout the world. With that in mind, Diamond Comic Distributors has made the difficult decision to postpone the event to a date later in the Summer.

“The severity and timing of the impact of the COVID-19 virus can’t be predicted with any certainty, but the safety of our retailer partners and comic book fans is too important to risk. As always, we appreciate your enthusiasm for and support of the comic industry’s best event and look forward to celebrating with you later in the Summer,” said Diamond Founder and CEO, Steve Geppi.

Free Comic Book Day 2020 offers a selection of 47 titles available absolutely free at participating local comic shops across the United States and around the world. The 47 titles represent a broad range of taste, from superheroes, to sci-fi, to action-adventure, slice-of-life, manga, and so much more! The Free Comic Book Day selection is designed to appeal to every type of reader out there.

Comic books will save us! They saved the entertainment industry by providing the source material for many multi-billion dollar franchises. While they will not cure COVID-19, they will inspire you by demonstrating how far imagination can take us in realizing new lives in a new world.

Buy a comic book. Read a comic book. Today.