Why “What About” may be the two most Dangerous Words!

No doubt you’ve been hearing “what about” – in relation to the massive COVID spikes in places like Florida and Texas.

What about India?
What about Bangladesh? (yes, I’ve heard this!).
What about California?
What about NYC?
What about Sweden?

In general it is usually best to consider those words and statements as a good time to end the “debate” . In the Twitterverse, one may even consider it akin to a person telling you to look at the Bald Eagle over there whilst they pick your wallet out of your pocket. In short, an attempt to make you and others take their eyes and minds off of what is most important.

Disinformation or Lack of Information

There are two main reasons why one might use these words in the present discussions of COVID. Some sincere and honest folks just may not know better. They heard it somewhere and it makes sense to them on the surface, so they repeat it. MANY others fall into the disinformation category where they are likely quoting an Echo Chamber which they believe will lead readers to, again, take their eye off the ball.

Where I Reside – Where I/You are Concerned

The world is complex enough without attempting to understand every corner of it. Predictably, most of us are concerned with where we and our families reside, work or travel. In my case that is Florida and Western MA.

This is the obvious answer to the question “Why are you concerned about MA and why are you comparing it with Florida?” and similar queries. When you spend many months or years in a place – including during a pandemic, the sum of your experiences and knowledge about that location will likely exceed that of random places. Living here, it is natural for me to post a tweet like this below – which lays out the vast differences in how the Pandemic is being handled now. Whoa! There is another key word and concept “NOW” and/or “now and in the future”. It should come as no surprise that worrying about last year will do absolutely nothing to change our status!

Mid-August 2021 Tweet

“What About” can go from Plain Wrong to Friggin Crazy!

The plain Jane “what about” may refer to Sweden, an example often used to argue that the pandemic can be handled without major swings in the way we all live. Examples such as this are just plain wrong in that the persons using them are completely unfamiliar with Sweden and their policies/populace so the point being made could actually be the opposite! A perfect example of a similar Talking Point used by the same general type of person was Switzerland…used for years to illustrate that “gun culture” and weapons ownership cannot be responsible for the US high violence, murder and suicide rates relating to firearms. Those using this example fail to mention (or do not know) that the weapons which the Citizen (Citizens make up a militia/guard there) are allowed to own at home HAVE NO AMMO. Yes, the Ammo is kept locked up in an armory in the local town or city. To even compare that to unlimited gun ownership and the ability to buy 1,000’s of rounds of ammo is off-the-wall. It makes the complete opposite point!

So, yes, those types of “what about” are plain wrong – the person may be clueless (which there is no excuse for) or, again, trying to spread things which are wrong…knowing that many won’t look it up.

Now we go to the crazy. There seems no end to how far folks will go to prove they are correct. One of my recent favorites may be related to Horse Dewormer in the sense that some have pointed to India during the pandemic as some sort of an example (along with claims that they eat horse dewormer which has saved them from COVID).  The same folks were pushing this when Deaths and Cases in India were 20% of what they are today – updated facts cannot be expected to sway these people.

When I hear claims which sound “off”, I immediately ask the question “What am I missing here?”. I’m not talking nuances or rounding errors, but rather questions which are fundamental to understanding the theory being put forward. The very obvious is “Why would we EVER have to look at somewhere 1/2 way around the world which has almost nothing in common with us?”. Yet this type of reason and/or common sense doesn’t appear to be popular, so we need a larger “hole to poke in theory” to illustrate why we should throw out “What about India”?

A person born in India in 1950 or before – those who would be most subject to death and complications from COVID – lived to 31 years of age. If born in 1940, they would be of Prime Avg Age for death from COVID (80+) – that population lived to an average of 27 years old. 

Put another way, the targets of COVID might have died 3X over waiting for the time of the pandemic when they might be hurt by COVID. 

If you do not fully understand the part above in italics, it’s time to delete your ˇTwitter Account and/or go back to the Sports interests you first joined for. If, however, you immediately “got it”, you can also now consider that knowledge as being foundational to COVID – that is, where much longer life spans exist, COVID will likely hurt much more.

We could get into Indians being mostly vegetarian….I’ve never noticed that being pushed forward. Why? Likely the folks pushing “India did great” are big consumers of meats. They may enjoy “fat shaming” their own countrymen, but get really quiet about whether a vegetarian diet might be associated with some better health outcomes. As with the Swiss example, the “what about’ crowd seems to overlook foundational facts!

Those of us here in the USA have plenty of examples close by – in our own country, Canada and even Mexico. There is no need for us to dig around the world and find narratives that we think fit our already decided conclusions. Not to say most Americans know even their own demographics well – but they might know them better than 1/2 way around the world.

Knowing the Ground which you Walk Upon 

Many years ago a direct marketing firm that took phone orders insisted that every one of their employees in the call center have a college degree. When asked for the reason they said “If the customer service people know more basics about the country, they are going to be able to relate to the caller much better”. I had experience with this in my own business – we took orders for $7,000 heating systems – sight unseen – over the phone. If a customer called from Stowe, VT and I inquired “is their snow on the mountain yet?”, it becomes a very personal connection. If they called from Eastern PA I might mention the Anthracite coal mines or the iron foundries and my own ancestors that lived and worked in the area. These are yet more examples of how we can better understand that of which we are familiar (by living, visiting, reading about, etc.). Given the Topic, I am more likely to listen to a person from South Carolina explaining to me about how the locals live and think.

The Current “What About” CA and NY, etc.

This is an “extra credit” subject – for those who wish to know why we currently hear the What About in regard to California, NY, NJ and similar places. At heart it’s simply a matter of trying to somehow find a place that might be worse than Florida. The problem is, when all dynamics, metrics and variables are figured in, there are no places in the USA that are worse than Florida.

The “method to the madness” involves certain sleights of hand. Current popular is the “since the beginning of the pandemic” trick. Putting aside that FL is projected to catch up and surpass even the hardest hit of states, the idea of comparison of the 1st wave to ANYTHING ELSE is foolish. The “excuses” matter very much. With no testing or treatment available it was impossible to identify or help many of those infected. The ramp-up of testing capability and the basics of treatment discovered in the first 60 days lowered mortality (deaths) by 70%. Since Florida didn’t get the first wave, they were spared a 5 or 6% mortality rate. If Dr. DeSantis had developed these tests and treatments we’d hail him…but we all know both tests and treatments came from elsewhere- the later from those first hard hit areas. The “luck” of missing the 1st wave is not an accomplishment, but a happenstance.

“What About” in relation to the crowded NE is well know – but, again, skipped over. Most dense places in the USA. 100X the arrivals from overseas hot spots into the airports. Public Transit. Multi-generational families in a house. Lack of any ability to distance. Lack of testing and treatment protocols…and so on. It’s that same old story – COVID is about “What you do with the hand dealt” – NOT about the hand dealt.

Any fair measurement of COVID actions and results would use two dates forward:
1. June 1, 2020 forward – as the date when testing, treatment and tracing – as well as most suggestions for mitigation of the disease – were known.
2. April 1, 2021 forward – which encompasses all of the above plus many millions of vaccinations – enough to do, if done right, the majority of the most vulnerable populations.

Talk about California – NOT

The whole “this state vs that” can lead to poor conclusions….as if comparing RI (1.2 million people in a tiny area) to CA (40 million, vast) or WY/ND/SD (less than a million, large areas) is going to inform. There are some cases where you can do this – for example, VT, NH, ME and SD/ND – all rural, small populations, less travel, etc. . The NE states blow away their midwestern counterparts in this COVID contest. However, in the case of California we have a state which is not like any other. Those who have interest in the state should probably consider it by regions due to both size and vast differences in behavior.

The “what about” crowd often uses CA. as a codeword or dog whistle, either not understanding or wanting to understand that region of the country. Did you know that some of the very first anti-mask protests were in SoCal? (southern California). April 17th – they surely didn’t have much patience!

I suspect many readers don’t know about – or understand – Southern California nor inland California. SoCal is the “Florida of California” and, in fact, was probably Florida before Florida was Florida. What do I mean? Everything. Hells Angels, Nixon and Reagan came from there, the “ME ME” always being elevated above the “WE WE” and so on. The same culture of selfishness you see in many places today was perfected there long ago.

The California that many people think of – and the one the Dog Whistles an What About crowd think they are critiquing, is the Bay Area – about 8 Million people who live within 100 miles or so of the Golden Gate. Unfortunately for the CA-Haters and What-Abouters, this area did relatively well w/COVID considering it’s massive density and many other factors. Again, we have those international airports – this time with vast Asian communities and so on. Incredible mobility of the population – Hong Kong one week, Europe, China etc – not the more limited Florida type of situation where most travel to the NE or Midwest.

San Francisco – with all the disadvantage (massive public transit, tight spaces, international airport, etc.) has about 600 deaths for a population the same as South Dakota. Imagine that! SD – with total room for distancing, months of pre-warning, testing and treatment available, has over 2,000 – well over TRIPLE the deaths. In theory, it should be the other way around – by a LONG shot. Germ Theory indicates that density and mixing (public transit) are two prime spreaders of disease.

Yet here we are. The “What About” crowd doesn’t consider 3X or 5X or even 10X the deaths to be indicators that science works.

However, if you have gotten this far reading – you are almost certainly not one of those people. Congratulations!

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