Illustration: President Donald J. Trump listens to U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams during COVID-19 update (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead) [CC0 - Public Domain]
Wondering what's real or what will be real can be an exercise in frustration.
For instance, the other night I went to bed a tad bit too late and knew that I had to wake up a tad bit too early. At some point I woke up, noted that the clock was quite a tad too early — not just a tad too early — and tried to go back to sleep. But, then I started dreaming that I couldn't fall back asleep and that I would wake up all tired and cranky. Of course, this was a tad disturbing, so being disturbed, I woke up. I did this several times, falling asleep, dreaming I couldn't fall asleep, and then waking up, until finally that tad-too-early time came. All I could do was wonder whether I really slept, or just dreamed I slept, or didn't sleep, depending on the time of the night.
While most dreams are just dreams, no matter how scary, there are far too many things in our waking world that puzzle some of us — if not many of us — as to whether they are real or not.
I never used to believe that acupuncture was a real treatment for ailments. True, people pay for these treatments and there is evidence that it works, but I never saw this evidence with my own eyes. However, after having needles stuck in my wrist the last few weeks, I can say that my ankle is feeling much better, even much better than it has felt all year. So, I am beginning to believe that acupuncture is indeed a real treatment for at least some ailments.
I also am pretty sure that the world is a Frisbee™. Anyone who goes to the beach can see that the edge of the world is round like the edge of a Frisbee™. That's probably the reason why I have never sailed much further than a few hundred meters from the beach. I mean, I have to admit worrying that the fall at the edge of the world might be a tad too much.
Today, there are many people who don't believe that Joe Biden ‘really’ won the U.S. election. In fact, the current President refuses to concede and insists that the election was stolen or rigged. In this, he is perniciously supported by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who, with many other Republicans, were either reelected or newly elected to congress.
How do we know what is real? In mathematics, one can prove one hypothesis by proving that its opposite hypothesis is wrong. If the wrong idea is not correct, then the right idea remains the only answer. For instance, let's claim that the election was rigged and President Trump should be the next President of the United States. Since elections for the House of Representatives and Senate are chosen on the same ballot, this means that a vote for Biden would have brought many new Democrats to both the House and Senate, if the person voted on a straight party ticket. Yet, the ballot counting shows that the Republicans gained seats in the House and that will likely hold the Senate! Hence, our hypothesis that the vote was rigged may simply be wrong and Biden won the election.
Playing with the truth can even have dangerous consequences. Trump's supporters believe that the election was stolen, and there have already been demonstrations against the results. People who feel their voices aren't being heard — that their votes have been stolen — might turn to violence. Moreover, the undercurrent of anger makes it more difficult for people and their representatives to support compromise, which is necessary for the future well-being of the U.S.
In Israel, truth suffers from the notably unreal belief that we subjugate and occupy the land of the Palestinians, as exemplified by ‘apartheid roads’ on which only Israelis are allowed to drive — there is even a website that will show you these roads!
Yet, in the real world of truth, anyone who drives on the road outside my house will see numerous Palestinian license plates among the Israeli license plates. The people who believe in ‘apartheid roads’, I suppose, also really believe that when Israeli drivers reach the horizon, they will simply fall off the edge of the Frisbee™.
At least three ways can be used to obscure our "view" of reality, often by distorting truth. The first is to simply use words which camouflage the truth. The other day, plans to build in Givat HaMatos were criticized for being in "East Jerusalem," suggesting that it is on land located in the Old City of Jerusalem which was ‘stolen’ from the ‘Palestinians’, if I may be frank. Yet, even this map clearly shows that Givat HaMatos is in southwest Jerusalem, very far from the Old City, which might be more correctly thought of as East Jerusalem because it was designated as such on maps after the signing of the Armistice in 1949. So, if you want to obscure the reality of truth, just use words to describe events that have very little to do with their actual meaning.
One can also obscure reality by simply feigning not to see it. In the case of the U.S. election, as you may have heard, the election in Georgia (a key swing state) was very close. Sen. Graham (R-SC) decided to try to change the reality of the vote in a very simple way. He asked if it might be possible to not count the votes themselves. My answer to him would be that would be fine, as long as he is willing to not count the votes for the said senator himself.
Finally, reality can be misrepresented by asking the wrong question and hence obtaining an answer you wish to have, but which is not very relevant to the problem at hand. For instance, if one is looking at the effect of snow on society, one could ask people in Atlanta, GA, how often they are impacted by inclement winter weather, and then ask the same question to those that live in New York City, NY. If there is significant snow five times a winter in New York but only one time in Atlanta, you won’t find big differences between the New Yorkers report of travel problems 1.3% of the time and Atlanta residents of just 0.27% of the time. But this very small difference actually hides the much larger impact of snow in the two different areas. A more relevant question would have been to ask not how often snow affects people, but how much economic damage occurs because of it.
Asking the wrong question can have a real and detrimental impact on your personal safety and that of those around you during this Coronavirus pandemic. Last week, someone sent me an article suggesting that "Science with a capital S" says to take your mask off. Even a quick read shows that the studies cited had very little to do with conditions under which the Coronavirus can be passed from one person to another. There are many studies online supporting the use of masks. I find it important when searching online, to look for opinions or research studies that support your interest or hypothesis and those that are contrary to it.
On a simple level, not wearing masks just doesn't make sense. Masks keep germs in or germs out, and if you take your mask off, neither you or those standing near you have anything standing in the way of getting sick from the virus. This isn't a good thing because even a noticeable percentage of those who get just ‘a little sick’ are staying sick long after they initially appear to recover. As pointed out to me by Dorita Rostkier Edelstein of the Israel Institute for Biological Research, masks are not 100% sure to protect, but they can significantly reduce the exposure among people, making it more likely that a person will control and eliminate the virus before it can do damage.
Also misleading is a relatively new study that asked the question: how many people wearing masks will get Covid-19 compared to those that don't? The conclusion is 1.8% (with masks) to 2.1% (without masks). Moreover, the authors concluded that there was no statistical difference between the two samples! So, throw away the masks? Based on this study, the bother doesn't seem worth it.
But let's ask a different question: do masks protect wearers when all — or almost all — people wear them? A simple answer is found when comparing Efrat, where almost everyone wears masks, to towns that don't — clearly, masks help. Moreover, Israel is not yet on the cusp of a third wave, but only has isolated hot spots in those areas where social distancing and mask-wearing is ignored.
A more scientific answer: you may remember that there was a report that 43 out of the 100 non-mask wearing people at an indoor wedding were infected by two asymptomatic persons. So here, without masks, 43% of the attending people were infected. A valid comparison would be to put the same 100 people in the same room, but put masks on all of them with potentially obvious potential benefits to all.
The best approach appears to be to wear masks indoors and to combine mask wearing with air filtration and substantial ventilation. Outdoors, masks probably have very little use, as the virus should be dispersed in the wind — unless two people are speaking very closely or yelling at each other.
Truth does matter because it describes reality. And without reality, we obviously have very little to go on. As a neighbor pointed out, the Torah speaks of G-d as all encompassing truth: "I am the first and I am the last, and there is no god but Me (Is. 44:6)." Truth — the word emet in Hebrew — consists of an alef, mem, and tav. These letters are the first, middle and final letters of the Hebrew alef-bet. Thus emet (truth) is the entire span of reality. If we want our world to be the one described to us by the Prophets, we have to make a real effort to seek the actual truth.
Unusually cold air will combine with a storm moving across the eastern Mediterranean to bring us a period of inclement, stormy weather. The first heavy round of precipitation should be Wednesday. As the cold air continues to drain southward, it will encourage additional storm development on Thursday, bringing additional heavy rain from Thursday into Friday. Forecasts are showing a third round of precipitation later on Shabbat.
After a short break, the wintry weather should return in early December.
An interesting tidbit: this winter our storm development has featured incursions of cold air from the north. This means that storms are intensifying as they arrive in our area. This type of pattern is conducive to increasing our chance of a real cold air outbreak as we move into mid December. We'll have to see if the pattern holds up beyond the first week of December.
Dr. Lynn is a lecturer at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Earth Sciences Department. He is also CEO of Weather It Is, LTD, a company that specializes in reducing weather risk. Click here to read more of this writer’s work in The Jerusalem Herald.