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3.April 2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

This really happened Permalink to this item

Never did see any of Game of Thrones, is this +rump crime family drama the same story? I mean, Chris Christie prosecuted Jared's old man, got him convicted for tax evasion, illegal campaign donations and witness tampering, so Jared got him fired off the transition team. Dad-in-law wasn't happy with how much money Christie was spending to stand up a new administration led by people with zero expertise running a competent organization (and a hell of a lot of experience in skimming from incompetent ones). Back when a $billion seemed like the most important thing in the world to him.

Kushner was the invisible man for quite some time, with a portfolio said to include Middle East Peace and who knows what all. (Safe bet: the murderous Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman knows what-all.) Mostly, he was laser-focused on lining up some sweet, sweet infusion of Qatari cash to rescue his colossally bad real estate deal at 666 Fifth Ave.

Later, the overly moustachioed John Bolton, who, unlike Kushner, could still obtain a legitimate security clearance, was tweeted into the National Security Advisor post, one that conveniently does not require Senate confirmation. March, 2018. May, 2018, Bolton axes the the head of the pandemic response team, because what were the chances? And they had other priorities. May 10, 2018. Top White House official in charge of pandemic response exits abruptly.

"The top White House official responsible for leading the U.S. response in the event of a deadly pandemic has left the administration, and the global health security team he oversaw has been disbanded under a reorganization by national security adviser John Bolton.

"The abrupt departure of Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer from the National Security Council means no senior administration official is now focused solely on global health security. Ziemer’s departure, along with the breakup of his team, comes at a time when many experts say the country is already underprepared for the increasing risks of a pandemic or bioterrorism attack.

"Ziemer’s last day was Tuesday, the same day a new Ebola outbreak was declared in Congo. He is not being replaced.

"Pandemic preparedness and global health security are issues that require government-wide responses, experts say, as well as the leadership of a high-ranking official within the White House who is assigned only this role."

Bolton did, finally, draw the line on the +rump campaign trying to use Ukraine for 2020 ratfcking, but not so far as answering a subpoena, or doing more than threatening to testify against the Don. He had a book to sell, which book draft is now hoist on a pike outside 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Maybe a 2021 publication date? If there's anyone still around who cares.

Back in the day, after Christie was pushed out, Vice president-elect Mike Pence took over the transition team effort, we were told. Three years on, the big guy has again made him point man, now for the pandemic response. Because he is an incredible performer under pressure. He's a crooked little man who can deliver his lines with a straight face. And so "respectfully." “I don’t believe the president has ever belittled the threat of the coronavirus,” he said.

You hardly need Aaron Blake of the Washington Post to spell out the dozens of times +rump downplayed the crisis. With an April 1 dateline, no less.

"We think we have it very well under control," the avatar for the Dunning-Kruger effect declared on January 22. And February 24. And March 15. (The next day, he started redefining "it.") “It will all work out well,” he said Jan. 24. “We think it’s going to have a very good ending for it. So that I can assure you,” he added on Jan. 30.

Yesterday, the Veep's big reveal, Capo di Capo in the background looking like an orange bobble-head, that ALL WILL BE WELL JARED KUSHNER IS NOW IN CHARGE, never mind your fake news outcry and confusion. He said this, a freaking day late for April Fools:

"What a lot of the voters are seeing now, is when you elect somebody to be a mayor or governor or president, you're trying to think about who will be a competent manager during the time of crisis. This is a time of crisis and you're seeing certain people are better managers than others."

A moment from the press con, via C-SPAN

As Sergey Lavrov used to say, "You are kidding! You are kidding!"

Update: As Michelle Goldberg distills it, "this is dilettantism raised to the level of sociopathy."

April Fools, 2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Earthquake! Permalink to this item

The Loma Prieta earthquake (while we were at Stanford) was my "big one," so far, by far the longest duration and greatest magnitude I've been close to. I'd be perfectly happy if that's as big as I ever go. But I think my most intense experience was of the 1987 Whittier Narrows quake in southern California. I was one day into a 2½ day seminar on adhesives, and having a lovely breakfast in the top (35th) floor restaurant of the downtown LA hotel where I was staying, and the meetings were being held.

It was deemed "moderate," at M5.9, but from where I sat, the excursion was HUGE. A large, beautiful vase I'd casually noticed when I got off the elevator crashed, along with miscellaneous glassware. The motion was so dramatic, I don't remember me or anyone doing anything other than bracing themselves to go along with the ride. Frozen in alarm, as we wondered if this is how our lives would end, first waving wildly in the California sky, and then crashing atop a pile of rubble in a building collapse.

But amazingly, nothing very bad seemed to have happened; this gigantic building passed its biggest-ever design test! Once the motion had subsided, staff and patrons began trying to figure out what to do next. Somebody went to the elevators and shouted back they weren't working. Somebody else went out an emergency exit, while most of us were still trying to recover our wits, quickly returned to say "there's a door that says 'do not open, alarm will sound'," and I said THIS IS THE TIME TO USE IT, and led the way out the door, down the stairs, through the next door, and down, down, down, to my room on the 5th? floor, and realized I was completely amped up on adrenalin and did not really have any sort of plan.

I need to calm down, I told myself. Sit, meditate, take some deep, slow breaths. AND THEN A BIG AFTERSHOCK HIT and I was like The Flash, up and into the doorway so fast you did not even see me move, and the moment it stopped, I packed up my stuff as fast as I could and got the hell out of there, down to the lobby to try to check out early. The computer system was down, of course. I waited... while eyeing the high ceiling and the two-story glass surrounding us and said you know what, "just bill me" and goodbye. However it was to get back to LAX, and change my flight and get home, I remember just how lively the floors were in that lightweight construction, and every time a jet rumbled by, I was wondering is that another aftershock?

Just two years and 16 days later, we were living in California, on the Stanford campus, Jeanette "at home" in the Hoskins "high rise" (just 11 stories, we were on one of the lower floors), and me on the 5th floor of Terman Engineering in the middle of presentations for a design class. M6.9, supposedly just 8 to 15 seconds long, but undoubtedly longer shaking where we were, and time dilates in such moments. Way more than 30 seconds and slightly less than forever is how I remember it. We were evacuated from our apartment (for just one night, as it turned out—at least one other of the same design buildings ended up closed for the term), spent the night out "camping" in our minivan, in the middle of the Arboretum.

ITD Photo

Those (and more) earthquake experiences are fresh in mind after yesterday afternoon's temblor rolling through Boise, most of Idaho and neighboring states. M6.5, centered on Shake Creek, in the very heart of central Idaho. The USGS reports referred to Cascade and Challis; the events were right about halfway between them, around and north of "Avalanche Alley" on Idaho Highway 21, between Lowman and Stanley. (Checking 511 Idaho... yup, "Milepost 93.7 to 105.5, Grandjean to Banner Summit," closed at 7am today, after an avalanche.) It's less than 100 miles from where we live, in a house that was shaken, but (happily) not stirred. A swarm of aftershocks included a few of M4 and over, one that I felt less than an hour after the main event.

The seismograph from the exhibit at the Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology, and the USGS interactive "recent earthquakes" map, picking up the swarm-in-process (most aftershocks in the M3-4 range, 42 of them over M2.5 so far) provided illustrations for my Twitter thread this morning. (Now that we're 24h past, you'll have to widen the search filter to 7d. Here's the page for the main event.)

From the USGS interactive map, terrain view

29.March 2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Where Paradise lay Permalink to this item

When I was in high school, I had my heart set on a certain girl, who, sadly, never did get her heart set on me. But we had one memorable date, to go see John Prine at the Milwaukee Performing Arts Center, a beautiful venue with plush red seats. A guy I don't know took some pictures and recorded "Dec. 1, 1972" for me. Pure Prairie League (with their 50th anniversary tour! put on hold) was the opening act.

Prine's first couple of albums had come out, and we still had the war on Vietnam going, so "Sam Stone" was a raw, and open wound. When he sang "Paradise," he did it with a quirky shift in the first syllable, toward the sound of "par" rather than "pear." Same with "parents," and he bent "where" to rhyme with that—"whar," maybe an Appalachian twist from down by the Green River. I heard it in other songs that night too, but that's the one I remember most. Haven't heard it in any recordings that he did, or in his speaking voice. Maybe he just felt like it that night, or maybe it was something that he was pushing out of his speech pattern and it slipped back in a while. At any rate, I always hear that song in his voice the way it was that one time, 47 years ago.

He's got Covid-19, I understand, and is in critical condition. This might be the last of him. If it is, it'll be a sad, sad day.

He introduced most of his songs with a story, and for "Paradise," he explained where the "air smelled like snakes," and I used to remember why that was so, but no longer do. Here's a cherry old recording of him and his band mate strumming and singing in harmony.

When I die let my ashes float down the Green River
Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam
I'll be halfway to Heaven with Paradise waitin'
Just five miles away from wherever I am

And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking
Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away

May, 2016 photo

27.March 2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

How will the pandemic end? Permalink to this item

The Atlantic is among many news outlets dropping their paywalls for Covid-19 coverage. (We're not subscribers to that, but we do pay for the Idaho Press, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and are supporters of NPR and PBS through our local Idaho university system.) Dated two days ago, How the Pandemic Will End cited "at least 446,000" infected. "A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable," Ed Yong wrote. And he mentions that Global Health Security Index scorecard that imagined our "rich, strong, developed" country was more ready than any other to face one.

"That illusion has been shattered. Despite months of advance warning as the virus spread in other countries, when America was finally tested by COVID-19, it failed. ...

"To contain such a pathogen, nations must develop a test and use it to identify infected people, isolate them, and trace those they’ve had contact with. That is what South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong did to tremendous effect. It is what the United States did not. ...

"In a crucial month when the American caseload shot into the tens of thousands, only hundreds of people were tested. That a biomedical powerhouse like the U.S. should so thoroughly fail to create a very simple diagnostic test was, quite literally, unimaginable. “I’m not aware of any simulations that I or others have run where we [considered] a failure of testing,” says Alexandra Phelan of Georgetown University, who works on legal and policy issues related to infectious diseases. ...

Rudderless, blindsided, lethargic, and uncoordinated, America has mishandled the COVID-19 crisis to a substantially worse degree than what every health expert I’ve spoken with had feared. “Much worse,” said Ron Klain, who coordinated the U.S. response to the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014. “Beyond any expectations we had,” said Lauren Sauer, who works on disaster preparedness at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “As an American, I’m horrified,” said Seth Berkley, who heads Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “The U.S. may end up with the worst outbreak in the industrialized world.”

"It’s likely that the new coronavirus will be a lingering part of American life for at least a year, if not much longer."

What we need: PPE, testing, social distancing, clear coordination

Last weekend, our testing-poor case count was 17,000. Wednesday morning, 54,000. This morning, the headline is that WE'RE NUMBER ONE in a category no one would wish for. We're not number one in manufacturing (or maintaining an emergency stockpile of) PPE. We have a Defense Production Act that allows the federal government to command resources, but we have a feckless executive whose feels vary with flattery. (He doesn't feel that New York really needs 30,000 ventilators. And a billion dollars, gosh, that's a lot of money. It's a whopping half a thousandth of the $2 trillion stimulus package Congress just cooked up.

We have the 26,000-person Defense Logistics Agency, "that prepares the U.S. military for overseas operations and that has assisted in past public-health crises." At the Commander-in-Chief's command.

It was March 6, when the C-i-C ignorantly declared that “anyone who wants a test can get a test.” Let's at least get to where everyone who needs a test can get a test? Not just the well-connected and members of Congress? Testing require PPE, by the way.

If Trump stays the course, if Americans adhere to social distancing, if testing can be rolled out, and if enough masks can be produced, there is a chance that the country can still avert the worst predictions about COVID-19, and at least temporarily bring the pandemic under control. No one knows how long that will take, but it won’t be quick. “It could be anywhere from four to six weeks to up to three months,” Fauci said, “but I don’t have great confidence in that range.”

26.March 2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Sign of the times Permalink to this item

Scanning spam senders just now, I'm struck by how they capture a version of our Zeitgeist.

How we will change Permalink to this item

You have noticed that things are different now. Not quite everything but quite a lot. Yesterday, for example, Idaho's Governor issued an emergency statewide Stay-Home Order much like other state's Governors have done, shutting down "non-essential" services and businesses. The list of what all are "Essential" says it was udpated yesterday, which is also the day it was issued, and it spells them out in 8 categories, and "Other."

"Essential healthcare operations" are essential. Likewise "Essential infrastructure," which, somehow, includes public works, commercial, and housing construction. And "transfer and sale of real estate." Section 3 "Essential services and businesses" covers more than you might imagine, two dozen listed, and an "other" for grocery businesses (not already included in Grocery stores, Certified farmers' markets, Farm and produce stands, Supermarkets, and Food banks), including "stores that sell groceries and also sell other non-grocery products, and products necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences."

"Firearm businesses" are tucked into section 3 (between farming, livestock and fishing; and Other), because Idaho. Hard to imagine everyone didn't stock up on ammo a month ago, but ok.

News media, education services, essential financial services ("Services related to financial markets" twice, payday and other nonbank lenders not called out specifically, but god knows they'll be doing business), essential transporation services (airlines, taxis, public transit), essential food services (restaurants only for delivery or take-out).

The construction and real estate industry pull a lot of weight. But the Governor tweeted that his Order followed guidance from the feds, Homeland Security. The Stay-Home FAQ is a quicker read, and gives a much shorter list of What’s closed?

The case count and lab testing data posted on as of 5pm MDT yesterday show 123 confirmed cases, no deaths, a total of 2,188 people tested through the Idaho Bureau of Laboratories and commercial laboratories. Which is to say testing is not anything like widely available, but even with stringent criteria, fewer than 6% of people are coming up positive. So far.

We've been doing the Stay-Home thing pretty much for a week and a half already, limiting our commerical transactions to grocery shopping (well, and that CenturyLink thing). The neighbors and we got up early today to hit "Old People's Hour" at the nearest Winco, 6 to 7:30am. It was a bit more crowded than I like, but presumably kept below their current 200 person capacity limit. We're good to go for the duration, if need be, which, as of this writing is 11:59 pm (no time zone specified), April 15, 2020 "or until it is extended, rescinded, superseded, or amended in writing." (Plus, we can still go shopping, right? Or constructing.) The FAQ talks about our great outdoors:

"Outdoor activity near your home is OK, but you should keep a distance of 6 feet from people outside of your household. Social distancing requirements are in effect on paths, trails, sidewalks, riverbanks, beaches, parks, and anyplace outside on private or public property where people might gather. Crowds are a no-no."

No-no? Oh my. "Near your home" is not defined. Meanwhile, Fox & Friends probably still matters, as long as Lord Orange is a fan, and Ainsley Blonde-for-now went viral by complaining about how she won't be able to return clothes she bought before all this incovenience, or get her tint on, or her nails done. (In the dead-pan Dooce & Brian sandwich, she did acknowledge "this is not a priority.") She launched into her woman-problems by wistfully imagining that "we're moving in hopefully the direction of getting to where China is now, or South Korea is now, and just getting some improvement."

We have been moving in the direction of the authoritarianism, for what that's worth, and we will surely surpass them in the number of confirmed cases reported, but we're in a different world of managing our share of the pandemic. Lumping China and South Korea together is a fact-free whack if you're paying attention, which it doesn't seem she is, actually. The U.S. confirmed cases are on the verge of pushing past Italy, and China both, even before we've implemented widespread or comprehensive testing. Our death toll is just getting started. The case counts in South Korea and the US started together, back in January. Theirs was leveling off below 10,000 before we even started counting. Our death count passed theirs ten days ago; our case count is up by more than a factor of 10 in that week and a half.

Confirmed cases and deaths in 4 countries, through 3/25/2020

The Daily Kos has a forecast for 11 ways the United States will change because of the coronavirus. They predict an end to the "two generations of Republican nihilism" that the Gipper kicked off with pithy derision, that government-supplied health care will receive a boost, the current president will get the boot, and the Senate will turn blue. We'll see.

There is no question that we are in this together, as a society. And that more than a few "rugged individualists" won't give up without a tantrum. Today's sad gaggle of Health Freedom Idaho "Gathering for Freedom" at the Capitol, for example. As one wag put it, "why settle for 'Liberty or Death' when you can have both?"


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007