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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?"

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

Coming soon: high(er) speed internet Permalink to this item

Something else they're doing better than us in South Korea is high-speed internet, or so I hear. It comes to mind because Today Is (supposed to be) The Day that CenturyLink delivers 30Mb/s. CenturyLink is fka Central Telephone and Electronics, Century Telephone Enterprises, CenturyTel, Qwest, U S West, Mountain Bell, the RBOC spawned out of the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. in 1983, under the Modification of Final Judgement in United States v. Western Electric Co., Inc. (et al.) 552 Fed. Supp. 131.

Perhaps it was 20 years before that final judgment, and modification, and idk, another 10 years or more of continuing litigation, that a lineman strung copper wire to what is now our house, on what was then the outskirts of Boise. Its electrons have been jiggling with 48V all that time, even as CableOne's coax came and went.

In between my most recent order, and today's delivery date, a postcard arrived from CLAIMS ADMINISTRATOR - 6757 in Minneapolis, to tell me that Former CenturyLink Residential and Small Business Customers May Be Eligible for a Payment from a Settlement, with my name and Claimant ID featured. I see the "more info" site has it as "Current and Former" customers, true enough.

Both media tell me I am "eligible to make a claim for $30 from the Settlement (subject to a pro rata adjustment up or down depending on how many valid claims are filed), or more (depending on whether you choose to provide additional explanation and documentation with your claim)."

CenturyLink has surely cheated us out of well more than $30 over the years, the most recent example being when I tried to get up off of our so cheap they don't even sell it anymore 1.5 Mb/s service, to 12 Mb/s, and reached an understanding that seemed like a deal with a chat agent, resulting in the removal of our land line (as requested) and a modest increase in our monthly internet bill, from $21.99 to $27.99. Here it was, Sept. 6, 3½ years ago:

Matthew P.: at 8:44:28
C50417180 will be completed on 09/09 for the 12mb speed upgrade for $27.99 a month.

The higher bill came in ... at $36.99, and after I noticed things didn't seem faster, and checked the speed, I saw we were still at 1.5 Mb/s. The $15/mo increase was somewhat hidden by the removal of the landline, but still. Two subsequent chat agents did not fix it, nor accept that there was a deal the company was reneging on. I sent what I imagined was a Demand Letter, dated Oct. 31, 2016 (!) to which they replied to say, essentially, we don't do business in writing, please call or chat us up.

The nature of doing business with them in that way is so awful that I didn't, nor did I find and comb through the fine print of what printed legalese may govern our relationship to pursue arbitration (I imagine it would have been). Too much other stuff to do. Arguably, given that the service had not changed, and we had a supposed "price for life" deal, the monthly freight should have been $15 less from fall of 2016 through this most recent winter of discontent. Call it... $600+ highway robbery, tacitly agreed to month by month.

My experience being a member of aggrieved classes is that the reward doesn't justify the effort to play along, and I had not yet updated the math in the previous paragraph, so was thinking in terms of a one-time $30 (at most) is all this could be worth when I retyped the URL to the settlement claims site, mostly out of curiosity, and proceeded to fill out the generic claim.

Magnified detail of the postcard printing

The first hurdle there was deciphering my claimant ID, printed in the least legible font on the postcard, such that the zeroes might be "D"s and there was clearly a "B" in the middle of it, and no combination of 0s and Ds got me past the javascript vetting for "invalid claimant ID." Then I noticed the big barcode above my address had the number (all digits, no letters, that "B" is an 8), and started stepping through the relatively painless multiform process.

Two of the eight forms of malfeasance applied to our account, and initialing those choices, the claim form generates this truthful statement for me to aver:

"I am or was (or my small business is or was) a CenturyLink customer and I believe (1) I was promised one rate during the sales process but then charged a higher rate during actual billing; (2) I was billed unauthorized, undisclosed or otherwise improper charges, including billing for services or equipment not ordered, for nonexistent or duplicate accounts, for services ordered but never delivered, or not delivered as promised, for services that were appropriately canceled, for equipment that was properly returned, and for early termination fees; and/or (3) I incurred costs resulting from my account being improperly sent to collections without valid reason."

Not sure where #3 came from, we haven't had that problem, at least.

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

The promise Permalink to this item

Yesterday's 10-year anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act didn't get a parade or anything, but in this moment that rivets our attention on healthcare availability, providers, and their effectiveness, the Democratic National Committee's reminder of the aspirational motivation is worth reflection:

Photo from yesterday afternoon

No matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you have, health care is a human right.

Unfortunately, not only did we not find consensus for that goal, the partisan political battle that had started under the Clinton administration, closer to 3 decades ago now, ratcheted up to more stark polarization than we could have imagined. It remains to be seen whether a pandemic can get us all pulling in the same direction.

In 2010, the Republicans were resolved, and did resist as a bloc. State attorneys general started the lawsuits the day the bill was signed. Even after they'd regained control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency, Republicans proved incapable of delivering on the "repeal and replace" counter-promise, never having agreed on what a replacement could or should be. They didn't get flat out "repeal" done either, but they've been chipping away at sabotage for these years. Their latest initiative is to pack the courts with anti-ACA judges.

As former Secretary of Health and Human Services, Governor of Kansas, and now board member of the Kaiser Family Foundation, Kathleen Sebelius notes "I don’t think anybody ever has seen this kind of battle over a major piece of legislation that has now been the law for 10 years and has never even been able to secure a technical correction for any of the language glitches."

But the courts have "secured" all sorts of corrections, hobbled and disabled parts of it into an even worse dog's breakfast than it was to begin with. "If we knew we only were going to have Democratic support, I think the bill could have been more progressive," Sebelius said.

"I think we would have had more generous subsidies with more money. We would have had a different look at who qualified for unaffordable insurance. It would have been a family picture, not just an individual. All of those decisions were made about money, not about policy."

That obsession that everything should be "entirely paid for." Think of that in light of today's argument about whether or not the Secretary of the Treasury will be given authority to secretly hand out $500 billion to whomever he sees fit, as a way to pump up the ailing stock market. One wag on Twitter summed it up neatly overnight:

"If rich people don't like their politicians, they'll buy new ones."

Equinox Permanent URL to this day's entry

Messaging still mixed up Permalink to this item

Add this to the growing history pile for us to sort out in the months ahead: the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr provided a candid forecast of what was coming with the Covid-19 pandemic three weeks ago in a private meeting with the paid-membership Tar Heel Circle. At the end of February, when the President was telling (and his echo chamber was amplifying) the "nothing to see here" line.

"It's going to disappear. One day, It's like a miracle. It will disappear," the president said then, before adding, "it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We'll see what happens."

Pi day hawk visitation

There were 15 confirmed cases at that moment, if you weren't counting 40-some cases among repatriated cruise ship passengers. As discussed here last week, +rump was imagining they'd all get better (or maybe die), and that would be that. Like a miracle. Like the miracle of him becoming president.

Not to belabor the obvious, but to the extent that we are depending on informed competence at the top, we are in a world of hurt. One gigantic political problem that underlies our situation is the GOP fear of personal retribution for contradicting the President. Accurate and timely information is never more needed than in a crisis, and having it driven underground, or into "insider" meetings is the antithesis of patriotism, let alone basic human decency.

It's just one week since +rump finally changed his tune, and right-wing media whiplashed to follow (and audition for the next remake of 1984). Not that everyone has come around just yet. Alaska's octogenarian Donald Young (yeah, that's right, Young is 86) is still laughing it off, and the unbelievably tone-deaf +rump loyalist from Wisconsin, Sen. Ron Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to keep things in perspective. "[G]etting coronavirus is not a death sentence except for maybe no more than 3.4 percent of our population (and) I think probably far less."

It's hard to know what to say to that. It flat out buggers my imagination that someone in an important political position could say that out loud, imagining it as reassuring.

Two members of Congress, not named in the NPR story but here you go, WaPo reports they are Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Rep. Ben McAdams (D-UT), are among the confirmed cases. It's a bipartisan infection, as others who maintained insufficient social distancing at CPAC, Mal-a-Lago, and in Congress self-quarantine. The US confirmed case count approaches 10,000, even before we have widespread (let alone comprehensive) testing in place. And it's worth noting that Sen. Burr's dire warnings seem well-understated compared to the best forecasts now: new analysis suggests months of social distancing may be needed to stop virus.

Pace yourselves, friends.

This little addendum puts Richard Burr's role in the story in a different light. Senator Dumped Up to $1.6 Million of Stock After Reassuring Public About Coronavirus Preparedness. In 29 separate transactions.

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

Uncharted territory Permalink to this item

Not completely uncharted of course, but you'd have to be 107 or so to have direct experience of the last pandemic on the scale of what we're experiencing now. It was just 3 days ago that Dr. Asaf Bitton, executive director of Ariadne Labs in Boston posted Social Distancing: This is Not a Snow Day. Friday. That morning, joining many other churches around the country, ours decided that we would not have Sunday morning in-person services on the 15th.

It was still feeling like half-way between overreacting and ok, the right thing to do. By Sunday morning, even in the process of doing something new and utterly foreign to us, it seemed like the right thing, and today, it's hard to imagine what we were thinking less than a week ago.

Big events getting canceled. The Indian Wells tennis tournament was a bit of a shock and surprise to me, then bigger and broader events, and seasons, one after the other. The NBA. March Madness. A week ago Saturday, we went to a large, public gathering, the Frank and Bethine Church Banquet of the Idaho Democratic Party. 1,000 or so in the Boise Centre on the Grove. That's a larger group than I usually seek out, and not everyone was up to speed on the "social distancing" idea.

In the last week, we had calls to avoid gatherings of more than 250 people, then 100, then the CDC said avoid more than 50, and today, the President of the United States, seeming more serious and presidential than he has to date, said today that Americans should avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people.

Flattening the curve is the talk of the town. (Not everybody is up to speed on that, yet.) "Pushing our local, state, and national leaders to close ALL schools and public spaces and cancel all events and public gatherings now" sounded slightly extreme 3 days ago. Now, it's happening. The stock market taking another breathtaking plunge, schools across the country closing, restaurants, bars, libraries, and the certain prospect of a recession seem simultaneously drastic and necessary.

We'll get through this. It's going to be hard.

While you're hunkered down, there's informative content on the Washington Post site (and others) being made available outside their paywall. Here's one to illustrate why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to “flatten the curve,” with interactives.

It doesn't matter whether you're brown or green, don't be that dot bouncing around, getting into trouble. Take a break. Settle yourself down a while. Take inspiration from the Rev. Lynn Ungar, and her poem, Pandemic:

...And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)...

Happy St. Urho's Day! Permalink to this item

From St Urho's Celebration in Finland, MN on Facebook

Went looking to see if the parade had been called off, and all the Bismark Tribune seems to have is 10 years old, when they had the sixth annual, in Rolla, ND.

You can hear the Grasshopper Jig on Brownielocks and The 3 Bears' site, while you read through the story of the Finnish saint, and shout along: "Heinasirkka, heinasirkka, menetaalta hiiten!"

I'm happy to report that they were still partying up in Finland, Minnesota, this year, with a Saturday parade. The after-parade festivities were slightly curtailed, but we have some fine footage on the St. Urho Facebook page. I noticed at least three of the floats had stills on the back, in keeping with the general theme.

The Lake County News Chronicle covered the story, albeit briefly, and why wouldn't they? It was the 45th annual St. Urho's Day up there in Finland! After you've read that, you can enjoy the other video on the St. Urho Facebook page, with the winner of the Miss Helmi pageant working the parade route.

The image here is a selfie of the videographer, in a plague doctor mask. Not exactly N95, but it provides a modicum of social distance.

On the lighter side Permalink to this item

Regular visitors will have noted I'm not keeping up, or (more likely) will not have noticed, given their own experience of the intense month we're having around the world. Charles P. Pierce has a question for us this morning: "Has anyone come up with a plausible reason beyond incompetence and grifting why we turned down the WHO tests?" His Twitter followers provided lots and lots of answers, some straight, some riffing off the gif of The Who that Pierce puckishly used for illustration.

"Maybe we were resolved to not get fooled again?"

"They seemed like a bargain. The best we ever had."

Got a feeling inside (can't explain)
It's a certain kind (can't explain)
I feel hot and cold (can't explain)
Yeah, down in my soul, yeah (can't explain)

— Jeff Schult (@jeff_schult) March 16, 2020

Just when you thought the news couldn't get weirder, or darker, the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag ("world on Sunday") broke the story that Lord Orange tried to get Tübingen-based CureVac to come to the US and whip up a US-only vaccine for SARS-CoV-2.

US exclusive! Oh my god.

Welt's headline: Diese Erfahrung wird Europa so schnell nicht vergessen. "Europe will not soon forget this experience." Most of the story is behind their paywall, but the translation from Google Translate:

"Daniel Menichella was still the head of CureVac until Wednesday. The biotech company from Tübingen proudly tells on its website how Menichella, along with other pharmaceutical bosses, met US President Donald Trump on March 3 to discuss the fight against the corona crisis in the United States. Menichella is gone eight days later. The man who shook hands as the boss of CureVac Donald Trump surprisingly leaves the company. ..."

CNBC picks it up from there. Contacted by Reuters, a spokeswoman for the German Health Ministry said: "We confirm the report in the Welt am Sonntag." And here's a newly familiar name:

Responding to the report, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, wrote on Twitter: "The Welt story was wrong."

You may remember Grenell from last month's blog edition, right after Moseph Maguire was getting pushed out from his Acting Director of National Intelligence position and Grenell, a loyalist with no intelligence experience had been named as his (acting) replacement.

Because for a job in the +rump administration, loyalty and acting ability are all you need.

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

Fifteen, down close to zero Permalink to this item

On February 26, now thirteen days in the rear-view mirror, the President of the United States had a press conference that was detached from reality in an unimaginably bizarre way. "Regardless of what happens," he said, "we're totally prepared." He said a lot of crazy stuff then, and afterwards. Including this:

"[W]hen you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, uh, that's a pretty good job we've done."

I rewatched a lot of that 2 hour event, and saw how fixated on that 15 number (and how many people die from the flu every year, and attacking the Democrats, and so on). He seemed to think that we had the borders (and flights) shut down really, really tight, and we had just those cases, and they were going to get better, and that that would be it. Mission accomplished!

Somehow none of the experts (or even vaguely attentive) people around him were able to disabuse him of the absurdity of this notion, or any of the other bees in his head. It's been a critical two weeks in the response to this crisis, and the absence of sane leadership is going to come at a high price, I'm afraid. Michael Gerson is worried, too, measuring it against his experience of the signature crisis of the George W. Bush administration.

"All the elements now exist for a swiftly unfolding emergency, on a scale that dwarfs [Hurricane] Katrina. Because of the early absence of adequate tests, we have very little idea how prevalent the disease is in the country and little idea of how fast it is spreading. Dangerously and absurdly, political leaders have been using the low number of confirmed cases as the evidence of success when it is actually a measure of our blindness.

"While administration officials were speaking the word “contained,” the virus was spreading unhindered in some places for weeks. And if sickness begins to come in a sudden rush, it will swamp the health-care system, leading to shortages of masks, hospital beds, ventilators and personnel (as it has in northern Italy)."

Mixed messages Permalink to this item

The Secretary of Health and Human Services comes across as a Take Charge Guy:

"The strategic plan at HHS across all of the components represented by many of the leaders here, which is to diagnose, to treat, to contain, to mitigate, to research, and communicate, it's what we do in a healthcare crisis situation."

It's what we do. In a crisis situation.

"One element of that is the test, which of course CDC developed in record time after getting the genetic sequence posted from China"

The initial test kits from the CDC were defective, I understand, putting the U.S. way behind everyone who is using the World Health Organization's test. Eleven days ago, Science magazine's headline was The United States badly bungled coronavirus testing—but things may soon improve. Feb. 28:

"The rollout of a CDC-designed test kit to state and local labs has become a fiasco because it contained a faulty reagent. Labs around the country eager to test more suspected cases—and test them faster—have been unable to do so. No commercial or state labs have the approval to use their own tests."

I don't think asserting a monopoly on "fiasco" gets a speed record. Back to @SecAzar's presser:

"that then was available at CDC, and from that point on, there was no individual that a public health official needed to get tested–the CDC didn't have surplus capacity to test, but we've been moving progressively to bring that test closer, and closer, and closer to the patient, and to the bedside, and to make it as easy as possible for us to use testing, very much in line with our peer countries facing similar epidemiologicial circumstances."

That is a ton of word salad. No individual needed testing, are you sure about that? Also, in order for a test to work (or "for us to use testing"), you have to get that test kit very close to the patient. You actually have to stick it right up their nose, or something, isn't that right sir?

"At this point, we—as many of you who were here on Saturday for the briefing know—ah, we have over one million tests that have shipped from CDC and two private contractors, that are the CDC type of test, those are now out, and as the Vice president mentioned, every state public health lab has validated and operating those tests, in addition, hundreds of thousands of those tests are in hospitals, in private labs, in commercial labs. We now have a total of 2.1 million tests that are available, either shipped, or waiting to be shipped, or waiting to be ordered. We by the end of this week expect to be producing up to 4 million tests per week in the United States, and that is on top of what the private commercial entities ... are getting out, which is even better experience for the patient, because those, they're able to actually collect samples in doctor's offices, have a very sophisticated collection system to their labs, again making it a very much more seamless patient experiences..."

I'd like to know how many tests are available available, as in, at-hand where they are in demand, as opposed to "shipped, or waiting to be shipped, or waiting to be ordered."

In the comments under that tweet from the @WhiteHouse, someone mentioned the CDC has a different number, so I looked on In their "Newsroom," they have an audio recording and a transcript of a press briefing dated "Wednesday, March 10, 2020," which some of us are actually calling Tuesday, but ok. Nancy Messonier, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said:

"Before I close, I want to give you an update on public lab capacity. 78 state and local public health labs across 50 states now have the capacity to test up to 75,000 people for COVID-19. We will have more information online this afternoon for clinicians on how to access the tests."

Asked to clarify if that was a current rate, or cumulative number, she said it was cumulative. 75,000. As opposed to a million. Or millions. But I'm sure we are making more, which will be available... to be shipped, or waiting to ship, or to be ordered soon. Very soon.

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

The disaster tour Permalink to this item

At the CDC lab

Yesterday, IMPOTUS put on his red cap all day, saddled up, and toured him some disaster. The tornado in Tennessee, and the CDC in Atlanta. I hope it comforted some people, because OMG. He said some very stupid things. As always, he sees the story as about him. About his "natural ability" to understand things. "How can most people be prepared?" he was asked. "Oh we're prepared for anything," he answered. "We are really very highly prepared for anything." He spoke of how much everyone needs us. (How we all need him.)

"You know, you hear about, like you're saying about South Korea. South Korea's very much reliant on the information we're giving them. And they're reliant on the vaccines that we will come up with, very soon we're going to come up with..."

He has grasped, finally, that "it takes a period of time" to "come up with" and test a vaccine, so there's that. The story in The Atlantic mentioned in yesterday's post had some numbers about us vs. them. As that report, the U.S. had tested fewer than 2,000 people altogether. South Korea tested more than 66,650 people within a week of its first case of community transmission. It now has the capacity to test 10,000 people a day. As of yesterday, in the absence of a credible report from an authoritative government source, the reporters said "through interviews with dozens of public-health officials and a survey of local data from across the country," they "could only verify that 1,895 people have been tested for the coronavirus in the United States." 1,895 total.

I've got a friend who's been teaching in Korea for some years. He reported what he's seeing, on Facebook yesterday. Part of it:

"Anyone in South Korea can get virus-tested for free. Americans, did you read that? ANN NEE WUN. Korean, non-Korean, citizen, legal immigrant, legal foreign worker, illegal immigrant -- no one gets deported or anything, even if they test positive. And, FOR FREE. It costs the person being tested nothing. There are walk-thru and drive-thru testing centers everywhere -- even in Seoul's busiest pedestrian markets. The Korean military has been enlisted to help combat the spread of the virus. Public places and public transit are sanitized multiple times a day. Hell, my school has been closed to all but employees for two weeks, and still there are crews sanitizing it all day."

But here, the most important thing for Dear Leader is his reelection (and "stay out of prison") campaign. The numbers. Brian Beutler distills it to the nut:

Good morning. The president admitted that the North Star of his coronavirus response is keeping the number of confirmed cases artificially low by not testing people and I don't think a single major media outlet treated it as a story unto itself.

— subscribe to my newsletter (@brianbeutler) March 7, 2020

+rump is especially unhappy with the Governor of next-door Washington state, where the most deaths have occurred. (Bad numbers.) Inslee issued an emergency proclamation a week ago, when the first person died. Vice president Mike Pence complimented Inslee's efforts. In response, +rump said he

"told Mike not to be complimentary of that Governor because that Governor is a snake... Let me just tell you we have a lot of problems with the Governor and the Governor of Washington, that's where you have many of your problems, OK? So Mike may be happy with him but I'm not, OK?"

If you need a video antidote for that level of toxic psychopathy, and counterproductive crisis response, I suggest yesterday's Washington (state) briefing on the federal COVID-19 emergency funding package. It doesn't make problems go away, but at least hearing from people working on the problem who aren't mentally ill.

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

How it all started (and then what happened) Permalink to this item

Jeremy Page, Wenxin Fan, and Natasha Khan detail How It All Started: China’s Early Coronavirus Missteps for the Wall Street Journal, which is letting it past their paywall, at least for me, at least for a moment. Précis in the subhead: "China's errors, dating back to the very first patients, were compounded by political leaders who dragged their feet to inform the public of the risks and to take decisive control measures."

Inside the toaster

Epidemiologists' best guess is it "could have first jumped from an animal to a human as early as October or November, and then spread among individuals who either never got noticeably sick or didn’t seek medical care." The WSJ story starts with Wei Guixian, who first started to feel sick on December 10, thought she was getting a cold, visited "a small private clinic across the street from her home."

For two consecutive days, she went there to take antibiotics through an intravenous drip, a treatment popular among Hua’nan workers because it was cheap and relatively quick. “It’s pretty effective for ordinary colds,” she said. “There’s always a line inside.”

Seems like it should be noted that antibiotics are not effective against viruses? She went back to work, off and on. But within 8 days, "the 57-year-old was barely conscious in a hospital bed..." (Later, it says she's "fully recovered and back home in the two-bedroom apartment she has barely left for almost two months," but "her daughter, infected in mid-January, was still in a field hospital.")

Just because this has become a bona fide pandemic, doesn't mean self-congratulation is off the table. Chinese President Xi Jinping "told 170,000 officials in a teleconference on Feb. 23 that the country’s leadership acted swiftly and cohesively since the beginning."

"A Wall Street Journal reconstruction paints a different picture, revealing how a series of early missteps, dating back to the very first patients, were compounded by political leaders who dragged their feet to inform the public of the risks and to take decisive control measures."

I'm guessing China's "working-class people ... with insufficient access to general doctors and with crippling hospital bills" are worse off than those in the U.S., but the same problem applies in this country where one of the two major political parties has spent a decade working to limit access to healthcare and healthcare insurance.

Our own Dear Leader is always saying more than he should, and crazy stuff, and even after making Subleader his point man, the communications leave a lot to be desired. Starting with clear disclosure of how many people have been tested. It shouldn't be up to the media to ferret out "the best available portrait of the country’s testing capacity as of this morning," but thanks to The Atlantic for providing that. And this:

"[E]arlier this week, the [CDC] announced that it would stop publishing negative results for the coronavirus, an extraordinary step that essentially keeps Americans from knowing how many people have been tested overall. ...

"Then, last night, the CDC resumed reporting the number of tests that the agency itself has completed, but did not include testing by state public-health departments or other laboratories."

Michele Goldberg boils it down, as official U.S. policy is that the pResident Must Not Be Contradicted, a tricky bit with that moving target, and the result "combines the worst features of autocracy and of democracy, mixing opacity and propaganda with leaderless inefficiency":

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and author of “The Public Health Crisis Survival Guide,” told me that, reviewing the history of such crises, “One of the huge lessons is: Don’t politicize the communications. You really need credible communicators who people believe.” Trump is the opposite of that. At least half the country distrusts him, and he’s ensured that a good part of the other half distrusts actual experts.

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

Old habits die hard Permalink to this item

There's no doubt you've noticed by now that it's actually rather difficult to not touch your face from time to time. Probably best to stay off camera then, too.

I get about 13 seconds for "Happy Birthday," so 2x will overshoot the recommend 20 seconds for hand-washing, but hey, better over than under.

Licking your fingers to help turn the page has always been a horrible, disgusting habit. Please stop. (I saw a bank teller do it once, counting bills. Ew.)

Then a friend forwarded seemingly credible (and increasingly familiar) information credited to "James Robb, MD FCAP," ending with "you are welcome to share," which, hmm. I've been blogging for right close to 20 years now, and can tell you that if you want to publish something as an expert (or whatever!), it's not that hard to do. The idea of publishing something for "sharing," through email, and Reddit, and whatever, that just seems dodgy.

Anyway, this doctor's message (let's call it) includes the suggestion to "stock up" with some things that other credible people are saying don't stock up on those right now, it's not helpful, and the reason being not for the filtration, but for the habit disinducement,

"to prevent you from touching your nose and/or mouth (We touch our nose/mouth 90X/day without knowing it!)."

I didn't used to think about it a lot, but I'm thinking more now. The good doctor goes on to point out that this virus "is lung-specific." Don't let it get onto your face, into your mouth, nose, etc. and that'll be good.

I did also look into the recommendation about zinc lozenges, and from everything I see, the data are still equivocal about those. The Mayo Clinic seems a credible source, and here's another MD's published item from July, 2017: Zinc for colds: The final word? Goofy title, but have a look. It's on the breezy side, talking about the more ubiquitous and less deadly rhinoviruses.

The viral (!) email makes a plausible case for a mechanism of effectiveness, but I'd like to see something more definitive than folklore (even folklore supposedly originating from an MD). Here, something more recent from WebMD: Zinc for Colds: Lozenges and Nasal Sprays. Their bottom line:

"Zinc lozenges may help you beat a cold a day or so sooner but likely won't help you prevent one. Avoid any zinc nasal sprays, because the risks outweigh any benefit you may get."

(Note the risk mentioned is losing your sense of smell!)

Update: How to Stop Touching Your Face.

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

Is ignorance blissful? Permalink to this item

The deconstruction of the administrative state has bumped up against a bit of hurdle in this coronavirus pandemic, hitting its stride just as the 2020 Democratic primary race reaches its climax. You've seen local news of local grocery stores being crowded with folks loading up for who knows what, and the most detailed instruction on hand-washing since you cleared kindergarten, probably. (Please pay attention.)

Apparently, knowledgeable sources were able to convince Dear Leader that, his call to "hurry up" notwithstanding, we weren't going to have a vaccine soon, or this year. He really wants it "soon." He has a hard time when people tell him things he doesn't want to hear. "I like the sound of a couple months better, if I must be honest," he told pharmaceutical execs, responding to hearing that one step in the process could happen in a couple months. Fauci keeps telling him the facts; he keeps resisting them. He expects a miracle. Aaron Blake, in the Washington Post:

What’s remarkable about these exchanges is that [the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony] Fauci has explained all of this — in front of Trump and publicly. At a White House briefing on Thursday, Fauci laid out a detailed timetable for clinical testing and concluded, “So although this is the fastest we have ever gone from a sequence of a virus to a trial, it still would not be applicable to the epidemic unless we really wait about a year to a year and a half.”

In the meantime, all praise. Mike Pence, fluffer in chief, put out a presser yesterday with, I kid you not, Top Tweets from the sycophants. Confidence immunizes them.

The campaign rallies—and rally-goers—are still full steam ahead, but I very much doubt that will continue for more than a week or two, tops. He'll be out of sorts without his regular fix of mob adulation. Binge-watching Fox & Friends just isn't the same as live.

Stephanie McCrummen's feature for the Washington Post, Miranda's rebellion provides an interesting look at the boundary of the epistemic bubble that is Trumpism. The author supposes that the loyalty of the South's white suburban women might be the key to the 2020 result, and takes an in-depth look at one (or two) of those women. As I read it, I wondered, how is her husband going to deal with this book of revelation that has been kept quiet between them (it seems)? And their community?! They might have to start having a conversation, maybe about spitting on people, or keeping quiet about a minister who slides his foot up your skirt. Something beyond heartfelt prayers in group, and continuing to accept cruelty and racism and vulgarity and pretending like nothing is wrong.

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

This thing is toast Permalink to this item

From the bike ride

(This post is in the "Keep Calm" genre. You're welcome.) The old, hand-me-down Avanté Deluxe T-Fal had a little incident, after which the toast depresser wouldn't stay down. It's an... electro-mechanical thing, and a well-known failure mode, I see. I could take it apart, and try to cobble something together. Or buy a new one, which I see would be $20-30, most likely. We want a good one, of course, and the family's travails in getting a good toaster while I was a child come back to me. Of course, with a mess of kids, there was heavy use. Now just two of us, it shouldn't be that hard, right? But you know, they don't make things like they used to.

At least there are reviews we can look at. Let's check some of the 1-star entries for a likely suspect. "Bad toaster." "Sometimes you get a lemon." "Not new as ordered." "If I wanted a toaster that only toasted 1 side of my bread, I already have one." (How about a toaster that you have to hold the lever down the whole time?) "I have had $10 toasters that worked better." (Tell us more!) "Very strong 'hot plastic' smell when making toast," that's not good. Made in China, of course. Isn't everything?

Let's look at another one. 10% of 3,878 reviews are unhappy. Ranges from "Great toaster - very very happy" to "Zero Stars." Then I looked at some of the (5%) 2-star reviews, and one of them is "DON'T BUY THIS TOASTER." But 2 stars. How does that work?

"I dislike it so much I could throw it away. I guess the cheapest toaster is not worth buying. Bummed out about it. Had it since July 2018, it never doesn’t burn."

That review is late November, so it had been more than 4 months of misery. Still, two stars. Go figure. Other 2-star reviews include "Good toaster until it broke" and "Not Happy with it." C'mon people, if you're not happy, ONLY ONE STAR.

Nice day for a bike ride, I went down to the library and looked through the bound volumes of Consumer Reports. Last time they wasted any ink on toasters was in 2013, when they looked at 56, and recommended 6 2-holers, and 4 four-slice. Back in the day, the good ones' ratings were all about the same, while prices ranged from $35 to $250.


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007