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

The City of Trees challenge Permalink to this item

There was a jolly tweet from our Mayor on Wednesday, inviting folks to take the City of Trees Challenge. The idea was obviously about planting trees, but not completely clear about how recently they were wanting to consider. I filled out the form, without nominating ourselves, more just asking questions. That garnered a friendly email from the Parks and Rec Community Outreach Specialist who narrowed it down to trees that have been planted within the city limits, this month.

We haven't personally planted any trees this month. The squirrels stay busy, and I'm sure they've planted many oak trees, at least. (If you want an oak seedling, please let me know.) I let her know we weren't in the running for the Challenge, and gave a longer answer:

Outside the house this morning

Our home's original owner, Roger Williams, loved trees and planted many (expecting to harvest them for firewood from time to time), starting in the 1960s, when it was built. When we bought the place in 1984, the lovely, thick, young "forest" was the main attraction. 36 years later, the mature trees that are left are edging on too big for the sixth-acre lot. The "challenge" did prompt me to go out and take inventory.

Our mature trees include the very big oak, a Ponderosa pine, 3 firs, including the tallest tree in the neighborhood, a non-native pine whose species I've never determined, 2 junipers, a Russian olive, sycamore and larch.

Our younger trees include the dwarf Alberta spruce my mom and dad gave us more than 30 years ago (and which has lived up to its first name), 3 walnuts (all planted by squirrels), 3 oaks (one planted by Roger, the others by squirrels), a resurgent set of aspen saplings, a peach and an apple tree both planted by squirrels, and the plum grove we've started, scion of one in our family from up north on Paradise Ridge. I didn't count the various seedlings and saplings.

The good news is, we're above the 90th percentile for tree biomass in the neighborhood. The bad news is, we're at or beyond the point when several of those mature trees are going to have to go. In the last 5 years, we've taken out three mature spruce (including the one that blew down, and narrowly missed our house three years ago this spring).

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

Little Miss Sunshine Permalink to this item

It's Tuesday, I guess, and I went grocery shopping for the first time in more than a week. Second go with a mask on, and at least as hard as the first time to keep my glasses from fogging up. I was wearing my list on my sleeve, with a rubber band holding it, which I thought was pretty clever. Major league! I joked to Jeanette, with the sequence of gets wrapped around my wrist.

Most of the patrons, and none of the staff that I noticed had masks on. It wasn't crowded, and beyond the stress of inconvenient breathing, and trying to find a few things I'm not the one usually buying, it wasn't bad. When I got to the checkout line, I took off my glasses while waiting and could relax about the whole exhaust business.

Just a dandelion

On deck, and with my goods on the conveyor belt, I waited for the gal in front of me to close out her deal. As she started on her bagging, but hadn't yet heard the final tally and come back to pay, there was lots more than 6 feet between us. Then, an unwelcome voice from behind me.

"You can move forward, you know. That's more than 6 feet."

I turned around to see an annoying woman whose face might have been more attractive if she were wearing a mask. As it was, both my keen sense of distance and propriety had been violated, but the bandanna over my mouth kept my slack-jawed disgust out of view. It's not that I couldn't think of anything to say; it's just that I didn't feel like saying those two words right then and there. As she sought to explain how space and time work some more, I moved forward, just a little. You know, waiting my turn in a sequential process that does not, actually, go faster if you move closer to one another.

She satisfied her peevishness by cheating into my buffer zone to get her stuff on the conveyor a bit sooner. Brava. I was thinking about the concentrated lime juice on a couple of my fingers where the container was leaking a little bit. And breathing. The debit card. Punching my PIN with a pinkie, and Now That Pinkie Is Contaminated and how and when I was going to get the lime juice off my other hand? While being pleasant to the checker (as pleasant as one can be while wearing a mask). She was being pleasant to me, anyhow, and I smiled at her, uselessly.

Outside, it was a beautiful spring day, so yay.

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

Daft perfection Permalink to this item

Most of ConservativeHQ's emails have been routed to spam lately, but one snuck through the main gate with a catchy subject line involving protests. You could look it up, I've given them more than enough linkage over the years, but this teaser graf from George Rasley is so utterly perfect in its whackage, I quote for you, from Anti-Lockdown Protests And The Defiant Protestant Heart of America:

"Defiance of the authoritarian kings and queens of the universal lockdown order, the high priests of COVID-19 pseudo-science and the Inquisitors of the establishment media is deeply rooted in America’s cultural Calvinism and the Protestant Enlightenment. Far from being anti-science this defiance is deeply rooted in Protestant Enlightenment thinking in which all authority may be tested against the plain language of the Gospel and all knowledge tested through the lived experience of observation and experimentation."

JHU dashboard US cases, 4/27/2020 am

All authority must be tested against the plain language of... which Gospel is it, now? The one where the Lord your God says do not steal, do not lie, do not deceive one another, do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight, and adulterers shall be put to death? But we digress.

Week ago polling—more than 10,000 deaths ago—showed a bipartisan majority in favor of doctors and public health officials over the shifting alternatives of Bizarro Man. Something something lived experience and experimentation, and all knowledge tested, key word tested.

A month ago today, there were just over 100,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the U.S, and not quite 600,000 worldwide. We're about to surpass 3 million confirmed cases worldwide, with a third of them in the US. 54,931 people in the US have reached the end of "lived experience" in this pandemic. How many more human sacrifices should we pile on the altar of Defiance, George?

Earth Day 50.001 Permanent URL to this day's entry

D words Permalink to this item

You might think that stroking the rumpian ego would not be the most important priority of the experts in disease control, but you would be wrong. Top of the news, did the Washington Post misquote the CDC director? "Totally misquoted," hmm? Redfield didn't use the word "devastating," just wanted to say MORE DIFFICULT, we have that. Of course, this winter, we had both influenza and SARS-CoV-2, and were testing for both, after a fashion, and it has been—continues to be, one month into the spring—VERY DIFFICULT. So MORE OF THAT could be coming.

The shortcomings of our testing "fashion" are at the very nut of the bungled response to the pandemic in this country, the rat's nest of bees and denial in the head of +rump that insisted on keeping his "numbers" low. Would anyone in the p'residential orbit care to apply the word devastating to the situation right now? You know, one sixth of the workforce out of their jobs, the 46,851 dead so far, the hockey stick graph of 843,937 confirmed cases, and we-have-no-idea how many unconfirmed? We're number one with a bullet, 32% of the 2.7 million confirmed cases in the world, about as many as the next five highest countries combined.

Anyhoo, the CDC Director took pains to emphasize more difficult, but not "more impossible," got it. Not necessarily "worse," which would be like same-as, or better, but he did not say that. We're going to be so good at TESTING. CONTACT TRACING. WIDESPREAD COOPERATION WITH OFFICIAL DIRECTIVES. We hope. That main WaPo piece and video referred to a "wide-ranging interview" without really capturing the width, and we spiral into meta-news.

Aaron Blake's analysis of alternate reality is probably more relevant than what just happened in the press briefing room, another episode of the big guy trying to walk back the unwalkable. Just to be clear, from a more credible source, walking on eggs:

There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said. “And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean.

We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time,” he said.

S&P500 over the last few months

Again. Blake also takes us back to February 25—two months ago, my calendar says, which is to say two years in pandemic time—"when another top CDC official, Nancy Messonnier made too much news for Capo di Capo by saying “we need to be preparing for significant disruption in our lives.” Spoiling his tour of the Taj, this was apparently so infuriating to +rump that he took THREE MORE WEEKS of pretending this problem would just go away. "It's something that we have tremendous control over," in the grab-bag of stupid things said in recent months.

During those crucial three weeks, the same time South Korea was responding to its outbreak, and limiting its case count to just over 10,000 and 240 dead, our president didn't want bad news to upset anyone. He's just a glass half-full kind of guy. "The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA," he tweeted on February 24. "Stock Market starting to look very good to me!" Larry Kudlow added his own "buy" signal, even as Senators were screaming SELL into the blower.

Earth Day Eve Permanent URL to this day's entry

There is no bottom Permalink to this item

The price of oil has been on my mind for a lot of the last half century. It was of course cheap and easy on the first Earth Day, back in 1970, even as US production was peaking and the reality of depending on imports was about to hit. October, 1973 to March, 1974, the Arabs' oil embargo paused the party, a little. (But not much; I was off on an extended road trip with a g.f. that April, and I don't remember the price of gas mattering.) By the time the 1979 energy crisis hit, the limits to growth were on a lot of people's minds, until... they weren't. By mid-1981, it was morning in America, and we were in a glut. Maybe just a temporary one. But everything is temporary, eh?

A couple oil wars, a financial crisis and a pandemic later, "something bizarre happened in the oil markets on Monday: Prices fell so much that some traders paid buyers to take oil off their hands" is the NYT lede. You could take delivery of a barrel of WTI crude and $37.63 if you had somewhere to put the barrel. (Does it come with a barrel? Or is it BYOB to west Texas?)

NYT datagraphic

"Demand for oil is collapsing, and despite a deal by Saudi Arabia, Russia and other nations to cut production, the world is running out of places to put all the oil the industry keeps pumping out — about 100 million barrels a day. At the start of the year, oil sold for over $60 a barrel but by Friday it hit about $20."

100 million barrels a day sounds like a lot, way more than I can get in the garage. Access to storage is an issue. (There's the new ministorage just around the corner, would that help? My calculation is you could put a bit over 6,000 barrels in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, so we could fill 16,000 pools. Per day.)

"The world has an estimated storage capacity for 6.8 billion barrels, and nearly 60% is filled, according to energy experts," we're told, so that's... 27 days' worth, if we keep pumping like there's no tomorrow, and IDK, why wouldn't you stop pumping?! (The story gives reasons. "[E]xpensive manpower and equipment. Fields do not always recover their former production. In addition, some oil companies keep pumping, even if they are losing money, in order to pay interest on their debts and stay alive." Leverage!)

Around the corner

In Cushing, Oklahoma, available storage is down to "less than two days of production," but that's not the only place we can store oil, is it? There's the good old Strategic Petroleum Reserve, created after that 1973 oil embargo, which gives us a way to pump oil back into the ground.

"The reserve has about 635 million barrels of oil, and is equipped to store 75 million barrels more. But the reserve can take only about 500,000 barrels a day."

Throughput! They could go full bore for the next 5 months and barely dent the flow. Also, it would cost $3 billion to fill the reserve, what? That's $40 a barrel, but at minus $40 a barrel, it would be quite a bit cheaper. Last but not least, one more stab from the past:

"[T]he Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas drilling, will take up a proposal for a 20 percent statewide production cut on Tuesday. The commission used to regularly manage oil production but hasn't done so since the early 1970s.

20.April.20 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Auto porn Permalink to this item

In a Facebook exchange about Prius carrying capacity among my sporting friends, the next Toyota RAV4 Prime was mentioned, and link to the Edmunds review provided. It's not the kind of thing I usually read, nor is $36,5 the kind of money I imagine dropping on a new ride. But see there, it "can bring 302 horses to bear" to "launch this family-friendly all-wheel-drive SUV to 60 mph in just 5.8 seconds."

As compared to the "regular" RAV4 hybrid's measely 219 hp, which can only "trundle" to 60 in 7.8. "Still respectable" they say, but really, can you trundle respectably? One would think not. Especially not when in the same paragraph that 2 second difference is deemed a "beatdown."

When I was sweet 16 and hell on two wheels, I'd be happy to take on any four wheeler for off-the-line acceleration. These days, I don't give much thought to 0 to 60, and like the sound of a 39 mile all-electric range, sufficient for pretty much all our daily driving, and nearly 40 mpg for when we are looking for adventure and head out on the highway.

Or off the highway? My current off-road vehicle is human-powered. I gave up the last gas-powered ones ages ago. Edmunds deprecates the underhanging battery, and "a prominent chin spoiler" that gives it "a less favorable approach angle. But let's get real. If you want to buy a RAV4 that's best suited to dirt-road use, consider the Adventure or, better yet, the recently introduced TRD Off-Road model." I see from TorqueNews that TRD = "Toyota Racing Development," and important things to know include that a 2020 RAV4 is meant for off the road. And yet, "your family camping trips, your overlanding adventures out west or your rides to the ski slopes."

Precollision system, pedestrian and bicycle detection! Lane departure alert, dynamic radar cruise control, roadsign and lane-tracing assist, "it'll keep you centered in your lane for about 9 seconds" for those quick naps. All that stuff we used to have do for ourselves, staying in your lane and not hitting stuff.

This TRD job is also nearly $40k new off the lot, only 27 mpg, yuk, but anyway, Jeff Teague's video review is an entertaining diversion.

Stir crazy Permalink to this item

The Financial Times' Coronavirus: free to read datagraphic roundup has been my go-to refresh lately, more than the John Hopkins U. dashboard (which is the FT's go-to source). First up is daily death tolls, "now at their peak or falling in many western countries," as of the April 19 update. The U.S. has plateaued at 2,000 (more than double any other country's peak to date). Italy peaked almost 3 weeks ago, and has leveled off above 500 a day. Integrate under the curve for death total. 15,000 under their plateau?

The US now accounts for almost 30% of global daily deaths. In the last week, more than 200,000 cases were confirmed here, averaging 29,000 a day. With far from adequate testing. Looking at the JHU time series on a log scale, it looks like we may level off at only 1 million (if we don't get to comprehensive testing, which would surely put a step up in the graph). The current US death toll (40,724) divided by the total confirmed cases (761,991 as of the 9:38 AM EDT update today) is 5.3%.

JHU dashboard view of Covid-19 cases in US, as of 2020-04-19

If South Korea is the most reliable estimate of the mortality rate of those infected, their 236 deaths in 10,674 confirmed cases is 2.2%. But even their testing leaves a lot of actual cases unconfirmed. Half of them? If the mortality rate is 1.1%, that suggests the US' case count might be approaching 4 million right now, more than 1% of the population.

With all of the social distancing people are doing and the stay-at-home orders observed by many, we could plateau well under 10 million, which is a damn sight better than the 40 to 60% of the population early estimates. The death count could stay under 100,000, which our numbers-assessed Gaslighter-in-Chief preemptively declared to be victory.

Excerpt from Alyson McClaran photo

As the restive idiots honk FREEDOM from their large automobiles, many of us are tired of staying home, of being out of work, having to take precautions, being told what we can and cannot do. As the Vice gaslighter has said over and over and over again, the risk to most of us is "small." There are more than 300 million people in the country, so what are a few tens of thousands dead to the most rugged individuals among us?

In an editorial for his great granddaddy's Spokesman-Review, publisher Stacey Cowles tried his hand a modest proposal: "It is not wise to risk the wealth and strength of the entire nation on a relatively small number of lives that statistically tend to be older and have pre-existing conditions."

The Washington Post has more about that shouty Colorado gal in stars and stripes, your morning Mix-and-Meme: "Go to China if you want communism!"

Misinformation goes Viral, from Jason Shepherd, Associate Professor in the University of Utah Neurobiology department a week ago (and updated, with links to credible sources) has a roundup of popular themes, from just before the serious crazy kicked in. You did not have COVID19 prior to Jan 2020. SARS-CoV-2 is not man made. NUMBERS and MODELS are not deliberately misleading people. (The president, saying demonstrably stupid things like "the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero," has certainly been misleading, as he deliberately seeks to make everything about him.) Covid-19 is not the flu. Bill Gates is not out to depopulate the world. "Health care workers and almost all the scientists I know are working to save lives."

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

Engineering survival Permalink to this item

As I was wrapping up my Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering last millennium, I took the daylong Fundamentals of Engineering exam, and cleared the bar (as it were) to go out and be an Engineer-in-Training. Since I went to work for a corporation, I could and did continue to practice "engineering" without taking another daylong exam after I'd ripened a few years on the job, the Principles and Practice of Engineering, in order to become a Professional Engineer, licensed by the Idaho Board of Licensure of Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors.

In my corporate job, I ordered equipment, designed tooling, implemented production lines, wrote procedures, oversaw the work of assemblers and technicians, issued change orders, went to lots of meetings, solved problems when things went wrong, designed and carried out experiments, then later designed component parts and machines, and so on, working in a variety of very specific technical realms. Those shifted, and my on-the-job training and experience expanded along with corporate needs. With other engineers and scientists in three corporations, I helped write interchange specifications that enabled, and controlled many $billions of commerce in the past couple decades.

LTO Ultrium Gen 1 cartridge parts

Fun fact: corporations are all about limiting liability, so that the people inside them can do useful and profitable things without worrying about being personally held to account. They theory is that the group can be held to account, somehow. In practice, that accountability can come after the fact, and be less than satisfactory for some of the parties involved. Think of airplanes falling out of the sky, for example.

None of the corporate engineering work I did had obvious life-or-death risks associated with the finished products. Of course, if an electronics assembly, or a disk drive, or tape drive was part of larger system with deadly potential, a failure could have consequence, but that was some other engineer's and some other corporation's job. (One of the early HDs I worked on was a component of cruise missiles.) My work did encompass substances and things that could hurt or kill workers. (Pools of molten tin-lead solder come to mind, right near a frothy mix of isopropyl alcohol and flux.) Safety was always an essential consideration in all of the above. When it came to building production lines with large air handlers and HEPA filters on stilts, there was a P.E. to review and sign off on my design specifications, and the installation.

Deep in Idaho's Laws and Rules Pertaining to the Practice of Engineering and Land Surveying, there is this requirement (, Assignments in Field of Competence):

"A Licensee must undertake to perform assignments only when qualified by education or experience in the specific technical field involved."

It was impressed upon me not quite 40 years ago that in order to fulfill their primary obligation to protect the safety, health and welfare of the public in the performance of their professional duties, engineers have a duty to recognize their limitations. You must establish expertise, you don't just claim to have it. You have to know what you are, and aren't qualified for. Honest self-awareness is a prerequisite.

Biomechanical engineering is not rocket science, but neither is it tiddly winks. If and when I or someone I know gets hooked up to an engineered medical device, let's just say I'd prefer a good (or better) quality product that's been tested, vetted by an independent authority, and is operated by well-trained personnel.

One of Jeanette's oldest friends, from high school in Montana, sent along the link to blog post on a site with an eyebrow-raising name, but a lot of interesting stuff on first look. HACKADAY, as they style themselves, features a skull and cross-wrenches logo, but press on to the piece on Real Engineering Behind Ventilators. It starts with an important point about expertise, and then introduces a quite fascinating, high quality, and timely 15-minute video guide to designing low-cost ventilators for Covid-19. Here's the HACKADAY blogger's lede:

"Experts on cognition tell us that most people think they know more than they really do. One particular indicator for that is if someone is an expert in one field and they feel like all other fields relate to theirs (everything boils down to math or chemistry or physics, for example). This causes them to be overconfident on things they don’t actually know about. ..."

You don't have to actually be an expert about anything to imagine you have relevant expertise about something. If life drops your turtle awareness on a fence post, you might imagine yourself a land surveyor, but that is not the way it works. You might say you know a lot about... the wind, or renewables, or debt, or taxes, or banking, or "the system," or campaign contributions, or trade, jobs, infrastructure, the military, ISIS, offense and defense, the "horror of nuclear," or hiring illegal immigrants. You may imagine yourself a very stable genius.

No matter your expertise in imagineering, claiming that you're an expert does not make it so. (Obviously, I wouldn't have thought to add until recent years.) Ignorant (let alone narcissistic) presumption can be deadly.

Tax Day (unobserved) Permanent URL to this day's entry

Row, row, row your boat... Permalink to this item

All hands were on deck for the incomparable POTWEETOH utterance yesterday. "Tell the Democrat Governors that Mutiny on the Bounty was one of my all time favorite movies," he punched into his iPhone.

"A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the Captain. Too easy!"

He's laughing, maniacially, because he's failing (and/or refusing) to meet the state's needs, depending on whether or not the governors are sufficiently obeisent and fawning to him.

If our comparison is to the HMS Bounty, in 1789, it should be noted that while William Bligh was its captain, he was a Lieutenant at the time. Set off the ship with his loyalists in a launch, he did end up on his feet, and eventually Governor of New South Wales, until yet another mutiny had him arrested, deposed, and effectively imprisoned on the HMS Porpoise for more than a year. "That Bounty bastard" still ended up a Vice-admiral of the Blue.

Napolean at the Battle of Wagram

Perhaps Don the Con just needs a military rank and a bicorne to complete his C.V. and costume.

Lt. Cmdr. Philip Francis Queeg is perhaps a more suitable parallel for our present circumstance, with the indelible portrayal by Humphry Bogart in the film adaptation of the fictional Caine Mutiny:

As the Caine begins its missions under his command, Queeg loses the respect of the crew and loyalty of the wardroom through a series of incidents. Tensions aboard the ship cause Queeg to isolate himself from the other officers, who snub him as unworthy, believing him an oppressive coward. At one point, during the invasion of Kwajalein, Queeg is ordered to escort low-lying landing craft to their line of departure. Instead, the Caine drops a yellow dye marker to mark the spot and hastily leaves the battle area. The officers dub Queeg "Old Yellowstain."

On Wisconsin Permalink to this item

In generous terms, the Republican Party is "pro-business." Their supposed contempt for government, famously promoted by Ronald Reagan to get himself elected in 1980, used by Newt Gingrich to take over the House in 1994, and amplified by the TEA Party in 2010, has in no way hindered their work to get in, take over, and bend government to their will.

Gerrymandering has been an essential tool. As the Wikipedia treatise explores, it hasn't been only the Republicans doing it, but they've done it with more gusto, and more consequential results. My home state of Wisconsin is a textbook example, its proud tradition of progressive politics largely erased by 2011 redistictring and the union-busting of former Gov. Scott Walker. Two of three federal judges on a panel ruled in 2016after the election that year—that the state legislature's 2011 redistricting was unconstitutional. (The Supreme Court later punted on a lawsuit to throw out all 99 districts, more than 10 months after the 8-member high court heard oral arguments in the case.)

Pie charts of vote share and seats won, Wisconsin Assembly, 2018

In the 2012 elections for the state Assembly, Republicans won 60 of 99 seats with less than half the total vote. By 2018, they were up to 63 of 99 seats, with less than 45% of the total votes cast.

You probably saw the news about Wisconsin's Supreme Court overriding the state's (Democratic) Governor's attempt to delay the primary election last week, and going ahead with in-person voting during a pandemic, and with a stay-at-home order in place. It made the World News in the BBC, among others. Some staff wore hazmat suits, and the National Guard had to help. And this, in the city/county where I was raised: In Milwaukee—Wisconsin's most populous city—its usual 180 polling places were reduced to five.

In a rebuke to the very court that overrode the Governor, and with the second highest turnout for such an election in 20 years, a third of the voters cast a ballot one way or another and soundly rejected the conservative incumbent. More than two-thirds of votes counted were mailed-in; tens of thousands may have gone uncounted, and many never received the absentee ballot they requested. But it wasn't a close race: Jill Karofsky won by a margin of 10% of the votes counted, 55 to 45%. Her share was almost exactly the same as the Democratic+Other fraction in the pie chart above.

The conservatives will still have a 4-3 majority on Wisconsin's high court, however.

Jim Rutenberg and Nick Corasaniti of the New York Times describe in more detail how the US Supreme Court, emphasizing that "lower federal courts should ordinarily not alter the election rules on the eve of an election," went ahead and drastically altered election rules "on the literal eve of an election taking place under conditions that were far from ordinary, resulted in chaos and confusion throughout the state."

How a Supreme Court Decision Curtailed the Right to Vote in Wisconsin

Easter Permanent URL to this day's entry

Happy Holiday, for some of us Permalink to this item

What better religious holiday to express the connection between our deep layers of ancient beliefs than the one that is set upon the first Sunday following the first full moon following the (northern hemisphere's) vernal equinox, with two different sects disagreeing (most of the time) on the date? We also squabble over how much of a holiday we should make it. Good Friday is a public holiday in eleven of our states (not Idaho), and in the stock and bond markets. In the UK, Easter Monday is a holiday. South of the equator, Easter is a fall holiday (and Christmas kicks off summer).

In my childhood, the most important element of today's holiday was the Finding of the Easter Baskets, loaded with candy and chocolate nestled in ersatz grass. The decorative theme involved delivery rabbits, and hard-boiled, colored chicken eggs. The connections were imagined so obvious that no explanation was needed, or offered. The eggs were not particularly prized, but they were fine. Boy does not live by chocolate alone. And, we participated in the dyeing, better living through hot chemistry right there at home. That was interesting.

Still image from The Ten Commandments movie

The Jews don't have a lot to do with Easter, but there's Passover, which kind of winds around the same time of year, a curious and downbeat asterisk on the whole He Is Risen theme for the mainstream of Christians. All those Egyptian first-borns being murdered for the sins of their fathers, whilst the Chosen People were spared if they followed directions for virtue signaling. I'm a little sketchy on all that, even after watching The Ten Commandments on TV for possibly the tenth time, this spring. Jeanette was seeing it for the first! Oh, there should be a part where the audience throws manna in the theater, except manna didn't make the final editor's cut. The movie is only three hours long, they couldn't fit everything in, skipped right over that whole 40 years (!) wandering in the wilderness between Egypt and Israel, which is oddly longer than it took the first people to cross Bering and find their way south to Spring Break.

Checking on the manna question (I might have dozed off, or the TV-edit might have removed it), I found a decade-ago review in Deseret News (Spoiler Alert! "[T]he movie is riddled with fiction") that ends with the definitive statement:

"The movie also does not show Israel's battle with Amalek or of God supplying Israel with manna, water and quail."

So there. I couldn't tell Amalek from Adam, and I didn't remember there being water, or quail, but it does stand to reason that you would get mighty thirsty wandering in the desert for 40 years.

The other thing that figured big in my early experience of Easter was Lent, the 40 Days of Waiting. For a lot less of a punchline than Christmas, mind you, which only had a 4 week lead-up. At least at Easter time, winter was mostly over rather than closing in on us with its cold and snow and darkness. And as an altar boy for the Catholic Church, I could get in on the rotation for doing the weekly Stations of the Cross, which was complicated, long, a hell of a story laid out for us, and thickly perfumed with incense. I didn't get many chances to swing the censer, but it was one of the best parts of the job. That and big tips for a wedding, which might have happened once, or never. Funeral tips were generally nonexistent, but there were always stories.

That number 40 keeps coming up, doesn't it? Today we're focused on quarantine, a Venetian innovation from the Black Death. It was an upgrade from trentino, an extra 10 days for good measure. These days, we're a lot less patient, and 14 days seems like forever. It's been 18 since we had an outside person inside our house, that CenturyLink guy checking to see that yup, our modem was too old for VDSL, and he did not, apparently, leave contagion behind from his brief visit.

That 10 year old Deseret News page ends with a list of current headlines, half a dozen links to Next Up In Faith. They're all about pandemic:

My friend Emily Walton highlighted a Facebook message from the inestimable Ammon Bundy who has "two items of business" concerning Easter, and the pandemic. Condolences to the unfortunate neighbors of the scion of the Bundy clan at 800 E. Locust St. in Emmett, Idaho who will have his followers bringing a friend to an in-person Easter Service (because FREEEEEEDOOOOOM). ("Due to amount of people NO potluck," however.) The second item is an exhortation to visit his hate-domain "and tell your story of how his bad decision is effecting [sic] you." (The street where Ammon lives was surely named for a tree in the pea family, not the insect pest, but serendipity sneaks up on us yet again.)

Fresh catnip, evening

As of Holy Saturday afternoon, Idaho's coronavirus tally was 1,407 confirmed cases (out of 14,308 people tested) and 27 dead. The good news is that our curve seems to be flattening, for the moment, especially with a logarithmic vertical scale, in spite of us having the most extreme density of an outbreak in the country, here in Blaine County where jet set travellers came to Ketchum and Sun Valley and shared more than just good times this ski season. 2,061 per hundred thousand are infected, which is to say 454 cases in a county with population around 22,000.

Emmett is a small town (under 7,000 people last census), in a verdant pocket along the Payette River ("named after Francois Payette, a fur trader from Quebec who was put in charge of old Fort Boise in 1818 and traveled through the area," Wikipedia tells us), one of the major watersheds in this corner of the world, feeding into the Snake, and then the Columbia. Governor Brad Little is an Emmett native, raised on his family's ranch, graduated Emmett H.S. in 1972. He went up to Moscow (an only slightly larger town) to the University of Idaho, and earned a bachelors degree in agriculture, in four years. (We were both there in '75-'76, but I was at Targhee Hall, and he was at ΦΔΘ and Targheeans and Phi Delts did not comingle much.)

Ammon Bundy is a bounder, a scofflaw, part of an invasive species that lowers our quality of life, threatens various kinds of catastrophe, and pulls attention while making no discernible contribution to the public good in its pursuit of personal liberty, and a narrow-minded "happiness" that deprecates the very notion that there is a "public good."

Governor Little acted further ahead of the coronavirus spread in his state than did many of his Republican peers in others, declaring an extreme emergency on March 25, and ordering non-essential businesses to close and people to stay at home, to avert turning a major emergency into a major disaster. Bundy, for Easter, no less, is saying the hell with that, let's all get together and defy authority while we praise Jesus.

On Friday, the Governor acknowledged the sadness at the change of Easter plans for so many of us, as he urged us to do the right, and smart things. "Yes, we would like to worship in our traditional fashion, but these are unique times and circumstances."

In my adult religious tradition, my church, we recognize the principle of a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Responsible the emphasized word this morning. We also recognize the worlds' many religions as a source of wisdom. And we recognize humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.

On March 13, when it seemed like maybe an overreaction to some (and a long time ago now), our leaders (I'm currently on the Board) agreed that we should not have our regular Sunday worship service "in person," and had our first-ever worship-via-Zoom on March 15. There were some technical difficulties. The second Sunday, it went a little more smoothly. By the fourth Sunday, with better broadband on our end to improve our personal experience, we shared the service with our friends in Twin Falls (and other places around the country), and now, today, Easter, we had a joint service with the UU Church of the Palouse in Moscow, where we used to be members. More than 400 people were in on the call, the biggest Easter service I've been to in a long, long time. There was a big, virtual choir with folks on both ends who'd practiced on their own and submitted videos that were artfully stitched together by UUCP's music director, then broadcast as we added our voices, live from our individual homes. There were smaller group breakout sessions afterwards where we saw and visited with a few of our friends more personally.

During the service, our friend and BUUF member Will Emerson Paige performed John Prine's song "Only Love," from his 1984 Aimless Love album, years after I was memorizing and singing along with every song he'd written and wearing out copies of his first and second albums on my record player. Will's rendition of the perfect song for this moment was magical, and it gave me thrills. Our spirits are risen. Hallelujah!

Only love, love only, only love will do,
Only love, love only, only love comes true.

Holy Thursday photo

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

Holy Week Permalink to this item

Every time the Groundhog sees his shadow in a White House daily con, it seems we have 6 more weeks of stay-at-home to look forward to. President Bunkum and his team of barkers—even Rudy Giuliani has reappeared!—are now pushing hydroxychoroquine as a Magic Elixer that will cure what ails you, because... there's evidence! Anecdotal evidence, Dr. Fauci pointed out, which is not the same as scientific evidence, but adjectives are hard, especially when they're not superlatives. #BeBest.

The other "Doctor" in the room, looking for an upgrade from his Ph.D. in Economics to the lofty realm of "social science," has a second-rate opinion that he's getting to share, because kakistocracy. He knows “how to read statistical studies.” And disagreement and debate are good, right? We all can see how much the boss likes healthy disagreement. Perhaps we could get Ron Vara to weigh in and settle the dispute.

It could just be another moderately insane idée fixe that the toadies are seeing fit to amplify, but in addition to the risk in a dose of snake oil, there are the people who actually depend on the drug for treatment of lupus. The supply shortage is more serious to them than having to search at stores around town for toilet paper.

IMPOTUS brought back one of his killer lines from the campaign trail: "What have you got to lose? Take it." Perhaps James Warren "Jim" Jones used that line back in the day, when the Flavor Aid was mixed up, but that's not on the tape. This is:

"Stop these hysterics. This is not the way for people who are socialists or communists to die. No way for us to die. We must die with some dignity." Jones can be heard saying, "Don't be afraid to die," that death is "just stepping over into another plane" and that it's "a friend." At the end of the tape, Jones concludes: "We didn't commit suicide; we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world."

On Saturday, +rump was "veering from grim warnings to baseless assurances in a single news conference," and "predicted a surging death toll in what may be “the toughest week” of the coronavirus pandemic before also dispensing unproven medical advice. He suggested again that Americans might be able to congregate for Easter Sunday services."

New York City Councilman Mark D. Levine, chair of its health committee has a twitter thread from the front line of the Covid-19 outbreak, where it's not just the healthcare system that's being overwhelmed right now; the deathcare system is not prepared to handle this either. 80 refrigerator trailers at hospitals around the city are "mostly full." Funeral homes are beyond capacity.

"On an average day before this crisis there were 20-25 deaths at home in NYC. Now in the midst of this pandemic the number is 200-215. Every day.

"Early on in this crisis we were able to swab people who died at home, and thus got a coronavirus reading. But those days are long gone. We simply don't have the testing capacity for the large numbers dying at home. Now only those few who had a test confirmation before dying are marked as victims of coronavirus on their death certificate. This almost certainly means we are undercounting the total number of victims of this pandemic."

Soon we'll start “temporary interment”. This likely will be done by using a NYC park for burials (yes you read that right). Trenches will be dug for 10 caskets in a line.

It will be done in a dignified, orderly--and temporary--manner. But it will be tough for NYers to take. 9/

— Mark D. Levine (@MarkLevineNYC) April 6, 2020

New York City has now passed its death toll from the attack on 9/11. For the US as a whole, we're past three 9/11s.

Did you feel it? Permalink to this item

USGS Latest Earthquakes view this morning

The swarm of aftershocks following last week's Shake Creek Quake in central Idaho continues, 218 of them so far greater than M2.5. The initial M6.5 hit was felt all around the region; I felt the biggest of the followers, M4.6 at t+29:10, dinnertime last Tuesday. And none of the others. Three others were M4.0 or stronger; 17 more M3.5 and up. In the last day, a handful have stretched the map as far south as Baron Peak, west of Redfish Lake in the Sawtooths, and on up to the north end of the swarm where the main event was, Cape Horn Mountain, and in Bear Valley, below Blue Bunch Mountain.

Yesterday, Sunday morning at 5:27 MDT, there was an M3.8 aftershock, one of six that size in the tally, and big enough to be felt by some of my friends here in Boise. The USGS is keeping its detailed aftershock forecast updated. For our week ahead:

That's "possible," they say, "but with a low probability." We don't get a lot of dramatic seismic activity around here, but we're definitely getting a bunch just now.

4.4.2020 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Coordinate all disaster relief assistance Permalink to this item

It was a bizarre declaration of sociopathy when candidate +rump declared "I alone can fix it" at the 2016 GOP convention. (Except... it makes perfect sense as a candid admission, if "fix" means the kind of work his "fixers" have done over the year. Roy Cohn, Michael Cohen, now Bill Barr.) The subsequent implementation of a program of looting and nihilism has beggared our imaginations.

The stalwart support of both "the base" and most of the Republicans in Congress is also a hell of a thing. There's no way in hell they could support this in good conscience, which leaves no conclusion other than that they still think they can get something out of this.

Do tell, exactly how is that working out for you?

NY news screen scrape, via Twitter

Now that presidential leadership is a matter of life and death, the bills for this devil's bargain are coming due. In Rachel Maddow's show last night, she highlighted 42 USC 5170a, which says, in part,

In any major disaster, the President may—
(1) direct any Federal agency ...
(2) coordinate all disaster relief assistance ...
(3) provide technical and advisory assistance ...

Or, the President may not. It depends on whether or not you say nice things about him. If he feels like it today. If Brian and Ainsley and the Dooce suggest he get off his fat ass and do something.

New York is the current center of the pandemic disaster in this country, the worst in the world now. They're using refrigerator trucks to manage the bodies. They're about to run out of ventilators... and China and the state of Oregon are responding more effectively than FEMA.

The captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the intelligence community IG were fired and Jared Kushner is running the pandemic response.

— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) April 4, 2020

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


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007