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30.July 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Tribal epistemology, vaccine edition Permalink to this item

Lots of food for thought in Rep. Sean Casten's (IL-6) Twitter thread about our present health crisis. Some context in the May, 2017 Vox post from David Roberts, Donald Trump and the rise of tribal epistemology, which, I imagine I read back in the day, but it's been a hell of a four years. I looked, and don't see any contemporaneous mentions. There was this just-into-2017 post, The year of living dangerously, with Charlie Sykes' come to Jesus moment, and a link to Steven Levitsky's and Daniel Ziblatt's op-ed, Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?

Yes then, and yes now. My pithy summary in the lede 4½ years ago was "Tribal loyalty trumps what used to pass for principle." Just for starters. As Casten boils it down, "while truth is universal, our perceptions of truth are increasingly informed by our 'tribe.'" The topic today is the danger tribal loyalty poses to public health.

"The germ theory of disease, the science of epidemiology, the mechanisms of vaccines, the ways to stop the spread of airborne pathogens... these are all proven, knowable truths. 'It will magically go away' or 'Dems just want to shut down the economy' is tribal epistemology."

Members of the *rump wing of the Republican party are less likely to wear masks and less likely to get vaccinated. (And, weirdly, the fact that Dear Leader got vaccinated himself doesn't seem to penetrate the bubble.) "More perniciously," Casten writes, "they have assumed the rest of the world shares their moral code. In the words of @fakedansavage, when someone accuses you of something you've never thought of, they are telling you what they are capable of."

"Trump was the first President (at least in my lifetime) who not only made no effort to represent those who didn't vote for him, but actually wished them harm. If you are capable of that process, you come to assume your political opponents wish the same of you.

"You're only closing restaurants to slow the economy or to hurt our guy's political fortunes" is the kind of thought you only think if you would do the same in the reverse situation. We don't. But that idea infected a large bloc of a major political party.

"Let's be very clear: the COVID-19 virus doesn't care who you voted for. Neither do those who are trying to stop it's spread. Every one of us as a friend, neighbor, loved one, etc. who voted differently than us. We don't want any of them to die.

"But if you thought it was OK for Trump to wish suffering on his opponents, you may assume that his opponents wish the same of you. So a politician with a D after their name encouraging you to get vaccinated can't be trusted. It's why we need R leaders to put science first."

Real leadership is a matter of life and death, in other words.

Tweet #16 in the thread has a datagraphic augmenting yesterday's post here, with national numbers. No vaccine is perfect. But the nationwide stats in this experiment we're running currently show that "you are 8x as likely to get COVID if you're unvaccinated, 25x as likely to go to the hospital and 25x as likely to die." It's slide 4 of 25 in the CDC presentation, "Improving communications around vaccine breakthrough and vaccine effectiveness," dated yesterday.

Slide 4/25 from CDC presentation

Data from COVID Tracker as of July 24, 2021. Average incidence 100 cases per 100,000 persons per week. Vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic illness = 88% (Lopez Bernal et al. NEJM 2021), where risk is [1 – VE] or 12%. Vaccine effectiveness hospitalization (or death) = 96% (Stowe et al. PHE preprint), where risk is [1 – VE] or 4%. Rate in unvaccinated = Community rate/((1-fully vaccinated coverage) + (1-VE)*fully vaccinated coverage). Rate in fully vaccinated=(1-VE)*Rate in unvaccinated. Fully vaccinated coverage proportions were from COVID Data Tracker as of July 24, 2021 (50% for US,).

That's the current estimate of scientific truth, subject to revision, correction, review, and so on, as ever, while the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its threat continues to evolve. And here's the latest snapshot of how the infection of tribal epistemology is playing out in vaccination rates, from Charles Gaba, offering "healthcare policy data, analysis & snark" on his (Sample snark in his headline for a July 23 update: "I sent you a radio report, a helicopter, and a guy in a rowboat. What the hell are you doing here?")

Casten cites the analysis part, Gaba's latest weekly update of Covid Vx levels by county. Apart from the stark message in it, it's a masterful presentation of a gigantic dataset, 3,144 US counties in 50 states plus D.C. The original on his site is 1260 x 1440px, and definitely worth a look. Zoomed out to a bare 560px to quote here, the "big picture" with axes of 2020 Trump Vote % (horizontal, augmented with the red/blue shading) vs. Percent of total population fully vaccinated, the impact of tribal epistemology is stark.

Also, if full herd immunity (to protect the youngest among us, and those with health compromised such that they cannot safely be vaccinated) requires 85% rate, we still have a long, long way to go. An impossibly long way, given the state and ossification of our politically addled minds. In addition to the radio report, the helicopter, and the guy in the rowboat, we need to be broadcasting 24/7 in some locales that TRUMP GOT VACCINATED. Which, would still be dismissed as a commie plot.

Snapshot of Charles Gaba datagraphic

Gaba added a short thread from the congressman's mention to say that he'd looked at (and graphed) county-level vaccination rates versus "several non-political metrics," and found that none of Median household income levels, education levels, population density, or "urban/rural" status was as highly correlated as the vote in the 2020 presidential election. As he puts it, partisan tribalism isn't the only factor, it just seems to be "the clearest and most blatant one."

29.July 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The world of hurt Permalink to this item

Top headline in today's paper, and on the Idaho Capital Sun's site, from Audrey Dutton: Idaho’s ICUs are filling up again — this time, patients are in their 30s.

All over our nominally first world country, people are up in arms about the very idea that we should have to take any public health measures, let alone ones they already insisted were to heinous such as wearing a face mask. The crowd in the heartland went wild for the St. Louis County Council voting to end a mask mandate.

Meanwhile, this little pandemic experiment we're running lacks an "opt out" choice. You're either in the vaccine group, or the control group, and the numbers aren't looking very good for the controls. The big datagraphic slipped through my fingers, but the director of Idaho's Department of Health and Welfare has a blog, and his post urging you to get vaccinated has the bulleted data, "since May 15, 2021":

from COVID-19 were people not fully vaccinated. You don't need to do any math, really. You don't need decimal places. It's a 20 to 1 shot, get it? Get it.

(Then I found that datagraphic if you want it that way. Take your pick. Still 20:1.)

27.July 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The January 6 Select Committee begins Permalink to this item

There's no way any discussion of January 6 with sworn testimony was going to go well for the rump wing of the Republican Party, but give the Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy credit for painting his caucus into a corner by mishandling it at every possible juncture. Really, he had it pretty well nailed way back on January 13, from the well of the House:

"The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump. Accept his share of responsibility, quell the brewing unrest, and ensure President-elect Biden is able to successfully begin his term."

That was five days after he posted a statement on his own site, declaring:

"Over the coming weeks we will work with law enforcement to bring anyone responsible for the violence to justice. Lawlessness and extremism have no place in our way of life."

And, then he went down to Mal-a-Lardo, paid obeisance to the former guy, and was reminded that he—and his FUNDRAISING FOR 2022—would be toast without sticking with the FG program.

A lot of weeks have come and gone, and yes, there have been 500+ arrests, but no justice yet delivered to the Perpetrator-in-Chief. Rep. Liz Cheney cut to the chase in her opening statement for the Select Committee's first meeting this morning, 3½ hours of must-see TV:

"We must also know what happened every minute of that day in the White House. Every Phone call, every conversation, every meeting, leading up to, during, and after the attack."

C-Span still from today's hearing

The video clips from January 6, and the four officers' testimony were gripping, and horrific. Live-tweeted while watching it this morning if you just want some highlights (if we can use that word). (Aaron Rupar is way more facile at clipping than me, his Twitter thread is way better than mine.) It was amazing stuff, from four men who were in the middle of it.

Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn summarized the situation, in his closing remarks near the end of the hearing (2m 25s clip) if you can't spare the full time.

"So what I ask from you all is to get to the bottom of what happened and that includes, like I echoed the sentiments of all of the other officers sitting here, I use an analogy to describe what i want as a hit man. If a hit man is hired and he kills somebody, the hit man goes to jail, but not only does the hit man go to jail but the person who hired them does. There was an attack carried out on January 6th and a hit man sent them. I want you to get to the bottom of that. Thank you."

Somebody hired a hit mob, and we all know who it was. He keeps telling us. "What I wanted is what they wanted," he said. Along with a ton of his usual fever-brained gaslighting.

He chose to remark again on the size of the crowd. “I would venture to say I think it was the largest crowd I had ever spoken [to] before,” Trump said. “It was a loving crowd, too, by the way. There was a lot of love. I’ve heard that from everybody. Many, many people have told me that was a loving crowd. It was too bad, it was too bad that they did that.”

Pressed again, Trump said he had hoped his supporters would show up outside the Capitol but not enter the building. “In all fairness, the Capitol Police were ushering people in,” Trump said. “The Capitol Police were very friendly. They were hugging and kissing. You don’t see that. There’s plenty of tape on that.”

25.July 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

ICYMI Permalink to this item

Add a new overload for that FLA: "In Case You're Missing It," for this thing I just now heard about, Apple's AirTag, rolled out in their "Spring Loaded" event 3 months ago. Michael Grothaus said there was "a bonanza of new hardware announcements," including this "tiny and discreet new product," "about the size of a coat button":

"AirTag is ... designed to be attached to an item to track its location in your house—or across the city. ... [A]s with many things Apple, the company says AirTag has one massive advantage over its competitors: It was built from the ground up around privacy [and] with the privacy of everyone in mind—yes, even Android users and people who have never owned an Apple product. ...

"AirTags don’t rely on an internet connection of their own. Instead, they piggyback off of a network of almost a billion iOS devices and Macs already out in the world. Each AirTag sends out a unique encrypted Bluetooth identifier; other Apple devices can detect it and relay the location of the AirTag directly to an owner’s Apple ID account."

Crowd-sourced thing-tracking. That keeps its secrets to itself, somehow.

"This entire process is end-to-end encrypted so that no one but the owner of the AirTag—not the owners of the crowdsourced devices picking up the AirTag’s location or even Apple itself—ever has access to the AirTag’s current or past location. And the Bluetooth identifiers that AirTags emit are not only randomized but “are rotated many times a day and never reused so that as you travel from place to place with the AirTag, you cannot be re-identified,” [Ron] Huang[, Apple's senior director of sensing and connectivity] says."

An apple

As a very occasional Apple user, not subsumed into the ecosystem-cult, it's nice to know they're looking out for me (in a good way). And for potential stalkees. There's an "AirTag Found Moving WIth You" notification in case "someone slips an AirTag into your possession in secret in order to track your movements." For non-Applites, it will "automatically emit a sound" if it's been away from its paired device for 3 days. New answer to that old question, "what's that beeping?"

The company spokesperson said they designed the AirTag to track items, not people or pets, but of course you could track people or pets. As discussed in Shira Ovide's NYT "On Tech" newsletter in my inbox, dated July 20, curiously not in the web index. The July 21 issue is The Nightmare of Our Snooping Phones. You might give a double-take for the choice of "nightmare," given the dek: "A Catholic official’s resignation shows the real-world consequences of practices by America’s data-harvesting industries." There was also that Capitol mob on January 6 which has been tracked and catalogued to a fare-the-well. I'm reminded that people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

They're coming for "the wicked and virtuous alike," Ovide notes, before expressing her exasperation "that there are still no federal laws restricting collection or use of location data." Quoted with its jumps:

"The Internal Revenue Service has bought commercially available location data from people’s mobile phones to hunt (apparently ineffectively) for financial criminals. U.S. defense contractors and military agencies have obtained location data from apps that people use to pray or hang their shelves. Stalkers have found targets by obtaining information on people’s locations from mobile phone companies. When Americans go to rallies or protests, political campaigns buy information on attendees to target them with messages."

Those tracking devices we can't live without any more! "Potentially thousands of times a day, our phones report our locations, and we can’t really stop them."

While we wait for Congress to act (ha ha), she offers "steps we can take to tone down the hellishness," a NYT Privacy Project interactive, from the Before Time (Dec. 2019): Freaked Out? 3 Steps to Protect Your Phone. Shorter, with the 4th item paraphrased:

This is just the way the world works now. "Your mobile carrier also collects location pings while your phone is turned on, regardless of whether you followed the steps above."

24.July 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

You will not go to the moon Permalink to this item

Chances are. Flights of fancy are free, but to escape the surly bonds of Earth is a heavy lift that has only been made for 25 men. Three got to leave twice. Three died on the launchpad. Quite a few have gone up to where the sky turns black, and the earth is blue, which I'm sure must be a thrill but is not quite the same as leaving. (The moon is all in our mini-system, for that matter; one-sixth good old Gravity, a lifeless, dusty Janus looking ever toward our sometimes heavenly planet, and ever away, to the rest of the universe.)

My half century-gone childhood, and the half-decade spark of Apollo are brought back to mind by Heather Cox Richardson's July 23 Letter this morning, setting the context in her inimitable way. It was a race for high ground, remember, excited by the Cold War, while we were having a Hot and humid shooting war in southeast Asia. We imagined greatness, achieved a fair measure, brought back most of half a ton of rocks and dust. We came and left in peace, because there was no one to fight up there.

"This week, on July 20, 2021, 52 years to the day after Armstrong and Aldrin stepped onto the moon, former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and four passengers spent 11 minutes in the air, three of them more than 62 miles above the earth, where many scientists say space starts. For those three minutes, they were weightless. And then the pilotless spaceship returned to Earth.

"Traveling with Bezos were his brother, Mark; 82-year-old Wally Funk, a woman who trained to be an astronaut in the 1960s but was never permitted to go to space; and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen from the Netherlands, whose father paid something under $28 million for the seat.

"Bezos’s goal, he says, is not simply to launch space tourism, but also to spread humans to other planets in order to grow beyond the resource limits on earth. “The solar system can easily support a trillion humans,” Bezos has said. “We would have a thousand Einsteins and a thousand Mozarts and unlimited—for all practical purposes—resources and solar power and so on. That's the world that I want my great-grandchildren's great-grandchildren to live in.”

The easiest of my 16 great-grandfathers' great-grandfathers to look up, Maximillian Friedrich Georg v. Alten, was born in 1754 and died in 1821. A lot can happen in two centuries, so who knows? It hasn't really been "easy" to get seven or eight billion humans supported here on earth. Bezos knows how to multiply warehouses and his personal wealth, why not another 100x? "And so on."

2004 photo, 2021 edit

23.July 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Delta blues Permalink to this item

Our local newspaper's front page headline, Doctors Say Unvaccinated People Causing Covid Surge, which, you know. "SARS-CoV-2's reticulating family tree is causing the surge, abetted by, and raging in unvaccinated humans" wouldn't fit. Teaser to one of several WaPo stories on the same subject is two hundred fully vaccinated DC residents have tested positive. I took the jump to see "compared to what," and that's in the headline: Less than 1% of fully vaccinated people in D.C. have contracted coronavirus, data shows.

MeidasTouch image

Both can be true; it's remarkable how different they seem. And I wonder about featuring either one for the lede in a report about the local dashboard and regional public health status. More than halfway down, this:

"Health officials said nearly all new cases, deaths and hospitalizations in the state are among those who are unvaccinated.

"Younger people make up the majority of the new cases in Maryland, with 192 of the new cases among people who are under the age of 40. One in 5 of the new cases are among Marylanders between the ages of 20 and 29."

And what the CDC Director, Rochelle Walenksyaid yesterday:

“The delta variant is more aggressive and much more transmissible than previously circulating strains. It is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of and that I have seen in my 20-year career.”

So much so, that even some of the Fox News disinfotainment team have come around. ("Talk to your doctor," Sean Hannity urged.) Some Republicans in Congress. Even if one who couldn't pass his background check felt he had to complain about the other team. "How many of the Democrats are willing to say whether or not they've been vaccinated?" he wanted to know. He missed the memo, but CNN reporter Annie Grayer was there to fill him in.

All of them.

Here's what evolution can do with a virus in less than two years: People infected with the delta variant appear to carry a viral load that is more than 1,000 times that of those infected with earlier forms of the virus.

"The daily average of confirmed coronavirus cases [in this country] has roughly quadrupled during July, from about 13,000 per day at the start of the month to 43,243 now, according to The Washington Post’s seven-day average of infections . The virus is spreading most rapidly across the South and Midwest, in states with low vaccination rates, and hospital officials there say they are reeling from a new surge of patients, driven by the delta variant."

16.July 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Little Ms. Runamok Permalink to this item

Thinking about that moment in 2008 when somebody convinced John McCain that Caribou Barbie was just the running mate for him, and a certain amount of hilarity ensued. In Idaho, we're living the dream, with Janice McGeachin as Governor-in-Waiting. After she whipped up an Executive Order stunt when she was Acting that one time, it seems that the actual governor is being a little cagey to keep her less-informed about his whereabouts.

“At some point today I will be acting governor,” McGeachin said to cheers from her press conference claque at the Capitol, but whoopsie, her 15 minutes had come and gone by the time her press con started. Gov. Brad Little took his Capitol for a Day schtick (which actually should be Capital for a Day, shouldn't it?) to Troy, Idaho, and apparently flew in to the Moscow-Pullman regional airport, just over the border with Washington.

Airtime doesn't count as "out of state"? But just imagine the plane landing, taxiing, unloading, and the rush to load the cars and GET BACK TO IDAHO, 4 miles away. In 15 minutes. Well done!

Betsy Russell's report for the Idaho Press counts McGeachin as a member of the "slew of candidates" challenging Little in next year's Republican primary, and I couldn't help think of that other sort of slough, the one that bogs down The Pilgrim's Progress:

Excerpt of Brian Myrick/Idaho Press photo

"Now I saw in my dream that, just as they had ended this talk, they drew near to a very miry slough that was in the midst of the plain; and they being heedless, did both fall suddenly into the bog. The name of the slough was 'Despond.' Here, therefore, they wallowed for a time, being grievously bedaubed with the dirt..."

The "ensuing" rally had a few hundred supporters, and observers, including fellow sloughman Ammon Bundy, who was keeping his legal distance to avoid getting arrested for trespassing again, still in his year-long ban from the Capitol grounds.

Exactly one member of the legislative wing-nut caucus was on hand, Rep. Tammy Nichols, speaking in favor of McGeachin's notion that the Idaho Legislature should insist on state control of private businesses with respect to vaccination requirements. Jan claims to have 18 other members who think the legislature should reconvene itself and see how much more of the taxpayer-funded legal defense dollars can be dissipated tilting at another Lost Cause.

15.July 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Zeitgeist Permalink to this item

Two of Richard Viguerie's spammy emails caught my eye this morning. Your critical action needed to STOP Critical Race Theory was one, and repeating it out loud to Jeanette, my first question was did they really say "critical" twice? They're going hypercritical, it seems. I'd say ironically except, hasn't irony suffered enough? He urges his readers to begin attending local school board meetings, and

"watch for any movement or policy change toward abandoning merit and achievement in favor of Marxist policies or Critical Race Theory practices that lower standards in the name of “equity” and a race-based spoils system."

His emphasis, of course, chanting the three magic words to pwn the libs. The further action plan is to Forward this email to everyone, your "list of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow churchgoers, and others and urge them to also attend their local school board meetings"; then Download, Read and Distribute his screed, "The Civil War In Our Schools"; Post his alarum in all your social media; and of course Help with the grift by sending money to his "FedUp PAC."

ConservativeHQ image

The other message teased the latest weekly spluttering outrage (after #1 CRT), What To Say If A Biden COVID Doorknocker Shows Up At Your Home. Inside there is a handy NO SOLICITORS image you can print and post by the door, complete with scare-quotes. Be alert, people!

"[T]the notion of Feds going door-to-door through neighborhoods sparked a lot of discussion about what the Joe Biden government is really up to – especially after Democrats fought so hard to keep a basic question like “are you a citizen” off the Census and have threatened to confiscate legally-owned guns."

There's always a "friend" to work in. Today's "our conservative friend freshman GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn," who put 2 and 2 together and figured out that ZOMG THIS IS A PRACTICE RUN FOR COMING TO GET YOUR GUNS AND YOUR BIBLES.

I am not making this up. They said he said that, to "Right Side Broadcasting during a gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas," no less. Also, Google! Passports! Chinese Communists! General Mike Flynn! Tucker Carlson!

Just calling them "Feds" not scary enough? Try "Biden's COVID Stasi agents" for size (and think about the demographic that recognizes and responds to "Stasi"). They wind up with a bullet list (!) of buzzwords-of-the-day, in case you didn't read for comprehension the first time. Recite these at bedtime to help you remember. You are getting verrrry sleepy... Sssstate sssurveilllalalala

Viguerie is nothing if not a pernicious troll, working "direct mail" to stoke the flames of outrage on the right. It's not as incendiary a medium as television, but he does his part, and I imagine it shakes enough money out of his Old Man Shouting at Cloud demographic to keep it churning. While retrieving those two messages, I caught a view of the last dozen and a half I hadn't flushed yet, and it makes quite the timeline of the past seven months:

CHQ and Viguerie inbox subject lines

12.July 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Welcome to the machine Permalink to this item

Dove into my borrowed copy of Shoshana Zuboff's magnum opus this morning, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, and as expected, she is nothing if not voluble. I modified my usual reading style of taking in every word to more of a skimming flow, the message carried by the vocabulary more than the sentence structure. Before the (well-organized, Introduction, 3 parts, Conclusion) table of contents (ending with after matter that includes a Detailed Table of Contents), there is a frontispiece DEFINITION with numbered phrases starting as such, and ending as précis to polemic.

1. A new economic order that claims human experience as free raw material for hidden commercial practices of extraction, prediction and sales; 2. A parasitic economic logic in which the production of goods and services is subordinated to a new global architecture of behavioral modification; 3. A rogue mutation of capitalism marked by concentration of wealth, knowledge, and power unprecedented in human history;

Eggplant flower

and so on. Eight items. In the Introduction, she declares that her "methods combine those of a social scientist inclined toward theory, history, philosophy, and qualitative research with those of an essayist: an unusual but intentional approach."

The confession rings true, into a (much) larger definition of "essay" than I usually carry around. It's an unbridled one, to be sure. She appears to have intimidated and overpowered her editors (if any survived). It's small of me to wonder, shouldn't that be a semicolon? when the more pressing question is, why is the introduction a collection of essays already?

One can be distracted, but this is an important subject, and her writing is enjoyable if you're willing to devote the time to a long swim. From III. What Is Surveillance Capitalism? in chapter 1, starting on page 9, my emphasis added:

"At its core, surveillance capitalism is parasitic and self-referential. It revives Karl Marx's old image of capitalism as a vampire that feeds on labor, but with an unexpected turn. Instead of labor, surveillance capitalism feeds on every aspect of human experience....

"As the pioneer of surveillance capitalism, Google launched an unprecedented market operation into the unmapped spaces of the internet, where it faced few impediments from law or competitors, like an invasive species in a landscape free of natural predators. Its leaders drove the systematic coherence of their businesses at a breakneck pace that neither public institutions nor individuals could follow. Google also benefited from historical events when a national security apparatus galvanized by the attacks of 9/11 was inclined to nurture, mimic, shelter, and appropriate surveillance capitalism's emergent capabilities for the sake of total knowledge and its promise of certainty.

"Surveillance capitalists quickly realized that they could do anything they wanted, and they did...."

I've written about the components of this story here on the blog, and in my own essays over the past two decades. Back to the root of it, written in January, 2000, and most recently updated 20 years ago this month: Ad Attack. That was when DoubleClick was launching its unprecedented market operation into the unmapped spaces of the internet, facing few impediments from law or competitors, like an invasive species in a landscape free of natural predators, before Google became a verb, and fully subsumed DoubleClick into its own enterprise.

Then, as now, I was participating in The System, wittingly, or not, and stitching together Amazon advertising for a vague promise of vigorish which I've never had the enthusiasm to pursue as a business, and have yet to obtain the motivation to tidy and excise. The endless reports of "no earnings" give me a little comfort in thinking that "oh good, it's not working" even as I have to wonder if they're cheating me out of small change to help Jeff Bezos get off the planet. ("A small price to pay," a lot of people are saying.) My original justification was that reviews were interesting, and useful, in helping you avoid buying unworthy products. Now it seems, the reviews are mostly fake. We are all being taken for a ride.

9.July 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Don't call Us, We'll call you Permalink to this item

Tomas Pueyo got on my radar when he was free-lancing Covid-19 intel, and saying more interesting (for sure) and smarter things than a lot of other sources. He's working a subscription model now, and I'm on the free feed. Today's item: Should Everybody Learn English?

As a native speaker myself, it seems a convenient, but presumptuous ask. From my tiny experience with other languages, I can tell minds are better when they know more than one language, and it makes a huge difference if you start early. (Earlier than I did. Also, stick with it, you'll be glad you did.)

I don't know how many languages Pueyo knows, but at least two, given that he's from Spain, and is now "American" (as he put it, and we often do, ignoring the fact that there is a hemisphere nearly full of non-United States of America countries). And his latest essay is a good read, with a nice illustration of the Tower of Babel that didn't show in the email version I received. I'm interested in just the early doors. As the story goes:

"In the Book of Genesis (am I a proper American or what?!), when humans spoke the same language, they decided to build the Tower of Babel and reach the heavens. God didn’t want that, and His response was to divide people by having them speak different languages. Unable to communicate, they couldn’t build the tower, and scattered. As He had wanted."

It's an odd approach for any god, and especially The God to take, given that early construction technology would not have enabled us to reach the heavens in any event, and there was no good reason not to let humans go ahead and build a Tower With a View, as high as they might. (Perhaps the story devolves to us from an architect who was looking to avoid blame for failure.)

With a better P.R. team, God might have invented different languages to enrich the variety of human experience, and invite us to thank Him for that. Rather than impose languages as punishment for hubris, and a reminder not to build tall buildings.

7.July 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Heat Dome in Boise Permalink to this item

Happy to have day #10 come up short of 100°F and not set a new record of # of consecutive days. Looks like we topped out at "just" 98 today.

NWS datagraphic, tweaked by me

Along with all those 100+ days, peaking at 107 yesterday, we've had ELEVEN 70+ degree nights. We've used more AC in the past week and a half than in all of the last 3 years combined. (Those cool nights usually keep our needs minimal.)

Last night, the low was 80. Ugh. A week ago we had a similarly high low, but by this @NWSBoise tweet, I guess it must've been 79. Feels like... 80. Feels like the windows shut up and the house fan running at bedtime.

A lot of us are REALLY looking forward to the promised low near 60 tonight. (This little story also available as a Twitter thread if you like those.)

The local Wx history for KBOI makes has links to 2, 3, and 7 day views if you look around. You can edit the querystring though, and get... 264 hours' worth if you want. Nice: Interactive data and charting of Boise Air Terminal Weather conditions from the National Weather Service.

6.July 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Healthcare industrial finance Permalink to this item

To call it a "system" would be aspirational. A "complex" is more like it. Or a kludge. I did the Contact Us thing with InstaMed, with this opening salvo:

This new thing you're enticing me to sign up for has issues from my point of view. The subject says "view your statement," the message body says "create an account to view your statement," and the action button is labeled PAY.

That's rather clumsy and poorly designed, but OK. You feature the St Alphonsus name, including in the message signature, but the link is to US Bank?!

And support is to something I've never heard of called "Instamed."

This needs a lot more explaining than you have provided.

They assigned me a CASE number to please note for future reference, echoed my inquiry and sent best regards. Then just 13 minutes later this considered response, from InstaMed (a J.P.Morgan company) Customer Service [sic]:

"InstaMed is the third party payment processor for your healthcare provider. We are not authorized to make account adjustments or confirm billing activity. If you are experiencing difficulty completing your payment, please consult your healthcare provider directly. Refer to your statement for your provider's contact information. We regret any inconvenience."

The funny (not ha ha) thing is that one portal leads to another, in a daisy chain of webureaucracy chasing its long tail. Saint Alphonsus did recently provide an important service to me, and after the claim process was duly mangled by the insurance company, there might be a balance due that is "my responsibility," as they like to say.


But how would I know? Let me take a little walk. To MySaintAls, the patient portal login hosted at (copyrighted 2018 by Trinity Health). It redirects me to a dashboard at, replete with buttons and menus into an Easter egg hunt for information. (I've been here before, and I happen to recall the particular pathway with the one nugget of information that's useful—if not complete—and that I've already downloaded.)

Above the pleasantly aging couple glued to a tablet that is CONNECTING YOU TO YOUR HEALTH, the four main things they imagine I will want to do. Find a Physician. Locations. Request an Appointment. Bill Pay. The lefthand navigation has categories of Appointments, Health Record, Messaging, Proxy Dashboard. (Just in case one dashboard isn't enough?) No "statement," but presumably Bill Pay is the relevant choice. It links to, and opens a new world, in a new tab. I can also Find a Doctor, Find a Location, Finde a Service or Specialty, or walk back breadcrumbs, consider careers at Saint Alphonsus and/or Trinity Health, and more. A floating box shows the "Financial Services" business comprises four things: Financial Assistance; Online Billpay; Insurance FAQ; Contact Us. So here I am, still without a hint of a Statement.

Select a Facility list

My first task is to Select a Facility, the one where I received care or service. There are 6 choices, in 4 categories, and I can for sure narrow it down to no more than 3 of them. Not in Oregon. Not in Nampa. Guessing at the most likely choice of the remaining three, and [Continue], a new tab is forked, now on, even though the Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center logo is featured. I need to Log In or Sign Up. To this thing hosted on US Bank's website, f.b.o. Saint Als, Powered by InstaMed. (Hello InstaMed!) "All Rights Reserved."

Documenting as I go this time, I have the temerity to Sign Up, even though the InstaMed-powered page has some garbled elements. Two-factor authentication, that's nice. I get text messages. I confirm via a link, get a phone-page badged US Bank + InstaMed. Back at my browser, the next step is to Add a Patient, starting with an Account Number (Exclude Dashes & Letters) or Quick Pay Code. Huh. At the bottom, a literal "Alert": "You will be enrolled in eStatements and will no longer receive paper statements." There are of course footer links for Security, Privacy, Terms of Service that I haven't followed or read.

I'm not sure I want to Add a Patient and agree to all that. Really, I just want to see my bill, if I have a bill. Maybe it will have my account number on it.

For grins and completeness, I went back to the Online Billpay gateway (let's call it), and tried the other two possible choices in the "Select a Facility" menu. One's [Continue] took me to the same US Bank portal (with a suitably modified querystring), and the other, Treasure Valley Lab, takes me to yet another Secure Sign In, this one on Powered By and copyrighted by XIFIN, Inc. (More Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.) For this one I only need the Statement Number (ha ha), my DOB, country and postal code, which... that's a Secure Sign In?

Since I don't have a statement number (let alone a statement) from TVL, I can at least dismiss this possibility until such day (and statement) arrives.

Because I care®, I took a look at my insurance portal for a second opinion, and found the answer to one question, at least, in the stack of claims. The Provider name is clearly identified, as the regional medical center. The Explanation of Benefits shows the total charge, the plan discounts (whooosh, there went 79.3% of the bill, PAID ACCORDING TO A NEGOTIATED RATE WITH THE PROVIDER'S NETWORK), how much the plan paid (1.2% of the total billed), and my share, the remaining 19.5%. Whittled it down from 4 figures to 3, so that's nice. And there's a "Patient Account" number with no dashes or letters, which might be my number with St Als? Hard to say. Near the bottom of page 1 of 6, it says:

Notes: Please compare these totals with the bill you receive from your provider.

Funny you should mention that! Back in the email inbox, I have a Welcome to InstaMed Payment Portal! from a donotreply @ US Bank address, US Bank logo prominently featured, copyright JPMorgan Chase & Co. with All rights reserved, and the grayed fine-print footer with InstaMed numbers and addresses. "This message is for information purposes only," it says. "Please do not reply to this email."

It's "about [my] InstaMed relationship," it says, "sent from an unmonitored mailbox." And, "the email is transactional." So, informational and transactional, got it.

3 days later, bill in the mail, just like the good old days. One page, tear-off third, return envelope. Easy-peasy.

1.July 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

News, weather and sports Permalink to this item

Here in the upper left corner of the country, the weather is the news, with a triple-digit heat dome coloring our map infrared and orange. NWS Boise's Twitter feed featured lightning-started wildfires; lots of record temperatures, including Kamloops, BC and Hells Canyon at 113°F (Boise merely 104); and the latest HRRR smoke model suggesting we should be getting what's coming out of Redding, shortly.

Boise has been smoke-free so far. With this heat, and the inevitable thunderstorms rolling around, we'd hardly need a Fourth of July holiday with idiots launching fireworks everywhere. Freedom!

Still getting some sports in here and there, was out in the summer sunshine at 6:30pm last night to play tennis, whilst dreaming of what it would be like to play on Wimbledon's cool, slippery, green grass in 40°F cooler air. Pleasant, I suppose. Like windsurfing around sunrise on Lucky Peak reservoir.

June 29 photo after sailing

Ok, there might also be some political news. Two front-page stories above the fold in today's Idaho Press provide excess local color, extreme infrared. This guy Doug Traubel being put forward as one of three candidates for replacement county sheriff by the local Republican central committee, and I'm trying to figure out which would be worse: they didn't vet him, really, or they did vet him, and decided "yeah, he'd make a great sheriff."

The Ada County Commission held a public job interview for the threesome, in which Traubel was given a shot at walking back some of his crazy, and he said huh uh.

"Traubel blamed Jews for Soviet violence in Russia and said that while Jews were one of the victim classes in Germany, they were the “villain class” in Russia.

"In response, Beck asked him if the "pogroms" were myths. Traubel said no, but added while he didn’t justify it, Adolf Hitler had been suspicious of the Jews due to the “red terror.” ...

"Earlier, Beck had asked Traubel if he wanted to change or retract anything he had previously written. Traubel said he did not, but there had been times he might have written things more carefully."

But wait, there's more! Traubel figures that "at least 50% of rape allegations are false," even though "he could not source the number off the top of his head." Could he... source the source? Could he... get a job flipping burgers instead? In some all-male institution?

The other pretty much totally unqualified candidate, Mike Chilton, didn't want to sign the "waiver to allow the commissioners to access information, background checks and records."

“The original waiver was fraught with problems,” Chilton said. “I took it to my attorney, I had three different attorneys review it ... they all said it was overreaching, that the promise to doxx everything to the public was very concerning.”

Oh. You get the feeling that the GOPCC couldn't find more than one qualified candidate but they threw Chilton and Traubel into the mix instead of trying to claim the dog peed on their assignment.

That should be enough for the front page, but we also have our office chair spawn of melon farmer "cowboy," Ammon Bundy in court asking the judge to just drop the trespassing case against him and his pal Aaron Von Schmidt. Judge David Manweiler said ah... no. Tell it to the jury. For his part, Schmidt attempted the LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU defense.

"Von Schmidt seemed to argue either that he had not heard the instructions to leave the Lincoln Auditorium, or that the prosecutors could not prove that he heard that order.

“I was never in the room when they notified me, I was never notified,” he said. “The state has not proved that I was notified.”

He can tell that to the jury, too.


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007