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

The Hair-on-fire moment we're in Permalink to this item

Historian Heather Cox Richardson's Sept. 24, 2021 Letter from an American is a clear-eyed, and genuinely alarming assessment of the moment. It begins:

"On Monday, we learned that after last year’s election, John Eastman, a well-connected lawyer advising former president Donald Trump, outlined a six-point plan to overturn the outcome of the election and install Trump as America’s leader. They planned to cut the voters’ actual choice, Democrat Joe Biden, out of power: as Trump advisor Steve Bannon put it, they planned to “kill the Biden presidency in the crib.” This appears to have been the plan that Trump and his loyalists tried to execute on January 6.

"That is, we now have written proof of an attempt to destroy our democracy and replace it with an autocracy.

"This was not some crazy plot of some obscure dude in a shack in the mountains; this was a plan of the president of the United States of America, and it came perilously close to succeeding. The president of the United States tried to overturn the results of an election—the centerpiece of our democracy—and install himself into power illegitimately."

"Trump loyalists are openly embracing the language of authoritarianism," she writes. And augmenting the political means of authoritarianism. What better venue than Hungary for CPAC 2022, then?! Mike Pence was there in Budapest earlier this week to denounce immigration and for "urging traditional social values." Now that's conservative, hearkening back to the oh-so-traditional autocracies that prevailed for the centuries before the rise of democracy.

Political consultant and Lincoln Project founder Steve Schmidt, cuts to the chase in 8 minutes with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.

"We are in a crisis; it's hard to overstate the magnitude of the crisis... We have an autocratic movement in this country, and one thing is certainly true: the Republican Party of late September 2021 is a profoundly more radical party than it was on Election Day, than it was on January 6, then it was on Inauguration Day. And part of the strategy is, it's important to understand, you see this with the chaos that could result from the debt ceiling, is that they are driving chaos at the same time as they are selling order.

"All right-wing authoritarian movements always do this. It's how they come to power. They drive chaos through policies of cynicism, nihilism, and then they promise to restore order with easy scapegoats.... We're at a very dangerous moment in this country and it's going to get worse."

The battleground is where the Lie is confronted with the Truth. "Democracy cannot survive in a world where the Lie and the Truth stand equally."

17.Sept.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The elephant in the room Permalink to this item

Idaho is in the national news again, almost never a good thing. After the request of one of the two big hospital systems in the Treasure Valley, St. Lukes, the Idaho Dept. of Health & Welfare activated Crisis Standards of Care statewide yesterday. Here in the state with the least vaccinated population in the nation. (If we're not last, we're close enough.)

"Crisis Standards of Care is a last resort. It means that the number of patients needing care is more than the amount of resources (e.g. space, equipment, etc.) available."

Audrey Dutton, for the Idaho Capital Sun had a look at what yesterday was like at St Als in Boise, and it's beyond sobering. And Hayat Norimine for the Idaho Statesman: ‘I feel like we broke the system’: Inside the fight against COVID-19 at Saint Al’s in Boise. The quote from Dr. Meghan McInerney, pulmonologist and intensivist, and director of the ICU at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center.

“I feel like we broke the system in many ways,” McFarlane said, her voice trembling with emotion. Trust and respect among patients is eroding, she said. To see a record-breaking number of hospitalizations every day, when a vaccine is available, “That, to me, is just unbelievable,” she said.

2111 Permalink to this item

Top of Twitter's "What's happening" says Prince Philip's will is to remain sealed for 90 years, and I'm wondering, first of all, how does that work? I guess the people who need to know what's in it will know, but nobody else gets to see? Which made me wonder if they have my current contact information. You know, just in case.

Followed by the main question, which is "why?" Why 90? It seems impossibly far into the future. Even to write out the number seems fantastical. I suppose there will be stories about these and other questions. No hurry to track them down.

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

Bone-picker Permalink to this item

Comic-shock headline from ConservativeHQ in today's spam-bag, George Rasley announces We Pick A Bone With [the former guy], here two days before another DC ruckus is (allegedly) in the works. Stop with the whole "election is rigged, your vote doesn't matter" schtick, capiche? Our voting systems and electoral maps are not—yet!—quite fully compromised to guarantee minority rule. "If we are going to end the existential crisis of the Joe Biden presidency," is the tease (and the wrap, if you take the jump).

Apparently the resounding failure of California conservatives' attempt to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom was a bit of a wake-up? After a nod to the "decent campaign" that Larry Elder ran (definitely "exclusive CHQ news"; he was the best also-ran, at least), a link to FoxNews agitprop, and a couple anecdotes about "strange happenings" that might not cover the 27%, 2.5M vote "NO" advantage, Rasley's bone to pick. He's unhappy about Cheatoh going on and on and on and on about the world being Rigged against him, by millions of votes. Rasley says "we" need the former guy in the fight, "with the right message" (his urgent italic) in '22 and '24 to stave off existentialism.

That's right, George Rasley is going to tone-police the former guy to victory. I'm sure that will get 'er done. I mean, didn't it work in 2020? With all those lawyers and affadavits and court cases and the call to Georgia to find 11,800 votes so he could win by 1?

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

The remembrance Permalink to this item

A friend remarked that she was "having a really hard time with all the 9-11 stuff" yesterday. "Mainly because so many more Americans have died of covid. It feels so performative." I know that feeling.

I wasn't directly traumatized by the events of that day. I experienced shock, disbelief, horror at things I'd always taken for granted being turned inside out. Hijacked airplanes were the means to go somewhere else instead of the scheduled destination, or to try to collect ransom. Maybe it would go horrible wrong and someone would be wounded. But no one hijacked a plain to use it as a suicide missile.

My 2014 photo

And no foreign power attacked these United States in broad daylight and killed innocent civilians by the thousands. I grew up in a world where we imagined that might possibly happen, but It Had Not Happened. I'd visited coastal batteries that were quaint grave markers for a Before Time I never inhabited. All during my lifetime, we were the greatest military power on the face of the earth, ever. We attacked other countries, other countries did not attack us. Not since Japan tried that. There was that other hyperpower, the Soviet Union, capable of assured mutual destruction of the planet if things ever went all the way Wrong. Since it didn't happen for decade after decade, we mostly stopped worrying about it, except in a performative way.

The War on Terror wasn't a "war" per se. Even though Osama bin Laden had declared it, in a 1998 fatwah that some seemed to notice only a year later but that was well enough known that my father mentioned it in the opinion he wrote shortly after the attack, and well before all the facts were generally known. CNN's piece noted that within 11 weeks of the [1998] declaration, al Qaeda attacked U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, in bombings that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans." By and large, Americans don't know where those places in Africa are. Five years before that declaration there was the 1993 World Trade Center bombing which failed in its goal of sending the North Tower crashing into the South Tower, and killing tens of thousands. It was sobering to think someone would try such a thing. And comforting to see that it didn't succeed, so we could just carry on.

When the stunning blow did come, out of the blue for most of us, the first impulse was unity against this murderous enemy who we could not readily identify. Most of the world stood with us in solidarity, for a moment.

It's worth a review these 20 years later, that short essay my dad wrote:
The Real Challenge Facing America.

Yesterday, former President George W. Bush spoke at the Flight 93 memorial service in Pennsylvania, and extolled those fleeting moments when we were united as a nation. He described the nation that he imagines, calling it the America that "I know" as if it were real. The one that reaches for a neighbor's hand to "rally to the cause of one another," and whose people "reject prejudice" and religious bigotry, and "embrace an ethic of service and rise to selfless action." And he addressed our current crisis directly:

“There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols — they are children of the same foul spirit, and it is our continuing duty to confront them.”

President Biden participated in several memorials but did not give a speech, after releasing a six-minute video Friday evening, calling for unity. Vice president Kamala Harris spoke in Shanksville and echoed the theme.

"[W]e were all reminded that unity is possible in America. We were reminded, too, that unity is imperative in America. It is essential to our shared prosperity, our national security, and to our standing in the world."

He Who Must Not Be Named was "conspicuously absent," the Post noted, and "mercifully," I might add. He made a "surprise visit" with firefighters and police in New York on his way to—you couldn't possibly make this up—offer pay-per-view "color commentary" at a boxing match in Florida. "This is bizarre," an interviewer notes. "But it's entirely in keeping with what Donald always does," his niece Mary observed. "He doesn't doesn't understand dignity. He doesn't understand tragedy. He doesn't understand anything that doesn't pertain directly to him."

What else? I mean, besides Rudy Giuliani saying hold my beer and let me imitate the Queen. Well, the former guy also delivered a speech at a Unification Church event on "Heavenly Unified Korea." Along with other Honorables: Dan Quayle! Newt Gingrich! Goodluck Jonathan! Dick Cheney! Still not making this up. The THINK TANK 2022 INTRODUCTION OF THE SPEAKERS is suitably surreal. I arrived via (Heather Cox Richardson's retweet of) Seth Cotlar's retweet, augmented with threads he wrote back in May.

"It's become cliché to refer to the MAGA movement as a cult," Cotlar writes. "But in the 1980s, a major funder of the further right segment of the GOP coalition was the Unification Church, a literal cult."

The April 27, 1986 Chicago Tribune's POWER FOR SALE story came after Moon's profile was raised by spending 13 months in the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, for tax fraud. And after he'd bankrolled The Washington Times as a conservative alternative to the Post. And after a House subcommittee had investigated "Koreagate" in 1978, "charges of influence peddling on Capitol Hill by the South Korean government," and suspected ties between Moon's organization to the Korean Central Intelligence Agency. And after Moon asked church members in the US in 1974 to "support President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal when Nixon was being pressured to resign his office. Church members prayed and fasted in support of Nixon for three days in front of the United States Capitol, under the motto: "Forgive, Love and Unite."

You can see how many things are wrong with this picture, and connect the dots at the same time. Patrick Buchanan, W. Cleon Skousen, Dinesh D'Souza, then editor of the Heritage Foundation's (now defunct) Policy Review. (Connect more dots here, including that Tucker Carlson was also an editor. That author list!) Back in the day, D'Souza wrote:

"They have a lot of money, and they could spend it trying to get more converts, but they're not, so for the conservative movement it's a real boon because here's all this money that's seemingly coming in with no strings attached, and that's making the source respectable. I don't view this development as particularly insidious."

Anyone else? Well, Gerald "it's a business thing" Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Coretta Scott King, Bill Cosby, George H.W. Bush, Barbara Walters, Christopher Reeve, Sally Ride, Richard Lugar were on the list, back in 1996. And since Moon claims to be the Messiah, and that all religions are to become one, in a global theocracy under Moon, and he's paying for appearances, why wouldn't you keep your chips in on that little Pascal's Wager?

Since Moon actually died in 2012, he'll need to come up with a resurrection to make good on the promise. In the meantime, his reticulating organizations live on, to make money in good times and bad.

Another friend reflected upon the anniversary in a public post on Facebook, in a way similar to my dad's, but with the benefit of these years' hindsight:

"It was amazing how we came together after 9/11. But I'm also saddened how that unity and anger was directed towards so many innocent people - both in our country and in far away places. Any dissent or warning was shouted down. Why are we attacking Iraq? What about civil liberties? Why are all middle-eastern people treated as probable terrorists?

"I was part of all of that. I agreed with all of that. It was only much later that my thoughts changed. What have we accomplished in the past twenty years as a response to 9/11? I'd say most of our response has made this country and the world much worse."

All come to look for America Permalink to this item

Yesterday's big remembrance day came to Boise shrouded in fog, which is not unknown to us, but quite the novelty at the end of a long, hot, smoky summer. After a little bike ride to the post office to soak in it a little, I saw a tweet with a photo from up above, in sunshine, and I definitely wanted to go see that.

As I drove to the nearest, biggest paved road up, Carl Scheider opened his Private Idaho radio show with Bruce Springsteen's My City of Ruin, as revised fo the "America: A Tribute To Heroes" album. I drove by the swampy triangle of Ustick, Curtis and the bench to see that the goats had been put out for vegetation control, and two of them gamboled. As I crossed the Boise River, the timeless classic of my youth, Simon & Garfunkel's America. "Let us be lovers, we'll marry our fortunes together; I've got some real estate here in my bag..."

Yesterday's fog

That part of a long story short, I cleared the fog and found sun around 3,400 ft., conveniently close to the roadside parking for the Upper Dry Creek trail. From previous visits on foot, and on bike, I knew it has a rather spectacular entrance and first mile, and in sunshine and partially rain-washed blue sky, with the annual sunflowers in their heyday, it did not disappoint. The most recent, furthest foray I'd made, turning around at the point where the Shingle Creek trail starts to climb out, I'd reviewed the map to see that it was a loop around to the Dry Creek branch. Without consulting any more detail than that memory, and feeling my oats in the middle of the beautiful morning, I thought I'd just do the loop this time.

Five and a half hours later, I'd learned that the first mile is not the only spectacular section. It's a 2,100 ft. climb halfway up to the "Ridge" of our Ridge to Rivers trail system. "Happy Trails" indeed. I'm in good, end-of-summer shape for an old guy, but haven't been out on trails much this season, and the almost 13 miles pretty well kicked my butt. In a good way. From lower left, 3,454', to upper right, 5,556':

Excerpt of Ridge to Rivers map

The NW-SE diagonal line is the Ada/Boise county line, by the way, and this a tiny part of the extensive, and rather spectacular trail system we have in our foothills.

10.Sept.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our vital national interests Permalink to this item

Sarah Chayes got on my radar (and blogroll) via recent Afghanistan coverage in the news, and after reading her blog post, National Interests, the last line about "choices" piqued me. She wrote:

"What are U.S. “vital national interests” anyway? Can anyone spell them out? Does allying with repressive autocracies and investing in corrupt political economies around the world further them? Is lurching back and forth between proclaiming the virtues of democracy and bending to the whims of strongmen an effective strategy for defending them?"

You would think the latter two questions have the answers no, and no, but given how regularly that's what we do, more questions arise. If allying with repressive autocracies, investing in corrupt political economies around the world, and lurching back and forth between proclaiming the virtues of democracy and bending to the whims of strongmen do not further our vital national interests, why do we keep doing those things?

Her Twitter profile succinctly notes that "From Kabul and Abuja to Washington, DC, corruption is the operating system of global networks—and crisis results," and then invites her readers to "Let's work together to curb it." In that vein,

"How do we decide how we behave, as a nation, towards whom? What kind of countries and peoples should we treat with respect and consideration? From which governments and individuals should we protect ourselves? Towards which ones should we be crafty, unpredictable, even cynical?

"Real statecraft—our very future, perhaps—depends on getting these choices right."

Maybe I should've tried following up in the comments on her blog rather than on Twitter, but tweeting a link to her post, I asked for more: [Given that] it seems likely that we'll make mostly wrong choices driven by corrupt interests, "as usual." If you could have just THREE good choices, let's say, what would they be? She pushed back and then challenged me to go ahead and answer my own question:

Why don't you tell me what you think they should be? Does one have to be knowledgeable about some specific point on the globe to be able to think through what our **vital** national interests are? Let's define these democratically.

— Sarah Chayes (@Sarah_Chayes) September 9, 2021

I've been thinking about it for a while, and in the big picture, I think there's only one answer: facilitating worldwide sustainable economic development that mitigates, and reverses the effects of anthropogenic climate disruption.

The US had its star turn of a few decades as sole hegemon, and mostly took advantage of the opportunity to promote our own, often corrupt interests, as empires do. We facilitated the rise to power of multinational corporations, kept feeding the defense industrial complex, looked on approvingly, quarter by quarter, as manufacturing was outsourced to countries with cheaper labor, for the benefit of oligarchs and investors. Thanks to the economic power we exported along with labor costs, we've helped establish China as a legitimate competitor to put as back in a bipolar world, of sorts.

The previous bipolar world challenge was avoiding blowing ourselves up. Mutually Assured Destruction worked! It kept itchy fingers away from the big red buttons. We pretty much stopped worrying about all that, set aside the duck and cover drills, built the middle class and then creatively destroyed much of it, always keeping the oil flowing. We found new ways to extract much more oil and gas than we used to be able to. After having to turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater, we've now turned up the heat such that who needs sweaters? We've filled our cities and towns and interstate highways with monster trucks, and "roll coal" over the bleeding hearts who hate the power.

Thanks to my cousin, Jeff Gibbens

And, mostly, collectively, we ignored the existential threat on the near horizon that our industriousness was creating, figuring we'd come up with some "technology" to fix whatever problems came along, as usual. Something, something, 2040? 2050? By the end of the century? That's always been an unimaginably distant future. Why should we worry about that today? People will be richer and smarter and more capable then, the way we are so much richer, smarter, and more capable than the poor saps of 1990 and 2000 and the era of the Model T.

A month ago, this headline flitted in and out of our fragmented awareness: A critical ocean system may be heading for collapse due to climate change, study finds. We don't know all there is to know about the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), but we think the major ocean current system transporting warm surface waters toward the northern Atlantic, runs in "two distinct modes of operation."

"A collapse from the currently attained strong to the weak mode would have severe impacts on the global climate system... Observations and recently suggested fingerprints of AMOC variability indicate a gradual weakening during the last decades, but estimates of the critical transition point remain uncertain. ... These results reveal spatially consistent empirical evidence that, in the course of the last century, the AMOC may have evolved from relatively stable conditions to a point close to a critical transition."

"The consequences of a collapse would likely be far-reaching," one climate physicist notes. And "irreversible in human lifetimes" says the author of the nature climate change article.

That doesn't move the token any closer to democratically defining of what our vital national interests are. I don't think democracy actually works to define, or identify such things. It tackles the simpler questions of how can we obtain power? And, once obtained, how can we use this to our advantage? The narrowness of the "we" determines the narrowness of advantage sought. And thus the operating system of corruption and the resulting crises we find ourselves in.

How do we break the cycle? We have sometimes done it by the need to respond to catastrophe. But here in the pandemic, a global public health crisis with solutions at hand, we're failing to do the obvious right things, in no small part due to our operating system, and a mental health crisis that has devolved from it. We're failing to discern and act upon our community self-interest, never mind national, or global. Where I live, there is a mob ready to shout THERE IS ONLY MY OWN SELF-INTEREST against any and every leader that attempts to assert necessary authority.

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

News, weather, sports, pandemic Permalink to this item

The "top headlines" email from our local paper starts with the poignant family photo of the beloved Meridian coach, teacher who just died of COVID-19 complications. He was 45. He'd been coaching at local high schools since 1995. In other local news, the West Ada school district decided you know what? Allowing a third of the students(' parents) to opt out of a mask mandate maybe was not such a good idea. Also Emmett elementary school closes for 2 days due to COVID. West Nile Virus is on the upswing; just half a dozen infections, but it's been detected in 13 (of 44) Idaho counties. Syphilis is rising in next-door Canyon County. And military medical personnel have been sent to Idaho to support an overwhelmed hospital.

The byline on that last one is U.S. NORTHERN COMMAND, dateline San Antonio, Texas. Idaho, Arkansas and Alabama are each getting a 20-person team "to support civilian health care workers treating COVID-19 patients in local hospitals." Our Army medical contingent is going to Kootenai Health in Coeur d'Alene, in one of the two northern health districts that have been in the national news for having to enact crisis standards of care.

The lead story on the PBS Newshour site this morning: As overrun Idaho hospitals ration care, doctors fear a COVID peak may still be weeks away. Yesterday, the segment led with Judy Woodruff saying this:

"The surge of COVID cases in Idaho has gotten so bad that some hospitals in the northern part of the state are having to ration the care they give. Idaho has one of the nation's lowest vaccination rates. Only 40 percent of the population is fully vaccinated."

"Almost all of the patients that we are seeing in the hospital and certainly in the ICU are unvaccinated."

William Brangham interviews Brian Whitlock, CEO of the Idaho Hospital Association, 5 weeks after the current surge started. Whitlock recounts a "sobering conversation" of the daily call with all hospitals, jockeying for ICU beds.

"One small critical access hospital, they jumped in as all of our larger tertiary hospitals were saying that their ICUs were completely full and they couldn't take transfers. And this tiny hospital just said we just had a COVID patient pass away in our ICU. We will have an ICU available in about 30 minutes to try to off-load some of the pressure..."

The state's dashboard has a tab with ventilator and ICU bed availability; we have more ventilators than we need, apparently, 500+, but ICU beds that were mostly over 100 in recent months (perhaps counting more generously than available staffing) are now down to a handful. Yesterday, 10. In the whole state.

The "weekly hotspots and local trends" was in the tens and hundreds of cases beginning of July. 186 in Ada Co.; 83 in Canyon. End of July, they were 789 and 365. Beginning of September, almost 3,000 here in Ada, and nearly 2,000 in Canyon. The orange blob map of hotspots just about covers the whole state. If you look at the 7-day incidence charts, it looks like this surge has peaked in the state overall, and moreso in some counties, including ours, where it's down to about 10 per 100,000 from the recent peak of 60. Statewide, it's eased below 40, from a similar peak; Canyon county, where they have lots more Freedom, they're still running 50 per 100k. The worst-hit counties, currently Clearwater and Washington, are over 100 per 100k.

The starkest view is the hospitalization tab, where the current surge has exceeded last winter's.

from DPH Idaho Covid-19 dashboard

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

Crunch time Permalink to this item

With the SARS-CoV-2 delta variant's evolutionary edge, and bigger punch, Idaho's hospitals are approaching capacity, exceeding the peaks of last winter's pre-delta surge. A bigger fraction of those hospitalized are requiring acute care. And the vast majority are unvaccinated, in spite of vaccines being widely available in this country, and their safety and effectiveness being demonstrated on the population scale. In much of Idaho and other backwaters, we're also seeing the consequences of rejecting vaccination. THE VAST MAJORITY OF COVID HOSPITALIZATIONS ARE UNVACCINATED INDIVIDUALS.

This morning the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare announced that the two northernmost public health districts had activated crisis standards of care—the forced rationing of healthcare, in essence. BSU Public Radio lists ten hospitals effected in the Panhandle and North Central districts, including Kootenai Health in Coeur d'Alene and Gritman Medical Center, in Moscow.

We haven't quite hit the limit down here in the Treasure Valley, although a week ago, the two big healthcare systems, St. Lukes and Saint Alphonsus both announced cutbacks of non-emergent surgeries.

"According to Saint Alphonsus, inpatient hospital census at both the Boise and Nampa hospitals exceeds 100% of total staffed beds. More than 20 percent of all patients in Boise and 35 percent in Nampa are COVID-positive cases, which the healthcare provider said are record volumes never seen during the entire 18-month pandemic."

The Least Interesting Woman in the World weighs in

Scraped from news in May, 2021

Those committed to reject the most effective prophylaxis for the pandemic have hardened their resistance, some of them right up to the end. Idaho's Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin represents our hardened ignorance contingent, just made news by feeding her base with some statistical bogosity cooked up for her "newsletter." The Idaho Press has a link to the precision nonsense that she sent out. 69.49% is the lede. "That's the percentage," it says, "of people who have died within 28 days of a positive Covid test AND WERE VACCINATED."

"These numbers [sic] were just released by the British Health Ministry in their August 20, 2021 Technical Briefing #21."

Let me save you the trouble of attempting to verify her claim, and her implication that if you get vaccinated, and if you have a breakthrough infection afterwards, there is a nearly 70% chance that you will die within 28 days. That is full-on, bat-shit (no pun intended) crazy false information.

That number was not just released by the British Health Ministry. It does not appear in Technical Briefing #21, SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern and variants under investigation in England nor in its underlying data. The link to the index of publications was good, at least.

Exactly contrary to what McGeachin's newsletter says, you are unquestionably better off health-wise if you get vaccinated. You are less likely to

  1. get infected,
  2. get seriously ill if you do get infected,
  3. get sick enough to be hospitalized, and, most importantly,
  4. die.

In a weird inversion of "FREEDOM" she wants our governor to prevent companies—healthcare companies in particular, but they're not the only ones who want to keep their workforce healthy—from requiring employees to get vaccinated. "Why is [he] allowing" this, she asks, implying that if she were the boss of us, she would, somehow, prevent private companies from doing a thing. It doesn't have to make sense. From the Idaho Press story:

The rhetorical tactics used in the newsletter were familiar to Jen Schneider, a Boise State University professor who studies scientific controversy. In particular, the “dueling fact” sheet strategy tries to disrupt knowledge about prevailing knowledge on a controversy, she told the Post Register in a phone interview.

The “purpose is not to create debate, it is to create uncertainty. ... By pretending there’s a debate, or pretending there’s information we don’t have, it creates that sense of doubt and uncertainty. Which then allows somebody to come in and say ‘There is no expertise on this, so I’m just going to default to my political identity,’” Schneider said.

In the last paragraph in the story, McGeachin's chief of staff explains how "the newsletter author" cherry-picked two numbers from one row of the Public Health England paper's Table 5 and abused them with subtraction and division to come up with The Number. Asked by a reporter to replicate the feat, "it came out [to] 70.446%." Jordan Watters "attributed the difference to a rounding error."

But that is not how data work. That is not how "rounding error" works. In 6½ months of Delta cases in England (Feb 1-Aug 15, 2021), they report 386,735 total cases, not quite half of them unvaccinated individuals. During that time, the percent of the UK population that was fully vaccinated went from 0 to 75%. Since this is a study of variants of concern, not vaccination efficacy, there are no data, nor is there analysis that allows us to tease apart how much baseline protection the vaccine provided.

Over the period in question, there were 2,493,984 total Covid-19 cases tallied by the UK government, and 18,489 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, so this variant surveillance briefing on Delta represents less than a sixth of the total cases, and less than 6.5% of deaths directly attributable to the virus.

Here's an interesting question: Why did this "newsletter author" putting words in the lieutenant governor's mouth (the only name on the paper is hers) track down a fairly arcane and not actually relevant briefing from the UK and scroll down to a table he (or she) didn't really take the time to understand, and divide some numbers to come up with risible statistic for anti-vax disinformation?

3.Sept.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

What just happened over there Permalink to this item

Former journalist and US military advisor Sarah Chayes is the most interesting woman in the world of what just happened in Afghanistan and Pakistan, from what I've seen. Here she is talking to Christiane Amanpour on CNN two days ago. 14 minutes worth your time.

"I would say it's not so much the Talibarn that used this time so strategically, it was the Pakistani military intelligence agency [the ISI], which is the organization that really djinned up the Taliban in the first place back in the early 1990s. And starting about 2003, I began seeing signs ... that the ISI was reconstituting the Taliban.... Quite a sophisticated campaign plan [was] developed that responded well to where NATO forces had positioned themselves. ...

"Look at the simultaneous surrender and defeat of Afghan government forces and civilian leaders all around the country, almost at the same time. Look at the focus on the North first and then the South. Look at the people who flooded across the border from Pakistan into the border town of Spin Boldak and I would say, do we really think that this ragtag militia, as we we've been told the Taliban were, that they conducted such an effective campaign, with such obvious planning? I don't think so."

That wasn't a city name I'd noticed before. Mid-August news from the Press Trust of India on NDTV was Pakistan reopening that border crossing "after talks with the Taliban." Yesterday news was about reclosing, "apparently due to fear of the influx of refugees eager to leave their homeland after the Taliban seized power last month."

Amanpour asked Chayes what she thought it would mean that Biden has said "that's it, no more nation-building."

"First of all, I don't think we ever did any nation building. I was there on the ground and I was also there ... at the top levels of the US interagency, and there was a constant refusal to address the most important nation-building issue, which was the integrity of the Afghan government and how much it was actually acting in Afghan citizens' interest, as opposed to the personal interest of members of the government and their cronies....

"You know in the United States, we have a lot of top executives of firms like defense contracting firms, and pharmaceutical firms and financial investment firms and real estate magnates and fossil fuel magnates and they cycle in and out of government. Look at the policies that they've promulgated, right? It's like two lost wars, a climate crisis, a financial meltdown that almost brought down the world economy... I guess, unfortunately, I would say yeah, maybe we did remake Afghanistan in our image."

Quasi-democracy is not incompatible with corruption. Chayes talks about the militia fighters who were wearing US Army uniforms "violently shaking [people] down at street corners, back in 2002."

"It's not just the amount of money that may have been pilfered by different officials at different levels. It's also the humiliation. You know, when a police officer shakes you down in the middle of the road, he doesn't do it politely. It's contemptuous. ... After a while, you know you're a young Afghan man, you've been shaken down enough times, you want to shoot the policeman. Well, in Kandahar there were Taliban all around. It was almost hard not to join the Taliban. ...

"You didn't need a majority to take up arms. You just needed people to say this government is not worth my taking a risk to defend."

Amanpour calls it "the adventure in Afghanistan" at one point. She asks Chayes why the US would take the "categoric decision" to ignore corruption.

"This is where I hold top civilian officials accountable. I think they really were afraid that it was going to blow up into the newspapers. President Karzai at the time was very duft at making a big fuss. And at that time, you know there were two wars going on, the Obama administration had other priorities and there was a very strong feeling that I received that the White House did not want Afghanistan to blow up in President Obama's face.

"And I also have to say that if the US governement decided to address corruption, well, that was going to be a job for civilians to take on, right? Men and women in uniform ... that's not what they know how to do, and those aren't their counterparts. And I frankly don't think the civilian officials wanted to take it on. They didn't want to shoulder that responsibility. It was actually easier to foist everything off onto the military and then blame the military."

Chayes has a book, On Corruption in America. She introduced it on her own site last November, noting that it's "not specifically about our unprecedented week-long election and the years of tumult that came before it," but that it does "contain[] keys for understanding this barrage of events, and how to move forward from here." "The United States is still in the claws of kleptocracy," she wrote, and she recounts—and expands—a familiar myth to illustrate how upside down it has made us. The Midas Touch.

Anyway, since this is mostly about Afghanistan, the top of her blog from this week, A Friend in Deed? is my last recommendation to you. It's another heartbreak, unfortunately, but it's clear-eyed, in a time when that is somewhat rare.

2.Sept.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Zeitgeist, front page edition Permalink to this item

(1) The usual GAME DAY tease top right, because, football.

(2) One-third of West Ada students have decided not to wear masks in school, which is to say their parents opted them out, and they went along with the un-gag. "Family decisions," the story calls them.

"West Ada spokesperson Char Jackson said on Tuesday the district isn’t focusing on the mask opt-out numbers, saying they’re “not as important” as contact tracing."

Oh, we're doing contact tracing now, are we? The government asking you questions about who all you've been seeing and what all you've been doing in the last little while? That kind of thing always goes over super-well here in Idaho. And, below the fold,

(3) Political, health leaders plead for help curbing COVID-19 spread.

“Our hospitals … are in crisis, our health care workers are tired, and they’ve been going at this for a long time,” said Boise Mayor Lauren McLean during a city council meeting Tuesday. “They need our support … We need the community to get vaccinated, to wear your masks inside, and if you’re outside in close contact with people, wear your masks … to try to get a handle on this while vaccinations are increasing.”

The third story includes a link to the letter sent by "dozens of health care groups" currently dealing with the cost of freedom and ignorance, expressing "alarm at what we are witnessing now." Shorter: It's bad. The worst is yet to come. Hospitals may be forced to ration care.

Idaho – we can do this, but we need your help.

"We know from other states with similarly low vaccination rates that the surge is coming. Health care facilities in Idaho are receiving calls from places like Missouri and Arkansas asking if they can transport patients to our hospitals. Which begs the question, when our surge gets worse, where will we send Idahoans?

"The picture we paint is horrible, but it is just a snapshot of what we see every day at work. But there is good news. We can do something to turn the tide, save lives, and ensure our kids can go back to school and stay in school safely.

"What can you do? First, get the vaccine. More than 200 million Americans have safely and effectively been vaccinated for COVID-19 [and] we know from this very large sample size that the vaccine is working....

"[W]we also ask you to continue to practice basic public health measures like consistently wearing a mask in indoor settings and crowded outdoor settings and distancing yourselves from others whenever possible. These are extremely small yet effective measures you can take to save lives and help us all get back to normal.

"We don’t want to see you in the ICU. We want to see you live your life. On behalf of the health workforce in Idaho, we are asking for your help."

Finally, the Idaho Ed News item, Boise State COVID surge threatens face-to-face classes, campus events, was not (teased nor) on the front page, but was on half of A6 inside.

Nine days after the start of the fall semester, and OMG NINE DAYS BEFORE BSU'S FIRST HOME FOOTBALL GAME SO THIS IS IMPORTANT, "Boise State University administrators sent a stern warning Wednesday: Rising coronavirus case numbers could force the university to close down face-to-face classes and cancel campus events."

"Campus cases are on pace to exceed last year’s numbers, and students who are testing positive this fall are reporting more severe symptoms." 56 new cases on campus in a week, 37 of them off-campus students. (Remember when we were trying to avoid "community spread"? The good old days.)

Boise State has its own Covid-19 dashboard, including a school-colors themed histogram of total county cases by week for our conurbated Ada and Canyon counties. There's a hint that we might be over the hump of our fourth wave. Given the steadfast antivax and antimask contingent here, it seems a bit early to hope that some sort of miracle happened.

From the BSU dashboard

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

Winners and losers Permalink to this item

Starting the new month with the morning read of Heather Cox Richardson's Letters from an American. Her lead story is the end of the 20 year US war in Afghanistan, after 171,000 lives and "more than $2 trillion, which adds up to about $300 million a day for twenty years."

And a redirection of US foreign policy, away from the one launched "by the neoconservatives under Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, committ[ing] the United States to launching preemptive military actions in order to change regimes in countries we perceived as potential sponsors of terrorism..."

The creative destruction of compassionate conservatism, you might call it. Plan A, of "diplomacy, international influence, and humanitarian aid," is not going to have the same Shock and Awe headlines as cruise missiles, but what the hell, let's give peace a chance.

It's also interesting to reflect on the Russians gloating at our departure, and then shifting to realize it's still a problem. In their neighborhood. "Yesterday, they called on the U.S. and its allies to unfreeze money and to work to rebuild the country, even as they warned that it would never meet U.S. standards for human rights or democracy." Hardly seems like we needed them to mention that latter part, but learning the lessons of losing a war has never been easy for anyone.

"The U.S. Capitol is now a crime scene."
–Sen. Mark Warner, Jan. 9

And there are so many distractions these days. The fires in California and the west. The Gulf Coast devastated by Hurricane Ida. Kevin McCarthy's head exploding at the idea that the January 6th investigation will be looking at his and his fellow travelers' phone records. "A Republican majority will not forget," the minority leader said. But he did not answer CNN's question about what law he imagined a House committee's request (or subpoena) would be violating. Ted Lieu had a code reference ready at hand.

Way back in February we were told that the FBI secured "thousands of phone records connected to people at the scene of the rioting—including some related to [sic] members of Congress." It was January 9 that incoming chair of the Senate Intelligence committee Mark Warner called on mobile carriers and tech companies to "immediately preserve content and associated meta-data connected to Wednesday’s insurrectionist attack on the United States Capitol."

And the Texas legislature passing SB1, its Voter Suppression Supreme Dream.

"It bans mail ballot drop boxes and gets rid of drive-through voting and extended hours. It criminalizes the distribution of applications for mail-in ballots and permits partisan poll watchers to have “free movement” in polling places, enabling them to intimidate voters. Texas is just 40% white and has 3 million unregistered voters, the vast majority of whom are Black or Latino. The new measure is designed to cut young people of color, whose numbers are growing in Texas and who are overwhelmingly Democrats, out of elections. In debates on the measure, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan asked members not to use the word “racism.”"

The National Redistricting Action Fund's headline: “The Party of Lincoln Is Now the Party of Jim Crow.” That after not a single Republican voted for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act last week. They are definitely not the party of advancing voting rights. What HCR said three days ago: "Since 1986, Republicans have worked to limit access to the polls, recognizing that when more people vote, they lose."


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007