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Saturday, August 8, 2020

Losing focus during the Covid19 pandemic?

As the calendar turned to 2020, I, like most of us outside the epidemiologic and virology disciplines, had no idea that the rapidly spreading global Covid19 illness would escalate to consume just about all of our aggregate attention and increasingly debilitate the world's economies.

I first made a passing allusion to it in my January 18th post, subsequently initially posting the Johns Hopkins tracking site info on February 11th. On March 12th, I played my last game of hoops at the Towson BYKOTA center I'd joined back in the fall of 2019. They closed that evening until further notice (and remain thus).

Beginning Monday March 16th I began posting pretty much all Covid-related lead-in topics all the time. The coronavirus screening issues continue to bedevil us.

I mostly observed the "stay-at-home" public health advice, venturing out infrequently, only as necessary. Newly diagnosed with Parkinson's and a year and a half out of open heart aortic valve replacement, I didn't (and still don't) like my ICU intubation/ventilator odds in the event of my encountering a case of Covid19.

Been getting caught up on a ton of reading, dozens of compelling books, in addition to my routine long list of periodicals and daily blog stops. Grateful to not be in the dire economic circumstances now afflicting so many people. Grateful that my son and Eileen have not lost their jobs, and that grandson Calvin is thriving, as is my preemie great-grandson Kai.

Still, nearly 5 months of being so circumscribed is starting wear on my motivation, my focus apropos of topical direction going forward.

I'm sure I'm by no means alone in that regard. Slog on.


More to come...

Monday, August 3, 2020

The Covid19 pandemic is not getting any better

Impressive, important long-read from The Atlantic.
How did it come to this? A virus a thousand times smaller than a dust mote has humbled and humiliated the planet’s most powerful nation. America has failed to protect its people, leaving them with illness and financial ruin. It has lost its status as a global leader. It has careened between inaction and ineptitude. The breadth and magnitude of its errors are difficult, in the moment, to truly fathom.

In the first half of 2020, SARS‑CoV‑2—the new coronavirus behind the disease COVID‑19—infected 10 million people around the world and killed about half a million. But few countries have been as severely hit as the United States, which has just 4 percent of the world’s population but a quarter of its confirmed COVID‑19 cases and deaths. These numbers are estimates. The actual toll, though undoubtedly higher, is unknown, because the richest country in the world still lacks sufficient testing to accurately count its sick citizens.

Despite ample warning, the U.S. squandered every possible opportunity to control the coronavirus. And despite its considerable advantages—immense resources, biomedical might, scientific expertise—it floundered. While countries as different as South Korea, Thailand, Iceland, Slovakia, and Australia acted decisively to bend the curve of infections downward, the U.S. achieved merely a plateau in the spring, which changed to an appalling upward slope in the summer. “The U.S. fundamentally failed in ways that were worse than I ever could have imagined,” Julia Marcus, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, told me…

Many of the people I interviewed tentatively suggested that the upheaval wrought by COVID‑19 might be so large as to permanently change the nation’s disposition. Experience, after all, sharpens the mind. East Asian states that had lived through the SARS and MERS epidemics reacted quickly when threatened by SARS‑CoV‑2, spurred by a cultural memory of what a fast-moving coronavirus can do. But the U.S. had barely been touched by the major epidemics of past decades (with the exception of the H1N1 flu). In 2019, more Americans were concerned about terrorists and cyberattacks than about outbreaks of exotic diseases. Perhaps they will emerge from this pandemic with immunity both cellular and cultural.

There are also a few signs that Americans are learning important lessons. A June survey showed that 60 to 75 percent of Americans were still practicing social distancing. A partisan gap exists, but it has narrowed. “In public-opinion polling in the U.S., high-60s agreement on anything is an amazing accomplishment,” says Beth Redbird, a sociologist at Northwestern University, who led the survey. Polls in May also showed that most Democrats and Republicans supported mask wearing, and felt it should be mandatory in at least some indoor spaces. It is almost unheard-of for a public-health measure to go from zero to majority acceptance in less than half a year. But pandemics are rare situations when “people are desperate for guidelines and rules,” says Zoë McLaren, a health-policy professor at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. The closest analogy is pregnancy, she says, which is “a time when women’s lives are changing, and they can absorb a ton of information. A pandemic is similar: People are actually paying attention, and learning.”

Redbird’s survey suggests that Americans indeed sought out new sources of information—and that consumers of news from conservative outlets, in particular, expanded their media diet. People of all political bents became more dissatisfied with the Trump administration. As the economy nose-dived, the health-care system ailed, and the government fumbled, belief in American exceptionalism declined. “Times of big social disruption call into question things we thought were normal and standard,” Redbird told me. “If our institutions fail us here, in what ways are they failing elsewhere?” And whom are they failing the most?

Americans were in the mood for systemic change. Then, on May 25, George Floyd, who had survived COVID‑19’s assault on his airway, asphyxiated under the crushing pressure of a police officer’s knee. The excruciating video of his killing circulated through communities that were still reeling from the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and disproportionate casualties from COVID‑19. America’s simmering outrage came to a boil and spilled into its streets.

Defiant and largely cloaked in masks, protesters turned out in more than 2,000 cities and towns. Support for Black Lives Matter soared: For the first time since its founding in 2013, the movement had majority approval across racial groups. These protests were not about the pandemic, but individual protesters had been primed by months of shocking governmental missteps. Even people who might once have ignored evidence of police brutality recognized yet another broken institution. They could no longer look away.

It is hard to stare directly at the biggest problems of our age. Pandemics, climate change, the sixth extinction of wildlife, food and water shortages—their scope is planetary, and their stakes are overwhelming. We have no choice, though, but to grapple with them. It is now abundantly clear what happens when global disasters collide with historical negligence.

COVID‑19 is an assault on America’s body, and a referendum on the ideas that animate its culture. Recovery is possible, but it demands radical introspection. America would be wise to help reverse the ruination of the natural world, a process that continues to shunt animal diseases into human bodies. It should strive to prevent sickness instead of profiting from it. It should build a health-care system that prizes resilience over brittle efficiency, and an information system that favors light over heat. It should rebuild its international alliances, its social safety net, and its trust in empiricism. It should address the health inequities that flow from its history. Not least, it should elect leaders with sound judgment, high character, and respect for science, logic, and reason.

The pandemic has been both tragedy and teacher. Its very etymology offers a clue about what is at stake in the greatest challenges of the future, and what is needed to address them. Pandemic. Pan and demos. All people.
The article has embedded audio narration. Recommend you activate it and go through the entire 56:33 reading and listening. Well worth your time.

Triangulate with this:

Ch. 4: First Lines of Defence

An epidemic is a sudden disastrous event in the same way as a hurricane, an earthquake, or a flood. Such events reveal many facets of the societies with which they collide. The stress they cause tests social stability and cohesion. Dorothy Porter, Health, Civilization and the State (1999)

What does it mean to possess a health service? At the very least, it represents the commitment of people living in a society (past and present) to the twin ideas of solidarity and collective action. By solidarity I mean the feelings of empathy and responsibility we all feel and owe towards one another. Solidarity stands in opposition to the principles of individualism and competition which so dominate and shape our lives in twenty-first-century capitalist, and even authoritarian, nation-states.

The existence of, public support for, and continuous development of a health system suggests that we are prepared to make personal material contributions (e.g., through taxation) to institutions that protect and strengthen the lives not only of ourselves but also of others in our society. That willingness to act on behalf of others is the second feature of a health system – our commitment to a belief in our interdependence and reciprocal responsibility towards one another and also to the collective action necessary to make those feelings real and tangible.

The whole basis of our society depends upon these two principles. COVID-19 has tested their resilience. So many people have died, so many families are in mourning, so many communities have been left scarred by disease. We have been shocked by the power of a virus to throw our societies into chaos, to deprive us of our lives and liberties, and to destroy economies. COVID-19 invites us, calls on us, requires us to rethink who we are and what we value.

One fundamental shift in our thinking surely has to be around the concept of our security. Ever since the birth of the nationstate, security has been viewed as the protection of national borders and each country’s political sovereignty. An infectious disease such as SARS-CoV-2 transcends states, borders and sovereignty. A virus is not amenable to passport controls or military defeat, despite the frequent invocation of the idea of an ‘invisible enemy’. No person, no country, can survive in splendid isolation.

COVID-19 has taught us to reimagine security as being about people and communities, about our survival, our livelihoods and our dignity. Disease is a threat to our human security, and pandemics are the most dangerous threats of all. Pandemics disrupt every part of our society, leaving us wounded and vulnerable. Protecting our security is not only about having strong military defences. Our security also depends on strong social institutions – and an effective health system is the most important defence we have to protect that security. Think of the security of your own family if you do not believe me…

Horton, Richard. The COVID-19 Catastrophe (pp. 63-65). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
The (Lancet editor) Richard Horton book went to press in May. Ed Yong's piece is even more up to date. Taken together, they provide a comprehensive, clear picture of where we are.

As I go to post, the U.S. Covid19 fatality count at Hopkins is more than 155,000.

I first posted a Hopkins dashboard screenshot on February 11th. Worldwide cases were 20,684, global deaths 427.


“I’ve done my own research.”

“Do your own research.”

How many times have you heard various antivaxxers, cranks, advocates of pseudoscience, and conspiracy theorists repeat these phrases, or variants thereof? In medicine, advocates of what I like to call pseudomedicine—a category that encompasses antivaxxers, COVID-19 denialists and conspiracy theorists, cancer quacks, and all manner of other quacks—are particularly prone to claim that they’ve “done their research” about, for instance, vaccines, and that’s why they think the MMR vaccine causes autism and that vaccines cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), autoimmune diseases, and all manner of other diseases (and, oh, by the way, their “research” has told them that vaccines don’t protect against disease and “natural immunity is better,” too).

Of course, “doing one’s own research” and then “making up one’s own mind” makes perfect sense when it comes to, for example, choosing a place to live, buying a car, pickig a smartphone, and any of a number of decisions we make in our day-to-day lives, although it should be noted that even those decisions are not necessarily so straightforward or easy to research. When it comes to science, the fact is that the vast majority of us are not capable of “doing our own research.”…
Trust science. Or, better yet, become a scientist.




That one is special. I have some looney bin Facebook friends. I may need to up the metaphorical ante to "Occam's Wood Chipper."


More to come...

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Cuckoo for Covid Puffs

Looks likes it's gonna be The Stupid on Steroids Week.

A Facebook friend posted the above yesterday. I cropped out her name. She's a really nice person, an excellent documentary filmmaker. But, she's clueless on this topic.

FB was ablaze with this crap yesterday. It continues today. Oh, the "Freedom of Speech" indignation!

Let's start a new hashtag, "#CuckooForCovidPuffs." Also, recall "Occam's Chainsaw."

I first came into personal contact with medical quackery in 1996 during my late elder daughter's cancer ordeal. I do not suffer these fools gladly.


By the editor of The Lancet, Richard Horton.

...At press conference after press conference, government ministers and their medical and scientific advisors described the deaths of their neighbours as ‘unfortunate’. But these were not unfortunate deaths. They were not unlucky, inappropriate or even regrettable. Every death was evidence of systematic government misconduct – reckless acts of omission that constituted breaches in the duties of public office.

I edit a medical journal, The Lancet, which found itself a conduit between medical scientists desperately trying to understand COVID-19 and politicians and policymakers charged with responding to the pandemic. As we read and published the work of these remarkable frontline workers, I was struck by the gap between the accumulating evidence of scientists and the practice of governments. As this space grew larger, I became angry. Missed opportunities and appalling misjudgements were leading to the avoidable deaths of tens of thousands of citizens. There had to be a reckoning.

This book is their story.

Horton, Richard. The COVID-19 Catastrophe (pp. viii-ix). Wiley. Kindle Edition
Just got it. Stay tuned.


Finished the book. Highly recommended. More thoughts shortly.


Former GOP Presidential candidate Herman Cain recently attended Trump's Tulsa OK MAGA rally.

He just died. COVID19. No comment necessary.


Okeee-dokeee, then. Just seen on Facebook. SMH.

But, wait! There's more!


More to come...

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Define "normal"


Hang with me here. Goes materially to the prior post. What's the joke? "You only need two things in life: WD-40 for things that need to move but are stuck, and duct tape, for things that need to be immobilized."

"Norm(s), (ab)normal, normative..." My pedantic Jones for key definitions.
Normal: conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

Norm: A standard or pattern, especially of social behavior, that is typical or expected of a group.

Normative generally means relating to an evaluative standard. Normativity is the phenomenon in human societies of designating some actions or outcomes as good or desirable or permissible and others as bad or undesirable or impermissible.
I'm left-handed—"abnormal" (non-judgmental). In the wake of my 2018 SAVR px, my weight is 160 and BP 120-80'ish, pulse ox .98-.99 ("normal," favorably clinically judgmental). LGBTQ people are "abnormal" (often hatefully judgmental).
"Normative" goes to "ethics." If you want to come off all hiply cocktail party erudite, drop some allusions to "normative."
Below, I've long dug this observation:
If there were only one man in the world, he would have a lot of problems, but none of them would be legal ones. Add a second inhabitant, and we have the possibility of conflict. Both of us try to pick the same apple from the same branch. I track the deer I wounded only to find that you have killed it, butchered it, and are in the process of cooking and eating it.

The obvious solution is violence. It is not a very good solution; if we employ it, our little world may shrink back down to one person, or perhaps none. A better solution, one that all known human societies have found, is a system of legal rules explicit or implicit, some reasonably peaceful way of determining, when desires conflict, who gets to do what and what happens if he doesn’t.

The legal rules that we are most familiar with are laws created by legislatures and enforced by courts and police. But even in our society much of the law is the creation not of legislatures but of judges, embedded in past precedents that determine how future cases will be decided; much enforcement of law is by private parties such as tort victims and their lawyers rather than by police; and substantial bodies of legal rules take the form not of laws, but of private norms, privately enforced.

Friedman, David D.. Law's Order: What Economics Has to Do with Law and Why It Matters (p. 3). Princeton University Press - A. Kindle Edition.
WD-40. Duct tape.
Given the practical logistical impossibility of legislating, litigating, or prosecuting every last bit of contentious human interaction, consensus "norms" provide both the mediating lubricants and constraints of civil self-governance.
Back to Hare and Woods:
Even though we are essentially born attracted to people who share our group identity, what constitutes that identity is highly influenced by social forces. Even for babies, group identity is about more than just familiarity. As we grow, it can be defined by almost anything: clothing, food preferences, rituals, physical traits, political affiliation, place of origin, or loyalty to sports teams. While we appear biologically prepared to recognize group identities, our social awareness allows our construction of these identities to be flexible.

This plasticity is what the anthropologist Joseph Henrich argues is critical to the emergence of social norms. Norms are the implicit or explicit rules that govern even the smallest social interaction. They are central to the success of all our institutions, and they must have arisen after we humans had domesticated ourselves, allowing us to identify and embrace humans beyond our immediate families… [Hare, Woods, p. 95]

In 1689, the English Bill of Rights limited the power of the king and gave Parliament free elections and freedom of speech. Other countries slowly followed. Hierarchies remained, but checks on the powerful were being built into the system so that those out of power were never fully powerless. A norm was created for power sharing and compromise. Citizens were not under the direction of a ruler chosen by god or pedigree, but of a citizen representing the needs of fellow citizens.

Political scientists point to the steady rise in democracies since the 1970s to explain the gradual decrease in violence and the unprecedented peace of the last half century…[Hare, Woods, pp. 151-152]

Norms can vary temporally and culturally, as socio/economic/political values "evolve."

Consider the time since 2016:
The presidential campaign of Donald Trump was unique for many reasons, but one of the most disturbing was the dehumanizing rhetoric he used throughout the campaign. Trump had an uncanny intuition for groups his constituents would consider outsiders and was adept at framing these outsiders as threatening. Trump called reporters who insulted his supporters “scum,” “slime,” and “disgusting.” He called Hillary Clinton “nasty” and her supporters “animals.”

After generating a list of outsiders and emphasizing the threat they posed, Trump went on to encourage violence against them. He advocated torture, the death penalty, and deportation for refugees from war-torn countries. Journalists were not safe at his campaign events and had to be contained in pens for their own protection. Even his rhetoric was riddled with violence. He said he wanted to “punch [a protester] in the face,” was pleased that a protester was “roughed up,” and boasted that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and “shoot someone, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

The political system of the United States is based on the democratic principle that every person, even your worst enemy, deserves to be counted as human. We need to work together as a society to shun leaders who dehumanize others and encourage those who, regardless of political party, insist on the humanity of others... [Hare, Woods, pp. 181-182]  
Values and resultant norms change, sometimes unexpectedly quickly. Where are ours headed during this stressful time?

Self-sorting can make life easier for people in marginalized communities, but membership in a demographic group is not what we need to bring the country together, let alone the world. To understand this, we need to turn to the work of Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, author of the brilliant book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Putnam introduced millions to the concept of social capital, the “connections among individuals—social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.”

Brooks, Arthur C.. Love Your Enemies . Broadside e-books. Kindle Edition.

Another excellent book. Though, many of the Donald Trump references were tough sledding for me.


Five years ago today I posted this on Facebook:
So, Donald Trump supporters, you like him because, as he never fails to point out, he's so "very rich" he doesn't have to take any campaign money, which makes him immune from normal quid pro quo political pressures. He's a one-man personal deep-pockets Super PAC devoted to himself. He can "tell it like it is," and do and say whatever he wants. He doesn't need to kiss any donors' asses.

Did it ever occur to you that, were he to actually become President, he would simply try to continue to do and say whatever he wants, because he has no respect for people who aren't "very rich" like him? That he assumes he could run a nation the way he runs his companies? Simply ordering everyone around, threatening them, and calling them insulting names when they don't agree with him? Whether they're ordinary citizens or leaders of other nations.

I would say "be careful what you ask for." He will neither know nor care that you voted for him. This nation is not his latest acquisition, not part of the Trump "brand."
Well, how have our civic norms changed across the past 5 years?

Off-topic: My late younger daughter Danielle would have turned 50 today.

More to come...

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Survival of the friendliest?

Seriously? In the age of Trumpian hostility?

New book on deck.

Came to it by way of Digby's blog. Stay tuned. I am reminded of my prior riffs on Tomasello.

Also, "Kindness?" And, more broadly, is there in fact a "Science of Deliberation" that minimally necessarily assumes "civility" if not "friendliness?" Again, "nature may be red in tooth and claw, but it is not merely so."

Cooperation is the key to our survival as a species because it increases our evolutionary fitness. But somewhere along the way, “fitness” became synonymous with physical fitness. In the wild, the logic goes, the bigger you are, and the more willing you are to fight, the less others will mess with you and the more successful you will become. You can monopolize the best food, find the most attractive mates, and have the most babies. Arguably, no folk theory of human nature has done more harm—or is more mistaken—than the “survival of the fittest.” Over the past century and a half, it has been the basis for social movements, corporate restructuring, and extreme views of the free market. It has been used to argue for the abolition of government, and to judge groups of people as inferior, and then justify the cruelty that results. But to Darwin and modern biologists, “survival of the fittest” refers to something very specific—the ability to survive and leave behind viable offspring. It is not meant to go beyond that...

Hare, Brian. Survival of the Friendliest (p. xvi). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
We shall see.


Finished it. Great fun. Compelling argument.

I am also reminded of my prior riffs on "Tribalism."

More to come...

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Good trouble, necessary trouble

Rest in peace, John Lewis. homepage today.


Sunday, July 12, 2020

Occam's Chainsaw update

My fav is "Population Control & Redution."

One of my Facebook friends posted this graphic. The Stupid on Steroids.

Officials gird for a war on vaccine misinformation
Warren Cornwall

Within days of the first confirmed novel coronavirus case in the United States on 20 January, antivaccine activists were already hinting on Twitter that the virus was a scam—part of a plot to profit from an eventual vaccine.

Nearly half a year later, scientists around the world are rushing to create a COVID-19 vaccine. An approved product is still months, if not years, away and public health agencies have not yet mounted campaigns to promote it. But health communication experts say they need to start to lay the groundwork for acceptance now, because the flood of misinformation from antivaccine activists has surged.

Such activists have “kicked into overdrive,” says Neil Johnson, a physicist at George Washington University who studies the dynamics of antivaccine groups on social networks (Science, 15 May, p. 699). He estimates that in recent months, 10% of the Facebook pages run by people asking questions about vaccines have already switched to antivaccine views.

Recent polls have found as few as 50% of people in the United States are committed to receiving a vaccine, with another quarter wavering. Some of the communities most at risk from the virus are also the most leery…


Is this a great country, or what?


Who/what you gonna believe? (Click to enlarge.)

When you mix science and politics, you get politics. With the coronavirus, the United States has proved politics hasn’t worked. If we are to fully reopen both the economy and schools safely — which can be done — we have to return to science…

During the 1918 influenza pandemic, almost every city closed down much of its activity. Fear and caring for sick family members did the rest; absenteeism even in war industries exceeded 50 percent and eviscerated the economy. Many cities reopened too soon and had to close a second time — sometimes a third time — and faced intense resistance. But lives were saved.

Had we done it right the first time, we’d be operating at near 100 percent now, schools would be preparing for a nearly normal school year, football teams would be preparing to practice — and tens of thousands of Americans would not have died.

This is our second chance. We won’t get a third. If we don’t get the growth of this pandemic under control now, in a few months, when the weather turns cold and forces people to spend more time indoors, we could face a disaster that dwarfs the situation today.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Some thoughts on "Justice."

I'm a decades-long subscriber to Harper's Magazine. It remains primus inter pares among my favorite literary / topical periodicals.

Encountered this online yesterday:

A Letter on Justice and Open Debate
July 7, 2020
The below letter will be appearing in the Letters section of the magazine’s October issue. We welcome responses at

Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity. As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second. The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy. But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted…

This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time. The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other. As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us.
Read all of it. At the bottom of the letter is a signatory list of more than 100 prominent writers / journalists. The contentious phrase "cancel culture" wafts to mind.

Can we even come to a workable consensus on what constitutes "justice?" Would a "science of deliberation" even help? "Reinventing American Democracy?"
"Nature may be red in tooth and claw, but it is not merely so."

apropos, from The Atlantic:

…[T]he advent of social media has transformed the way that social and cultural orthodoxies are enforced. But the problem of egregious police killings has been thrust back into the national spotlight by video of the white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man––and the nation now faces complicated, consequential questions about who or what to fight. Americans are protesting not only killer cops, the colleagues who abet them, and the unions that protect them, but also policing itself, Confederate statuary, “white fragility,” neo-colonialism, microaggressions, systemic racism, neoliberalism, and capitalism.

As a hearteningly broad coalition embraces policing reforms, a distinct, separable struggle is unfolding in the realm of ideas: a many-front crusade aimed at vanquishing white supremacy, hazily defined.

That crusade is as vulnerable to mistakes and excesses as any other struggle against abstract evils. Some of the most zealous crusaders are demanding affirmations of solidarity and punishing mild dissent. Institutions are imposing draconian punishments for minor transgressions. Individuals are scapegoated for structural ills. There are efforts to get people fired, including even some who share the desire for racial justice…

UPDATE: "au contraire"
The Harper’s Letter Is What Happens When the Discourse Takes Precedence Over Reality
Civil society is more than the feelings of professional writers and academics.

Tom Scocca

These are dangerous times for dissenters in America. Critics of the government’s immigration policies have been targeted for arrest and deportation. Protesters challenging violent and racist policing have been gassed and beaten and maimed with projectiles by police. On July 3, at the foot of Mount Rushmore, the president of the United States gave a speech denouncing the protesters and those who support them as part of a “left-wing cultural revolution … designed to overthrow the American Revolution” and promised to respond to their tearing down of statues by “deploying federal law enforcement to protect our monuments, arrest the rioters, and prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law.”…
Ordinary restrictions against protesters would be indefensible if they were applied to the press—if TV stations were temporarily shut down because too many people wanted to watch the news, or newspapers were restricted to distribution in off-site Newspaper Zones when a national political convention came to town, or websites needed a police permit to publish. But these are the standard conditions of protest, enforced by cops in riot armor.

That official violence is not far in the background of the Harper’s letter. And however sympathetic the signatories of the letter may consider themselves to the purposes of the protests, the focus on journalistic and academic rights undercuts the more immediate threats to the protest movement. The most vocal signers of the Harper’s letter, and its most self-satisfied defenders, have made it clear that they regard the resignation of James Bennet as the New York Times opinion editor to be a self-evident case of the mob having gone too far. Bennet lost his job because his section solicited and published, without his having read it, an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton calling for federal troops to put on an “overwhelming show of force” against “rioters and insurrectionists.” The defenders of pure discourse noted that Cotton explicitly said in the article that he rejected “revolting moral equivalence of rioters and looters to peaceful, law-abiding protesters.” People who’d been out in the streets, seeing demonstrators obstruct traffic or violate hastily issued (and unconstitutional) curfew orders, understood that Cotton—who’d tweeted that troops should give “no quarter”—was avoiding the central, material question of what the troops would do about protesters who peacefully refused to abide by the law.

Whose essential freedoms were put at risk by the Bennet-Cotton episode? In the world of the Harper’s letter, the threat that mattered was the one to the careers of veteran editors—not the threat that had bullets and bayonets behind it, a threat that the president himself would offer again in his Independence Day remarks. The promoters of the letter cast themselves as persecuted heroes, putting their names on the line to defend an embattled conception of liberty. The people putting themselves in front of police lines have a more expansive vision of what freedom means, and what risks they’re prepared to take for it.
Hmmm... Read all of it as well. He proffers a serious point.
Notwithstanding Tom's well-deserved props, I guess my only minor quibble would be with the implicit "reality versus discourse" thingy ("the focus on journalistic and academic rights")—though, I doubt that the Trump-despised "rabble in the streets" will be elbowing each other aside, amid the chaos of pepper spray, flash-bang grenades, and rubber (or actual) bullets, rushing to erect barricades in defense of comfy clean-fingernails journalistic / literary elites.
If you're not confused, you've not been paying attention.


A commenter on author Tom Scocca's Twitter feed doesn't share my Jones for Harper's:
“Harper’s is exactly where this letter would land. It’s largely snuff porn for a sector of Boomers who write tendentious pieces about how the good things are ruined and can’t be fixed. Except the people in the streets and in the real world are proving that thesis false.”
LOL. Methinks declaring any verdict from "in the streets and in the real world" at this point might be just a tad premature.

…A forceful and sweeping case for free speech—again, a constitutional principle, not one governing private institutions or Twitter feeds—would require engaging with the history of discrimination in journalism, academia, and literature. But the brief and ambiguous Harper’s letter does not convey the complexity of the forces shaping open discourse today. Who has most often shared their ideas with impunity? Who is discouraged, even banned, from doing so? Who cannot afford to enter the field at all, because legacy publications such as Harper’s still do not pay their interns? Serious grappling with these issues, instead of virtue signaling, would actually help foster the conditions for more vibrant public dialogue. Instead, in their rush to fetishize civil disagreement, the would-be defenders of free speech reproduce the same circular logic that has powered elite circles for generations. Nobody needed an open letter to be reminded of that.
More to come...

Friday, July 3, 2020

#COVID19 Independence Day weekend update: Buckle up, America

Not Good.


This is interesting (below):

And then there's this:

Okeee-dokeee, then.

Prior to January 20, 2017, it was entirely safe to assume that the stupidest person in the country and the president were two different people. But, that was then, this is now.

More to come...

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Army of One

Pay it forward. #NoJusticeNoPeace #BlackLivesMatter

Benign intent does not suffice. March March.        

My new read. Compelling.

UPDATE: Finished the book.
…It was the morning of Monday, April 27, 2015, and I was at Freddie Gray’s funeral. Three weeks earlier, on April 12, 2015, a police officer on a bicycle had made eye contact with the still-living Freddie Gray, a young man from the Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park section of Baltimore—the “wrong side” of Baltimore, a neighborhood where life expectancy was not quite sixty-five years, a full seven years shorter than in the rest of Baltimore and around the same as someone living in North Korea. Gray met the officer’s eyes and ran. The officer gave chase, soon joined by two others, and soon Gray was captured. The police searched him, and when they found a pocketknife in his pocket, they arrested him. When he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, walk to their transport van, they dragged him along the sidewalk. What happened next was a matter of dispute. But when Freddie Gray died a week later, from a severed spine, much of Baltimore believed the police had killed him.

That belief didn’t come out of nowhere. What was life like if you grew up like Freddie Gray? The fear of being a victim of police brutality was ever present if you were young and black in Baltimore—just one more trial for kids who already carried the mental anguish and physical adversity of growing up in chronically neglected neighborhoods. You knew neighbors, cousins, uncles, aunties, and friends who’d been victims of random or targeted violence. The violence was physical but correlated with the emotional violence that was often its cause or consequence. And the violence was pervasive, a factor in every decision you made—which streets you walked down, what time you started and ended your day, whom you trusted. The most quotidian decisions were shaped by structurally determined abnormalities. You called it life…

Moore, Wes. Five Days (pp. ix-x). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
The story unfolds day by day from the points of view of eight locals of varied backgrounds and station as they traversed the uprising. As a new resident (14 months now), I found it extremely illuminating.

From the author's concluding words:
…So how do we move forward? Our collective pursuit of justice must be as aggressive and intentional as the systemwide injustice that we now encounter. We must alter how we define the state and permanence of poverty. We must acknowledge and challenge our own complicity. And we must put forward policies that actively confront the systematic bias of past policies.

We call those living with the scourge of poverty “poor people,” as if it’s a title of choice, but it can become a phrase that gives permission to ignore someone’s humanity. Poverty is a condition our society does not have to tolerate or condone. “Poor people” signifies permanence. A birthright. Similar to the term “slave,” as if that’s what the individual was born to achieve. Slavery is a man-made inhumanity. A human mandate. Enslaved people are victims of the institution of slavery. The resilient souls living in poverty are victims of the institution of poverty. We cannot be true allies if we see our mandate as being saviors of a few deserving “poor people.” Everyone’s destinies matter.

Our country has a long history, and for much of it the intentional policy of the United States was to create hierarchies of people based on their class, race, and gender. We live with that legacy today, and it is an undeniable undercurrent in our politics. We need to formally and diligently examine the causes and traumas of generational economic inequality and their intersection with issues of race, gender, national origin, and sexuality. We have examples of nations that have stared into their deepest wounds and emerged stronger. In the late twentieth century, South Africa, Chile, and Northern Ireland, among others, all convened commissions dedicated to truth and reconciliation. Those commissions created a dialogue about the harm done in their communities across generations, much of it rooted in bigotry and demagoguery, and presented a path forward to better policies and the political solidarity needed to enact them. In 2015, Canada completed a seven-year process in which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada uncovered the history of the Canadian Indian residential school system and its lasting impacts on indigenous students and their families. The survivors had a chance to have their pain heard. The perpetrators had a chance to share their sorrow and apologies. Canada had a chance to begin the healing process. These processes have not been perfect and the aftermath in the respective nations has not come without false starts and setbacks, but that did not mean they stopped pushing for progress. This level of national courage is important. We individually must initiate our own truth and reconciliation process, in each of us, in our own hearts and communities. We must wrestle with the history of complicity and bias, and work to address these disparities. As Americans, we have a sacred responsibility to eliminate the myth and frequent talking point “It happened so long ago” or “Why am I being punished for what my ancestors did?” Our complicity in the ongoing harm unfolding in our neighborhoods and those of our neighbors is the surest way to guarantee that our country will not change for the better… (pp. 257-258).
Lots to ponder.

See my 2019 post "Bodymore Murdaland." See also "Baltimore Code Red."      

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Picture a scientist

Alerted to this in my latest hardcopy Science Magazine issue.
Sweeping in scope yet intimately compelling, Picture a Scientist tells the stories of three female scholars, revealing the systemic and structural nature of gender discrimination and harassment in academic science. The film shows how intersections of sexism and racism shape experiences differently for white women and for women of color and how implicit bias both generates inequity and prevents us from noticing it. It reveals injustices ranging from subtle slights and salary gaps to bullying and physical assault. And it reminds us of the power of women’s collective action; the value of social science research in analyzing and responding to inequality; and the importance of allies and advocates, especially in university leadership...
Picture a Scientist is a world-class documentary from an experienced, award-winning crew that tells harrowing truths without sugarcoating, sensationalizing, or objectifying the film’s subjects. If I must have a quibble, it is that the film’s treatment of race is limited to black and white and its treatment of gender is too binary. Other axes of difference, such as disability, class, or sexual orientation, go largely unaddressed. Still, the film leaves openings to discuss these omissions and, more importantly, compels us to action. We might ask ourselves: What data could we gather on our own campuses? How do we become the accomplices of change-seeking colleagues? Can we muster the courage to share our own stories or hold someone accountable rather than looking the other way?

Picture a Scientist will be available to stream via select U.S. theaters from 12 to 26 June 2020. Invite campus leaders to attend the virtual premiere, and then host a screening and organizing session (2). This film could be the vehicle that moves us, as Clancy advocates, “away from a culture of compliance and towards a culture of change.”
Since the 1960s, feminists have asked: How could science claim to be objective when it largely excluded half the population from the ranks of its practitioners? How could science claim to be producing disinterested knowledge when so many of its theories embedded obvious social prejudices, not just about gender but also about race, class, and ethnicity? These questions were not necessarily hostile. Many of them were raised by female scientists who were interested in the natural or social world and believed in the power and value of scientific inquiry to explain it.

Sociologists of scientific knowledge stressed that science is a social activity, and this has been taken by many (for both better and worse) as undermining its claims to objectivity. The “social,” particularly to many scientists but also many philosophers, was synonymous with the personal, the subjective, the irrational, the arbitrary, and even the coerced. If the conclusions of scientists—who for the most part were European or North American men—were social constructions, then they had no more or less purchase on truth that the conclusions of other social groups. At least, a good deal of work in science studies seemed to imply that.

But feminist philosophers of science, most notably Sandra Harding and Helen Longino, turned that argument on its head, suggesting that objectivity could be reenvisaged as a social accomplishment, something that is collectively achieved.89 Harding mobilized the concept of standpoint epistemology—the idea that how we view matters depends to a great extent on our social position (or, colloquially, that where we stand depends on where we sit)—to argue that greater diversity could make science stronger. Our personal experiences—of wealth or poverty, privilege or disadvantage, maleness or femaleness, heteronormativity or queerness, disability or able-bodiedness—cannot but influence our perspectives on and interpretations of the world. Therefore, ceteris paribus, a more diverse group will bring to bear more perspectives on an issue than a less diverse one.

In her groundbreaking 1986 book, The Science Question in Feminism, Harding argued that the objectivity practiced by most scientific communities was weak, because of the characteristic homogeneity of those communities. The perspectives of women, people of color, the working classes, and many others were lacking, and the consequences were plain to see when one considered the obvious sexism, racism, and class bias of many past scientific theories...

Oreskes, Naomi. Why Trust Science? (University Center for Human Values Series) (pp. 49-51). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

John Stuart Mill is one of the heroes of thinking in bets. More than one hundred and fifty years after writing On Liberty, his thinking on social and political philosophy remains startlingly current. One of the frequent themes in On Liberty is the importance of diversity of opinion. Diversity and dissent are not only checks on fallibility, but the only means of testing the ultimate truth of an opinion: “The only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner.”

    There is a simple beauty in Mill’s insight. On our own, we have just one viewpoint. That’s our limitation as humans. But if we take a bunch of people with that limitation and put them together in a group, we get exposed to diverse opinions, can test alternative hypotheses, and move toward accuracy. It is almost impossible for us, on our own, to get the diversity of viewpoints provided by the combined manpower of a well-formed decision pod. To get a more objective view of the world, we need an environment that exposes us to alternate hypotheses and different perspectives. That doesn’t apply only to the world around us: to view ourselves in a more realistic way, we need other people to fill in our blind spots.

Duke, Annie. Thinking in Bets (pp. 137-138). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Another must-read book.

More to come...

Friday, June 19, 2020


Just saw this on the NBC Today Show. Beautiful. Spot-on. P&G is to be commended.

Goes to my recently expressed (prior post) sentiment.


More to come...

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Concurrent pandemics


Well, this is a bracing read:
The Looming Bank Collapse
The U.S. financial system could be on the cusp of calamity. This time, we might not be able to save it.
Frank Partnoy

After months of living with the coronavirus pandemic, American citizens are well aware of the toll it has taken on the economy: broken supply chains, record unemployment, failing small businesses. All of these factors are serious and could mire the United States in a deep, prolonged recession. But there’s another threat to the economy, too. It lurks on the balance sheets of the big banks, and it could be cataclysmic. Imagine if, in addition to all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, you woke up one morning to find that the financial sector had collapsed.

You may think that such a crisis is unlikely, with memories of the 2008 crash still so fresh. But banks learned few lessons from that calamity, and new laws intended to keep them from taking on too much risk have failed to do so. As a result, we could be on the precipice of another crash, one different from 2008 less in kind than in degree. This one could be worse.

The financial crisis of 2008 was about home mortgages. Hundreds of billions of dollars in loans to home buyers were repackaged into securities called collateralized debt obligations, known as CDOs. In theory, CDOs were intended to shift risk away from banks, which lend money to home buyers. In practice, the same banks that issued home loans also bet heavily on CDOs, often using complex techniques hidden from investors and regulators. When the housing market took a hit, these banks were doubly affected. In late 2007, banks began disclosing tens of billions of dollars of subprime-CDO losses. The next year, Lehman Brothers went under, taking the economy with it…

…reforms were well intentioned, but, as we’ll see, they haven’t kept the banks from falling back into old, bad habits. After the housing crisis, subprime CDOs naturally fell out of favor. Demand shifted to a similar—and similarly risky—instrument, one that even has a similar name: the CLO, or collateralized loan obligation. A CLO walks and talks like a CDO, but in place of loans made to home buyers are loans made to businesses—specifically, troubled businesses. CLOs bundle together so-called leveraged loans, the subprime mortgages of the corporate world. These are loans made to companies that have maxed out their borrowing and can no longer sell bonds directly to investors or qualify for a traditional bank loan. There are more than $1 trillion worth of leveraged loans currently outstanding. The majority are held in CLOs…

About a 27 minute read. Highly recommended. (Sadly) vindicates my little 2008 pissant view-from-the-subprime-trenches rant "Tranche Warfare."
I've been mulling writing this post for a long time, watching with increasing -- but hardly surprised -- dismay all year as the economic tailspin has accelerated, its increasingly debilitating effects impacting the lives of more and more ordinary citizens worldwide who had no part in its creation. Now, the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal seems as though it might represent the final nail in the coffin of financial system trust.

We seem to never learn...
I need a margarita.

What does all the foregoing portend for the future of U.S. democracy?


Founded nearly 250 years ago, the United States of America is the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. Its infancy, under the Articles of Confederation, was turbulent. Its early prospects, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, were very much uncertain. At the Convention, Benjamin Franklin—catalyst of the Revolution, leading citizen of the republic, enslaver turned abolitionist—wondered as he observed the conflicts, compromises, and contradictions of the process: was the young nation’s sun rising or setting? With the signing of the Constitution, he concluded, the sun was rising.

Today, the question of rise or fall is more pertinent than ever. In this age of globalization, centralized power, economic inequality, deep demographic shifts, political polarization, pandemics and climate change, and radical disruption in the media and information environments, we face these converging trends in a constitutional democracy that feels to many increasingly unresponsive, nonadaptive, and even antiquated.
Consider the data. The public’s approval rate for Congress—our national legislature and the first branch of government established in the Constitution, charged with articulating the will of the people—hit a historic low of 9 percent in 2013. Now rates hover around a still-meager 25 percent. Income and wealth inequality levels have exceeded those on the eve of the Great Depression. Social mobility has stagnated. Inequities continue to track lines of race, gender, and ethnicity, revealing deep structural unfairness in our society. A surge in white nationalism, anti-Semitism, and anti- immigrant vitriol has flooded our politics with sentiments corrosive to the ethic of a democratic society, while people of color continue to confront barriers to opportunity and participation. At all levels of our system, voter turnout remains low in comparison to other advanced democracies. Trust in institutions has collapsed while an online culture of gleeful, nihilistic cynicism thrives. Fewer than one-third of Millennials consider it essential to live in a democracy. Partisan rancor has not reached the intensity of Civil War–era America—but it is nonetheless very high. When Americans are asked what unites us across our differences, the increasingly common answer is nothing...
Below, this seems a good place to start, given my pedantic Jones for clear and effective definitions:
Our conversations about democratic civic life are now so polarized that we must pause to define our central terms. In the twenty-first century, democracy refers to a political system in which legislative and chief executive decision-makers are elected by majority or plurality rule by eligible voters, with a presumption that the franchise approaches universal adult suffrage among legal citizens and that mechanisms are in place to protect ideological, religious, ethnic, and other demographic minorities. This definition refers to representative rather than direct democracy, reflecting that all existing democratic societies are representative. While we use both constitutional democracy and democracy in this report, we recognize these as synonyms to other terms in common usage in the United States, including “republic” and “democratic republic”...
The bulk of the table of contents:

Within the six strategic categories are 31 specific proposed tactical initiatives, a number of which seem to me to be a heavy lift—all reasonably warranted nonetheless. Make up your own minds.

apropos, see my prior

"ocracies," "archies," and "isms"


Obtuse, or just cut-to-the-chase succinct?

Think about it. Goes well beyond "race." Shouldn't exactly come as "news." Uhhh... Aristotle, anyone?

I totally include my own obligation in the inferential admonition.

More to come...