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Saturday, February 27, 2021

On science in a "democracy"

From a Science Magazine editorial:
Science, civics, and democracy
   Michael J. Feuer

Will the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris—a transition made “orderly” with barbed wire, National Guard soldiers, and the closure of downtown Washington, D.C.—be remembered as an inflection point? After 4 years of boorish incivility, incendiary nativist extremism, a crippling pandemic, resurgent racism, and riotous mobs incited to attack the Capitol, can the United States rebuild its civic and moral infrastructure? To repair the damage and prepare the next generation of citizens and leaders requires a new spirit of cooperation between the science and civics education communities.

About 30 years ago, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, the publisher of Science) recommended major overhauls of science education. The drive for reform confronted partisan conflicts along the way, but the good news is that more students today benefit from stimulating instruction in many subjects. Now the country must sustain this momentum for progress in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) while heeding the call for more attention to civics, the humanities, and the foundations of democratic pluralism.

This is not a zero-sum competition...
What ingredients should be included in this recipe for reform? Policy-makers and legislators must acknowledge the effects of economic inequality on educational outcomes and invest resources to protect disadvantaged youth. Research on disruptions caused by the pandemic shows that, on average, American students in K–12 experienced less “learning loss” than anticipated, but for disadvantaged and minority children, the setbacks were substantially worse. This is no surprise to researchers who study the effects of poverty and racism on achievement. A strategy to raise average performance in STEM while shrinking the variance would help instill an ethos of the common good—a core aspiration of civics.

Good science education means equitable science education... Research on the origins of bias and its effects is bringing new ideas into the development of methods to combat discrimination in K–12 schools, colleges, and universities. Again, good science and good citizenship are mutually reinforcing...

Certainly, not every young person will become a practicing scientist, but every student should appreciate the processes of scientific inquiry and its uses. In the United States and other countries, relations between the scientific community and government can be tense. But today, the United States is suffering from years of distrust for evidence—about the pandemic, climate change, racism, immigration, and the economy. Let's integrate into hands-on STEM education some hands-on learning about objective inquiry as a cornerstone of American democracy and the preparation of a well-informed citizenry.

President Biden says he is determined to restore dignity to government and trust in science. Miguel Cardona, the nominee for Education Secretary, is a seasoned educator whose path from poverty to leadership exemplifies the possibilities even in the nation's fractured system. The country must work with them toward the inseparable goals of scientific excellence and fulfillment of our noblest egalitarian dreams.

Is Something Happening Here?

In 2016, The Economist’s Democracy Index downgraded the United States from “Full Democracy” to “Flawed Democracy,” a disturbing demotion that has not  reversed. In the 2019 edition of “Freedom in the World,” the United States earned a disappointing 86/100 score in the leading indicators of democracy and freedom, placing 52nd of 194 countries – significant slippage compared to just a few years ago. The report cites “partisan manipulation of the electoral process, bias and dysfunction in the criminal justice system, flawed new policies on immigration and asylum seekers, and growing disparities in wealth, economic opportunity, and political influence” as  evidence of democratic decline…

Lawrence, Susan. Grown-up Civics: Important Things You’ve Forgotten Since High School (p. 7). Kindle Edition.
$1.99 Kindle price, well worth ii. Extremely well written. A great refresher resource—for us old coots and gen-z'ers alike. Focused on the US polity, but "civics" has a long multinational cultural history, one going well beyond "democracy."

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

"Global Health" data initiative

Let's hope this bears fruit.

Per STATnews:

Last January, Samuel Scarpino wasn’t sure what to make of Covid-19. The director of Northeastern University’s Emergent Epidemics Lab, he, along with every other epidemiologist in the world, was trying to interpret the earliest data on the new virus.
He was soon pulled into working on a spreadsheet, started by a group of international epidemiologists, to collect and openly share granular data on individual Covid-19 cases around the world. Today, that project launched its complete website,, which will enable open access to more than 5 million anonymized Covid-19 records from 160 countries. Each record can contain dozens of data points about the case, including demographics, travel history, testing dates, and outcomes.
The project is supported by $1.25 million in funding and other resources from, with additional support from the Rockefeller Foundation, and is led by academics from the University of Oxford, Harvard, Northeastern, Boston Children’s Hospital, Georgetown, University of Washington, and Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security...
Looks very promising. We shall see. 5 million case-level records sounds like a lot, until you necessarily begin to recursively stratify (But, then, it is also true that a "large N" is no panacea out of the gate—i.e., the risks of "spurious 'statistical' significance" yielding little to no clinically actionable significance).

503,438 Americans were unavailable for comment.

Monday, February 22, 2021

9,800+ US Covid-19 deaths per week for 51 weeks

500,000+ dead in 51 weeks.*
4.3% of world population.
25% of world cases.
20% of fatalities.

*And, probably an undercount.

Friday, February 19, 2021


While the Texas Senator @TedCruz family luxuriates in Cancun.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

US Covid-19 pandemic a full year out

A year ago I began posting on what became the Covid pandemic. Where we are now:

Daily US new cases ("incidence") are finally abating subsequent to Q420 (charts updated thru Feb 14th). US fatalities now approach 500,000—139,000 since New Year's Day 2021 through Feb 14th. Notwithstanding that daily new US cases are in decline, there were still 7.54 million from New Year's Day thre Feb 14th.

90% of all of this misery avoidable, in my view.

I've not left the house since Feb 7th when we got our first Covid shots (Moderna). Getting a lot of reading done, and loving being the "Graycare" staff for our now-13 month old utter delight grandson Calvin.

From a Science Magazine review:
In a digital, global world where information is projected to double every 12 hours, the memorization of facts will become less of a commodity than the ability to think, find patterns, and generate new ideas from old parts. Thus, a cradle-to-career approach to educating children must be mindful of how children learn to learn, not just what they learn. Combining insight, scientific acumen, and exquisite narrative, The Intellectual Lives of Children allows readers to peer into the minds of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers as they explore and learn in everyday moments, emphasizing what constitutes real learning.

Children are bursting with playful curiosity. By age 3, they ask questions about everything they see—Why does a tree have leaves? Why does the Sun come up each day?—and by age 5, they pose even deeper questions, about God and morals. These questions not only provide fodder for knowledge, they help children discover the causal relationships among things—all with adult mentors by their side.

Children also need time to explore. One child might collect dead things like worms and slugs, and another, assorted leaves of different shapes and colors. These collections, Engel argues, become treasured resources for the discovery of patterns, and they invite even more inquisitiveness. Indeed, the adults who guide this exploration by asking questions themselves reinforce curiosity and innovation. Hidden in these playful encounters are rich opportunities for learning…
UPDATE: Just finished it. Excellent. News Grandaddy Can Use.
I'll be cross-referencing it with this one.


Imagine this: instead of sending a four-hundred-pound rover vehicle to Mars, we merely shoot over to the planet a single sphere, one that can fit on the end of a pin. Using energy from sources around it, the sphere divides itself into a diversified army of similar spheres. The spheres hang on to each other and sprout features: wheels, lenses, temperature sensors, and a full internal guidance system. You’d be gobsmacked to watch such a system discharge itself.

But you only need to go to any nursery to see this unpacking in action. You’ll see wailing babies who began as a single, microscopic, fertilized egg and are now in the process of emancipating themselves into enormous humans, replete with photon detectors, multi-jointed appendages, pressure sensors, blood pumps, and machinery for metabolizing power from all around them.

But this isn’t even the best part about humans; there’s something more astonishing. Our machinery isn’t fully preprogrammed, but instead shapes itself by interacting with the world. As we grow, we constantly rewrite our brain’s circuitry to tackle challenges, leverage opportunities, and understand the social structures around us.

Our species has successfully taken over every corner of the globe because we represent the highest expression of a trick that Mother Nature discovered: don’t entirely pre-script the brain; instead, just set it up with the basic building blocks and get it into the world. The bawling baby eventually stops crying, looks around, and absorbs the world around it. It molds itself to the surroundings. It soaks up everything from local language to broader culture to global politics. It carries forward the beliefs and biases of those who raise it. Every fond memory it possesses, every lesson it learns, every drop of information it drinks—all these fashion its circuits to develop something that was never pre-planned, but instead reflects the world around it…

Eagleman, David. Livewired (p. 3). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

David Eagleman rocks.


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Incitement of insurrection?

Donald Trump's 2nd impeachment trial began on Feb 9th. This is the opening evidentiary video presented by the House (NSFW: repeated obscene vulgarity, graphic violence).
UPDATE: YouTube removed the video, notwithstanding it being public evidence of a constitutional High Crime. House Manager Rep. Jamie Raskin's opening remarks. We'll see if they suppress those as well.

UPDATE2: Now YouTube has rescinded the total removal, opting for "this video is age-restricted and only available on YouTube," with an external link.
We know there was a "riot." We know its mob-mentality intent was that of pro-Trump "insurrection." Is Donald Trump therefore constitutionally culpable, in light of his repeated indendiary "incitement" rhetoric?
My 2 cents after Senate impeachment trial day two.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Mobile information technology: surveilling Ronnie Vincent

In 2019, a source came to us with a digital file containing the precise locations of more than 12 million individual smartphones for several months in 2016 and 2017. The data is supposed to be anonymous, but it isn’t. We found celebrities, Pentagon officials and average Americans.

It became clear that this data — collected by smartphone apps and then fed into a dizzyingly complex digital advertising ecosystem — was a liability to national security, to free assembly and to citizens living mundane lives. It provided an intimate record of people whether they were visiting drug treatment centers, strip clubs, casinos, abortion clinics or places of worship.

Surrendering our privacy to the government would be foolish enough. But what is more insidious is the Faustian bargain made with the marketing industry, which turns every location ping into currency as it is bought and sold in the marketplace of surveillance advertising.

Now, one year later, we’re in a very similar position. But it’s far worse.

A source has provided another data set, this time following the smartphones of thousands of Trump supporters, rioters and passers-by in Washington, D.C., on January 6, as Donald Trump’s political rally turned into a violent insurrection. At least five people died because of the riot at the Capitol. Key to bringing the mob to justice has been the event’s digital detritus: location data, geotagged photos, facial recognition, surveillance cameras and crowdsourcing…

The data we were given showed what some in the tech industry might call a God-view vantage of that dark day. It included about 100,000 location pings for thousands of smartphones, revealing around 130 devices inside the Capitol exactly when Trump supporters were storming the building. Times Opinion is only publishing the names of people who gave their permission to be quoted in this article….

This is Ronnie Vincent
We traced a phone inside the Capitol to Mr. Vincent’s home in Kentucky. Confirming his identity led us to his Facebook page, where we found a few photos of him standing on the steps of the building during the siege. Another photo shows a crowd standing in front of the Capitol, its doors wide open...

A bracing long-read, replete with an eerie animated graphic of the January 6th "Stop the Steal" mob march on and insurrectionist storming of the U.S. Capitol building.
Unlike the data we reviewed in 2019, this new data included a remarkable piece of information: a unique ID for each user that is tied to a smartphone. This made it even easier to find people, since the supposedly anonymous ID could be matched with other databases containing the same ID, allowing us to add real names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and other information about smartphone owners in seconds.

The IDs, called mobile advertising identifiers, allow companies to track people across the internet and on apps. They are supposed to be anonymous, and smartphone owners can reset them or disable them entirely. Our findings show the promise of anonymity is a farce. Several companies offer tools to allow anyone with data to match the IDs with other databases...
"While some Americans might cheer the use of location databases to identify Trump supporters who converged on the Capitol, the use of commercial databases has worrying implications for civil liberties..."
Ya think?
I've been onto privacy issues for a long time—since grad school and before.
Anyone recall "Total Information Awareness" in the wake of 9/11?
This NY Times piece concludes:
"Americans deserve the freedom to choose a life without surveillance and the government regulation that would make that possible. While we continue to believe the sentiment, we fear it may soon be obsolete or irrelevant. We deserve that freedom, but the window to achieve it narrows a little more each day. If we don’t act now, with great urgency, it may very well close for good."

Monday, February 1, 2021

#Covid19: Where are we now? Where are things headed?

7.1 million new US cases in January 2021, along with 95,000 US January deaths [per JHU data]. The daily new case count ("incidence") has clearly begun to decline of late. But, these trend lines tend to go down or up until they no longer do. Extrapolating from them has limited value. 

Interesting regularly episodic "sawtooth" variability in the mortality graphic. Gotta be administrative reporting logistics.
Been a full year since this new SARS-Cov2 virus hit us here. 103 million cases world-wide, with 2.2 million global deaths, more than 441,000 of them in the US since the pandemic arrived.

Again, we are 4.3% of global population, yet we currently account for 25.4% of cases, and 19.8% of Covid deaths.
Interesting WaPo article on Trump, the pandemic, and the 2020 election
My Twitter reaction:
I first devoted a post to the incipient pandemic in Feb 2020. What a year.

Monday, January 25, 2021

"Knowledge is good."

LOL. But, seriously, my latest hardcopy issue of Science Magazine arrived. Book review therein.

"What is the scientific method, and what makes it the most efficient approach for generating insight? In The Knowledge Machine, Michael Strevens argues that to answer this question, we must acknowledge the role played by the undisciplined and emotional nature of the humans who carry it out. The book takes readers on a whirlwind tour through the history of science, rendering Arthur Eddington, Louis Pasteur, G. G. Simpson, Lord Kelvin, and many others as “warm-blooded organisms, whose enthusiasms, hopes, and fears mold their thinking far below the threshold of awareness.”

When asked what science is and how it functions, researchers offer a range of conflicting responses, notes Strevens. “Some scientists say that the essence of science is controlled or repeatable experiment, forgetting that experiments are of relatively little importance in cosmology or evolutionary biology. Some say advanced mathematical techniques are crucial, forgetting that the discoverers of genetics, for example, had no use for sophisticated math.”

Strevens argues that an objective scientific method cannot exist, as all predictions from hypotheses rely on auxiliary assumptions such as the functioning of instruments, whose reliability must be evaluated subjectively. He proposes that the distinguishing feature of science is a procedural agreement, which he refers to as the “iron rule of explanation.” This rule holds that differences in scientific opinion must be settled by empirical testing alone. Thus, a scientist cannot argue for one hypothesis over another because it is more beautiful or more appealing philosophically or because it is better aligned with “God's plan.” The iron rule applies only to official communications. Outside of such venues, scientists may think and believe as they wish…"
Indeed. Of course, I bought the book forthwith and have begun my study. Wonderfully written. Goes to my numerous riffs in support of "Science." (See also my posts "Why trust science?" and "Deliberation Science?")
Stay tuned. Be interesting to see if/how and to what extent it might cohere with this book (below) I've studied and cited.

I finished the Michael Strevens book. Beautifully written, a motherload of quotable, eloquent passages. I'll just cite his close.
THE KNOWLEDGE MACHINE opened in the darkness of prehistory. Civilization’s sun rose, bringing literature and law, temple domes and proscenium arches, and the more abstract pleasures of mathematics and philosophy. Science’s sun, meanwhile, remained deep below the horizon. To one surveying the cultures of the ancient world, there was no glimmer to suggest that anything like modern science would arise. So it continued for centuries, millennia. Empires came and went; each left its enduring aesthetic and intellectual gifts to humankind, but there was no science.

At a stroke, the Scientific Revolution changed everything. Science’s sun seemed to have appeared, not on the horizon, but at its zenith, as the fierce genius of Newton and his lieutenants glistered in the heavens. It burned far hotter than had even the sun of civilization. Our sultry, teeming, denatured planet is its consequence—as are our increasingly long, comfortable, amusing lives.

Galileo yearned to know the nature of light. “I had always felt so unable to understand what light is,” he wrote to a friend, “that I would gladly have spent all my life in jail, fed with bread and water, if only I was assured that I would eventually attain that longed-for understanding.” Less than four hundred years later, thanks to Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, and Albert Einstein—along with many others—we have that knowledge. The light of science calls out for the same understanding. In The Knowledge Machine, I have given you the truth as I see it.

Science is not light; it is not promulgated by a star. Nor is it a golem, a glass slipper, a neurasthenic bird, or a coral reef. It is not, indeed, a machine. It is a social institution. It could not be brought into existence by a celestial body or by a magical incantation. Inquirers had to give the rule that constitutes the scientific institution to themselves. But the iron rule is a peculiar mix of power and perversity. Logically, it is beyond the pale. It would take an exceedingly long time for social, political, and moral conditions to twine themselves into a perspective from which the rule would seem to be an acceptable idea, fit to enter the halls of inquiry. Now we know. And because of the iron rule, we can go on knowing, more and more. Let us hope that knowledge saves us.

Strevens, Michael. The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science (pp. 289-290). Liveright. Kindle Edition.
More to come...

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

"Cleanup on Aisle 45"

ME We the People.
 12:01 pm, January 20th, 2021.
The End of an Error.

At the conclusion of his one-term-twice-impeached tenure, in the wake of a seemingly endless onslaught of belligerent threats and denial — capped by a brazen, overt incitement of a ghastly lethal insurrection on January 6th at the Capitol— Tough Guy Trump feebly collapsed like a worn-out, cheap picnic folding chair. Good riddance.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

This American Carnage

I've been transcribing daily US Covid-19 "incidence" data (daily confirmed new cases) from the Hopkins site since Q4-2020. Yesterday I added an Excel tab for daily US deaths commencing January 1st, 2021. More than 46,000 fatalities across the first 15 days of the month. Total US Covid mortality since the pandemic ensued is today about 390,000.
3.5 million new US cases across January through the 15th. We're going to easily lose more than a half million people. 

Recapping, the US comprises 4.3% of world population, and about 25% of the Covid cases and 20% of deaths.


Monday, January 11, 2021

Is THIS what we've come to?

Are we heading toward widespread violent anarchy?
Click the image.
Not what I want to be posting about. But, we now have the most exigent of circumstances. If we fail to abate and reverse this growing sociopolitical psychosis, not much else will matter.

Buckle up, America.

apropos, see my Feb 2020 post "For Sama." Anyone who thinks civil war would be fun is crazy.

Meanwhile the Covid19 pandemic continues to surge.
2.4 million new US cases across the first 10 days of January. 3-4,000 US deaths per day, hospitals running out of space. Total US Covid deaths now approaching 400k. Vaccine distribution and inoculations still way behind the curve.
Click the image.

Again, click the image.

A reflection on our debacle posted on Facebook the other day.
WHAT BROUGHT US TO THIS POINT? There were 5 principal conditions that led to the events of January 6th in the U.S. Capitol.

When the Democrats under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson allied with the civil rights movement, southern Democrats began leaving the party. Republican Richard Nixon then deliberately used race as a wedge issue to split the Democrats and appeal to white working people. The Republican Party has continued to exploit racial politics since then.

2. ECONOMIC CHANGE. The short period in the 1950s-60s in which the U.S. working class was doing well economically was an aberration in the history of capitalism. Shared economic prosperity in the U.S. was a result of World War II: economic spinoffs from massive government investment for the war and the war’s destruction of economic competition from Europe and Japan. These conditions changed by the 1970s as Europe and Japan began to recover and compete again. To maintain profits, the investing class instituted a program of neo-liberalism: reducing the power of unions; cutting taxes, regulations and social welfare programs; and advancing a global financial system. The economic conditions of working people in the U.S. began a decades-long decline. First the Republican Party under Reagan and then the Democratic Party under Clinton adopted the neo-liberal program.

Racial resentments and the economic decline of white working people fueled the growth of the white supremacy movement. It attracted military veterans from the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. These veterans felt betrayed and abandoned by the government for sending them to wars that did not succeed; they also had military training and the capability for violence.
U.S. election laws support a two-party system in which voters have nowhere to go if the two dominant parties don’t seem to be responding to their needs. The economic frustrations of working people opened the opportunity for a political outsider to seek their votes. In the 1990s Ross Perot tapped this pool of voters in an unsuccessful independent run for the Presidency. Plurality elections in the Republican Presidential primary of 2016 (the candidate with the most votes, not necessarily a majority of the votes, wins) allowed Trump to attract enough of these voters to emerge as a front-runner when the other candidates split the majority of Republican votes between them. This opened the floodgates for more of these voters to support him.

5. EMERGENCE OF A DEMAGOGUE. President Trump has followed a classic fascist playbook of weakening democratic norms, encouraging extra-government militias, and using “big lies” to divide and confuse the public. These tactics all came together in his attempt to incite a mob of his supporters, likely led by white supremacist militias, to invade the U.S. Congress in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
Alan is a friend. I invariably call him my favorite graduate school professor (UNLV Institute for Ethics and Policy Studies, 1994-1998). A standout among a standout faculty. He and his family now live in Oregon. I asked his permission to re-post his remarks.

I am the offspring of a World War II Gold Star family. My late dad left a leg behind in Italy fighting nazis and fascists. He and all four of his brothers served for the duration. Only Pop and my uncle Warren survived the war years.

My late parents went on to be patriotic conservative Goldwater Republicans. I have subsequently been a ticket-splitting centrist independent, voting Republican as often as Democrat across my 74 years. When I retired and moved back to California in 2013, I registered as a Democrat, to be able to vote Democratic primaries.

Because I am now a “registered Democrat,“ I am told I am actually a “Communist.“

Because I am a middle-class white guy now living in Baltimore with a “Black Lives Matter” poster on my front door I am told that I should be killed.

Kiss my NY Irish ass.
Yes, this IS what we've come to.
I've been to our nation's capital many times. A couple of months ago most recently. Cheryl and I loaded up the dogs to do a quick get-outa-the-house day trip from Baltimore to DC, just to cruise around and maybe park and walk a bit.
I found it creepy this time. Concrete barriers everywhere, idling police cruisers with red and blue lights flashing, dump trucks blocking off streets... Mere portents.


January 15th, concertina wire Capitol.
Important, if dispiriting reading.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

"A Republic, if you can keep it"

A grotesque day in DC.

President Trump has now cemented his sordid legacy. And, at least four participants in his Jan 6th paroxysm of mass mindlessness have paid with their lives for acting on his incendiary exhortations.
We have promoted democracy in our movies and books. We speak of democracy in our speeches and lectures. We even sing about democracy, from sea to shining sea, in our national songs. We have entire government bureaus devoted to thinking about how we can help other countries become and remain democratic. We fund institutions that do the same.

And yet by far the most important weapon that the United States of America has ever wielded—in defense of democracy, in defense of political liberty, in defense of universal rights, in defense of the rule of law—was the power of example. In the end, it wasn’t our words, our songs, our diplomacy, or even our money or our military power that mattered. It was rather the things we had achieved: the two and a half centuries of peaceful transitions of power, the slow but massive expansion of the franchise, and the long, seemingly solid traditions of civilized debate…

Over the past four years, that example has been badly damaged. We elected a president who refused to recognize the democratic process. We stood by while some members of Donald Trump’s party cynically colluded with him, helping him break laws and rules designed to restrain him. We indulged his cheerleading “media”—professional liars who pretended to believe the president’s stories, including his invented claims of massive voter fraud. Then came the denouement: an awkward, cack-handed invasion of the Capitol by the president’s supporters, some dressed in strange costumes, others sporting Nazi symbols or waving Confederate flags. They achieved the president’s goal: They brought the official certification of the Electoral College vote to a halt. House and Senate members and Vice President Mike Pence were escorted out of the legislative chambers. Their staff members were told to shelter in place. A woman was shot to death…
Click the image, read all of it.

Click the image.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Our #Covid19 "Dark Winter" ensues

Continuing my Excel chart.

Above, Q4-2020 through Jan 3rd 2021. The increased episodic recent inter-day +/- incidence volatility is mainly a function of Nov-Dec holidays' time off for testing personnel.

US Covid19 deaths have now surpassed 350,000. We could easily see 500,000 or more before too long. Dark Winter, indeed.

I'm as frustrated as anyone. Still lying way low.
Stay safe and well. Get vaxxed as soon as it's available.

And, let's hope we still have a functioning Constitutional Democracy (a "Republic," yeah, I know) after January 6th. A dicey week, on multiple fronts.

Monday, December 28, 2020

2020, ugh. What will 2021 bring?

There are three moments in the yearlong catastrophe of the covid-19 pandemic when events might have turned out differently. The first occurred on January 3, 2020, when Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke with George Fu Gao, the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which was modelled on the American institution. Redfield had just received a report about an unexplained respiratory virus emerging in the city of Wuhan.

The field of public health had long been haunted by the prospect of a widespread respiratory-illness outbreak like the 1918 influenza pandemic, so Redfield was concerned…
Lawrence Wright
The influenza pandemic that began in 1918 killed as many as 100 million people over two years. It was one of the deadliest disasters in history, and the one all subsequent pandemics are now compared with.

At the time, The Atlantic did not cover it. In the immediate aftermath, “it really disappeared from the public consciousness,” says Scott Knowles, a disaster historian at Drexel University. “It was swamped by World War I and then the Great Depression. All of that got crushed into one era.” An immense crisis can be lost amid the rush of history, and Knowles wonders if the fracturing of democratic norms or the economic woes that COVID-19 set off might not subsume the current pandemic. “I think we’re in this liminal moment of collectively deciding what we’re going to remember and what we’re going to forget,” says Martha Lincoln, a medical anthropologist at San Francisco State University.

The coronavirus pandemic ignited at the end of 2019 and blazed across 2020. Many countries repeatedly contained it. The United States did not. At least 19 million  Americans have been infected. At least 326,000 have died. The first two surges, in the spring and summer, plateaued but never significantly subsided. The third and worst is still ongoing…
Click the title image.

The Trümperdämmerung is finally here, and it is every bit the raging dumpster fire that we, the unlucky audience for this drama, have come to expect. Is there anyone left who is surprised that the President is careening through the last days of his Administration with a reckless disdain that simply has no precedent in American public life? Still, the hardest thing to accept is that 2020 is not merely the year that Donald Trump’s luck ran out but that with it the country’s did, too. Sadly and yet inevitably, this terrible, wretchedly toxic year of pandemic death and economic distress, of partisan hatred and national protest, is the culmination of all that Trump has wrought and all that he is.

Now that 2020 is finally almost over, I find that I don’t want to remember it at all. (Though you should read Lawrence Wright’s definitive account of this Plague Year in this week’s New Yorker.) Perhaps this is simply because Trump has remained so defiantly and obnoxiously unrepentant, continuing his antics all the way to the end. He does not want to let go, to cede the spotlight, to renounce his outsized claim on our collective consciousness. It is my protest, our protest, to want so desperately to do so.

As it is, we are still in 2020, and I can barely summon the concerns and controversies of a year ago, when the most pressing political question in Washington was whether Trump’s former national-security adviser John Bolton would have to testify in the impeachment trial of the President. (Spoiler alert: he didn’t, though he would eventually call Trump unfit for office in a book whose contents he did not share with the United States Senate and the American public when it mattered most.) Now that the election and all the other mayhem associated with it have happened, it’s hard to recall that 2020 began with me wondering whether Biden still had a chance in the upcoming Democratic primaries, and pondering why the promising Presidential campaign of Kamala Harris had flamed out so quickly, before a single vote was cast. This was back when Trumpian outrages seemed less threatening to the literal health of the nation…