The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Today's lunchtime reading

As I take a minute from banging away on C# code to savor my BBQ pork on rice from the local Chinese takeout, I have these to read:

And today's fortune cookie says: "Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst in bed."

It's not "reopening"

Josh Marshall points out that talking about "reopening," before we have a cure or vaccine for Covid-19, is facile at best and dangerous at worst:

From the start this metaphor has saddled us with distorting language and a distorted concept which has enabled and driven bad policy. It suggests a binary choice when one doesn’t exist. The impact goes beyond semantics.

Most of Europe and East Asia have been able to stamp out COVID or reduce it to very low, manageable levels. We haven’t. You may have heard about that new outbreak in Beijing. By the time an aggressive eradication plan had stamped it out approximately 250 people had been infected. New York State has two or three times that many cases today and it’s doing better than any other state in the country.

There’s no reason beyond conscious choice and policy failure to explain this. Testing is critical. Absolutely critical. But the truth is that the scale of testing continues to rise in the US and it is currently at or above levels in most of these other countries which are now emerging into a new normal of economic and social life. But testing is to a large degree like an instrument panel on a plane. It tells you where you’re going. Up? Down? Fast? Slow? Are you flying into a mountain? In most of the states which let down their guard and allowed indoor dining and bars to reopen the testing sent really clear signals. The tests are there to tell you what’s coming so you can react. In many of these states the testing data said, “You’re flying into the mountain.” They kept flying straight. You can’t blame that on the testing.

We’ve learned a lot we didn’t know four months ago. At least for Europe and North America masking is perhaps the biggest example. Almost as critical is the importance of indoor transmission. Indoors, close quarters, poor ventilation or air conditioning, lots of loud talking. These all make for COVID free fire zones. They are close to the definition of bars and night clubs. Reopening them before COVID is beaten down to negligible levels is madness. And even then it’s probably a bad idea.

There’s no “reopening”. There are different mitigation strategies and there’s how seriously you take the whole enterprise.

Even Illinois, which had seen consistent declines in infection and positive test rates has now leveled off again. I think this meme sums it up pretty well:

In the news this morning

Vox has called the US Senate Democratic Party primary in Kentucky for Amy McGrath, but the main national outlets don't have it yet. [Note: I have contributed financially to Amy McGrath's campaign.] So while I wait for confirmation from the Washington Post (or, you know, the Kentucky State Board of Elections), here's other fun stuff:

Finally, Jeffrey Toobin attempts to explain "Why the Mueller Investigation Failed."

Update: NBC calls Kentucky for McGrath.

Happy Monday!

Need another reason to vote for Biden? Slower news cycles. Because just this morning we've had these:

So, you know, nothing too interesting.

What if the NTSB investigated our pandemic response?

Private pilot and journalist Jim Fallows suggests an answer:

Consider a thought experiment: What if the NTSB were brought in to look at the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic? What would its investigation conclude? I’ll jump to the answer before laying out the background: This was a journey straight into a mountainside, with countless missed opportunities to turn away. A system was in place to save lives and contain disaster. The people in charge of the system could not be bothered to avoid the doomed course.

The organization below differs from that of a standard NTSB report, but it covers the key points. Timelines of aviation disasters typically start long before the passengers or even the flight crew knew anything was wrong, with problems in the design of the airplane, the procedures of the maintenance crew, the route, or the conditions into which the captain decided to fly. In the worst cases, those decisions doomed the flight even before it took off. My focus here is similarly on conditions and decisions that may have doomed the country even before the first COVID-19 death had been recorded on U.S. soil.

What happened once the disease began spreading in this country was a federal disaster in its own right: Katrina on a national scale, Chernobyl minus the radiation. It involved the failure to test; the failure to trace; the shortage of equipment; the dismissal of masks; the silencing or sidelining of professional scientists; the stream of conflicting, misleading, callous, and recklessly ignorant statements by those who did speak on the national government’s behalf. As late as February 26, Donald Trump notoriously said of the infection rate, “You have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down close to zero.” What happened after that—when those 15 cases became 15,000, and then more than 2 million, en route to a total no one can foretell—will be a central part of the history of our times.

But what happened in the two months before Trump’s statement, when the United States still had a chance of containing the disease where it started or at least buffering its effects, is if anything worse.

How 40% of the voting public can still support this administration baffles me.

In the real world, these would both be career-ending gaffes

This morning, President Trump re-Tweeted a racist video that included a supporter yelling "white power," thanking the elderly Florida gentleman in question for his support. Even though that would end most other presidencies right there, it turns out that this weekend has seen even worse behavior throughout his administration:

Five months after the novel coronavirus was first detected in the United States, a record surge in new cases is the clearest sign yet of the country’s historic failure to control the virus — exposing a crisis in governance extending from the Oval Office to state capitals to city councils.

President Trump — who has repeatedly downplayed the virus, sidelined experts and misled Americans about its dangers and potential cures — now finds his presidency wracked by an inability to shepherd the country through its worst public health calamity in a century. The dysfunction that has long characterized Trump’s White House has been particularly ill-suited for a viral outbreak that requires precision, focus and steady leadership, according to public health experts, administration officials and lawmakers from both parties.

A similarly garbled message for the country has also been put forward by the president’s top aides and other senior administration officials, who contradict one another on a daily basis. On Friday, Vice President Pence used the first White House coronavirus task force briefing in almost two months to praise Trump’s handling of the virus and cast aside concerns about a record spike in new infections.

“We have made a truly remarkable progress in moving our nation forward,” Pence said, a few minutes after announcing that more than 2.5 million Americans had contracted the coronavirus. “We’ve all seen the encouraging news as we open up America again.”

Later Friday, the United States recorded more than 40,000 new coronavirus cases — its largest one-day total.

As one political scientist observed, "We're the only country in the world that has politicized the approach to a pandemic."

We need to get rid of these clowns on November 3rd.

Phase 4? Uh...yay?

Illinois officially moved into Phase 4 of Covid-19 recovery this week, just as two states retreated from it abruptly:

As cases rise around the United States, Florida reported more than 8,900 new coronavirus cases on Friday, after counting more than 10,000 new cases over the previous two days, pushing its total past 120,000.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has said that Florida has the capacity to deal with more sick people for now. Across the state, long lines have returned at testing sites that just a few weeks ago were seeing limited demand. On Thursday, Mr. DeSantis said that he did not intend to move to the next phase of reopening.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas went a step further than Florida, ordering all bars to close on Friday and telling restaurants to reduce operating capacity. It was an abrupt reversal of his previous policy as the nation’s second largest state also grapples with surging coronavirus cases weeks after reopening.

(It's worth noting that in every state that has rising numbers except for California, they have Republican governors.)

Still, though restaurants in Illinois can re-open at 25% capacity, many chefs have refused:

At Elizabeth restaurant, for example, owner Iliana Regan is sticking to take-out only. “If you’ve been here, you know how tiny we are; we only seat 25 people,” Regan said in an email to customers. “So, running at 25% capacity is not economically viable for us. More importantly, though, we don’t feel it’s safe for us to reopen for indoor service. We feel that the risk to our staff and guests is far too great to resume service right now.”

Similarly, Scott Worsham, who with Sari Zernich Worsham owns Bar Biscay and mfk restaurants, is in no hurry to open his dining rooms.

“We are waiting it out because it’s just not safe enough for our employees,” he said. “You saw what happened at Longman & Eagle this last week.” (Longman & Eagle abruptly ended outdoor dining service after one employee tested positive for COVID-19.) “For us to open, at such low numbers, then to have to close again for two weeks, would be a death blow for us.”

The Atlantic looks at Covid-19 safety in detail, and says maybe they have a point:

Ideally, individual people shouldn’t have to determine whether the restrictions in their area are safe and sensible. But here we are: Many states’ reopening plans don’t even meet the standards laid out in guidelines from the White House.

This means that in many cases, you’ll have to try to make an informed decision about what’s safest for you and others. [Linsey Marr, a civil- and environmental-engineering professor at Virginia Tech] laid out the basic calculus: “It depends on your own health, your age, preexisting conditions, how much risk you’re willing to tolerate, and the benefit that the activity could provide to you.” Another crucial variable: how much risk you might be introducing for everyone else around you.

So...basically...let's wait until we have a vaccine before going out again, yes?

Meanwhile, the only president we have until next January has cut funding for Covid-19 research and asked the Supreme Court to overturn the ACA, all this week.

Friendly Anglo-American competition

Parts of the United States and the United Kingdom have started a friendly competition to see which English-speaking country can obviate months of combating Covid-19 in the stupidest ways possible.

Up first, the UK, where so many people have flocked (in the 32°C heat) to the Channel Coast that Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole have declared a major incident:

Bournemouth East MP, Tobias Ellwood, said half a million people had flocked to the beaches and said the situation was so overwhelming that the UK government should step in to help the council deal with the crisis.

He said: “A lot of people have chosen to be not just irresponsible but dangerous. We’ve made such progress tackling this pandemic. I’d hate to see Bournemouth be the one place in Britain that gets that second spike.”

The council leader, Vikki Slade, said: “We are absolutely appalled at the scenes witnessed on our beaches, particularly at Bournemouth and Sandbanks [in neighbouring Poole].

“The irresponsible behaviour and actions of so many people is just shocking and our services are stretched to the absolute hilt trying to keep everyone safe. We have had no choice but to declare a major incident and initiate an emergency response.

“The numbers of people descending down here are like those seen on a bank holiday. We are not in a position to welcome visitors in these numbers now. Please do not come.”

A "major incident" in the UK is similar to a disaster declaration in the US: it allows multiple agencies to coordinate and frees up emergency money.

Not to be outdone, Texas, the state that invented the phrase "hold my beer and watch this," and which had started reopening its economy despite not meeting its own goals for infection and positive-test rates, has now reversed course do to skyrocketing Covid-19 new infections:

“The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. "This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business."

[T]he grim news was not just limited to Texas as the U.S. saw a record number of new coronavirus cases in a single day, with 45,557 reported Wednesday, according to a tally by NBC News.

Southern and Western states like Arizona and Florida that began aggressively reopening around Memorial Day are now seeing staggering spikes that make clear the deadly virus is showing no sign of going away, as President Donald Trump has repeatedly predicted.

I'm not even going to talk about Florida.

Josh Marshall yells into the wind, "this didn't have to happen:"

States around the country, responsive to the President’s messaging, have continued aggressive re-openings while cases were rising. President Trump has also consistently sent a message that basic mitigation strategies like masking are a sign of political affiliation with liberals and Democrats. Put more frankly, he’s being saying they’re for sissies. Republican politicians who rely on his support have backed this messaging and even outlawed cities’ efforts to protect themselves by imposing mitigation strategies at the city level. Since these governors mostly have their political bases of support in rural and exurban areas this amounts to the as yet lightly hit rural regions using their minoritarian political power to prevent the cities from protecting themselves.

So who wins? We'll see what Covid-19 infection rates look like in England's Southeast in two weeks, but for abject stupidity, we're hard to beat.

Ah, the company we keep

If I have to go more than a year without visiting Europe because my fellow Americans are too individualistic to stop the spread of Covid-19, I might have to move there permanently when able:

In case you wondered what President Trump’s glorious triumph over coronavirus looks like to the rest of the world, the news that the European Union may bar Americans from entry due to our spiking cases provides a sobering reality check.

If this goes through, it would mark a continuation of a prohibition that had been in place on travelers from the United States and elsewhere since mid-March. Only now it would be extended through the E.U.’s official reopening in July.

But I want to focus on this remarkable explanation of why this may happen:

Trump, as well as his Russian and Brazilian counterparts, Vladimir V. Putin and Jair Bolsonaro, has followed what critics call a comparable path in their pandemic response that leaves all three countries in a similarly bad spot: they were dismissive at the outset of the crisis, slow to respond to scientific advice and saw a boom of domestic cases as other parts of the world, notably in Europe and Asia, were slowly managing to get their outbreaks under control.

And so, in this, we are parting ways with our Western allies, while being quite similar to Russia and Brazil, whose responses were similarly tangled in their leadership’s disdain for empiricism and science.

I am heartened, however, that the president's declining approval ratings suggest that people have gotten tired of the reality TV show now that reality has intruded.

Yesterday I posted the following on Facebook in response to an acquaintance posting the questionable statement that the ADA allows people to ignore mask regulations:

I don't know if your state has executed legislation requiring you to wear a mask in public. And I don't care.

First, private property owners can deny entrance to anyone on a rational, non-discriminatory basis, particularly when following official guidance. Meaning, if I own a shop, and I make a rule you have to wear a nose-and-mouth covering in my shop, that's property rights. (NB: If I let Karen in without a mask and I make Jim wait outside even though he has a mask, that's discriminatory and illegal under the Civil Rights Act. Fight me.)

Second, the ENTIRE POINT right now is that we are agreeing to waive certain rights in exchange for NOT DYING OR KILLING PEOPLE. I know "civilization" is a new concept on the Internet, but, hey, humans have a million-year tradition of cooperating that I'd like to continue. But, sure, argue in favor of...uh, cytokene storms, I guess, and the rest of us will continue to protect those who can't protect themselves.

Because, ultimately, that's the argument. "Don't tell me what I can and can't do" is the cry of a 5-year-old, not a fully-formed human. We're asking you to do the right thing. And if you refuse, and your refusal puts people at risk of DEATH, then yes, we (your neighbors, friends, and people you voted for to govern shit you didn't have the mental space to govern yourself) will tell you no, we're doing this, because your convenience is less important than your neighbor's kid's life.

So far I have 23 Likes and 6 Loves for that. (My post on Parker's birthday has over 100 Likes, so clearly people have their priorities.)

Afternoon news roundup

My inbox does not respect the fact that I had meetings between my debugging sessions all day. So this all piled up:

Finally, conferencing app Zoom will roll out true end-to-end encryption in July.