The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Illinois vs Florida

Writing in the Independent UK, Chicago-based Noah Berlatsky argues that state leadership has made Illinois a lot better off than, say, Florida:

Illinois' achievement is both a model and an accusation. It points a way forward for other states. It also shows that the disaster facing the country now was thoroughly preventable.

State officials in Illinois have managed to contain the virus by acting early, aggressively, and imaginatively. In mid-March, with only about 100 cases in the state, Chicago's Mayor Lori Lightfoot cancelled the annual St Patrick's Day Parade, and Governor J B Pritzker closed schools. He delivered a shelter-in-place order on March 20.

At the same time, before the the caseload had reached crisis levels, Pritzker brought in proactive measures to increase healthcare capacity. He called retired doctors and nurses to return to work. He also ordered McCormick Place convention center to be converted into a 3,000-bed field hospital — a step that proved unnecessary, but which shows how seriously he took the crisis. The state worked ceaselessly to increase testing, and by early June had enough capacity that anyone in the state concerned about their Covid status could get a test. From less than 10,000 tests a day in April, the state now tests almost 40,000 people daily.

Pritzker's aggressive, multi-pronged efforts to promote masking, social isolation, testing, and healthcare capacity stands in sharp contrast to the actions of governors like Florida's Ron DeSantis. In March, while Pritzker was closing schools and businesses, DeSantis left stay-at-home orders to local authorities, despite a rapidly rising caseload. Since then he's consistently downplayed dangers from the virus, even as cases have spiked over the last week. Disney World is reopening, just as many hospital report they have already run out of ICU beds. And deaths are slowly but ominously creeping up. Florida hit a one-day record high of 120 deaths from Covid on July 9.

Still, Pritzker has shown how much can be done statewide despite Trump's malevolent incompetence. Illinois has not done everything perfectly. But there's no doubt Pritzker has saved hundreds and perhaps thousands of lives. He's largely done the right thing for his constituents. In the coming weeks, I fear we'll see how badly DeSantis and other governors have failed theirs.

We're not perfect, though. Yesterday, while walking the 10 blocks down Clark Street from Addison to Surf, I counted 37 total zeros not wearing masks, 3 half-wits whose masks covered their mouths but not their noses, and 34 good citizens with full mouth and nose coverings. So we have some work to do.

Sure Happy It's Tuesday!

Today's interesting and notable news stories:

Finally, Lawrence Wright explores how historical plagues, particularly the European one in 1347, can sometimes spark radical social change.

The cost of the president's ego

So many months and so many lies ago, the President of the United States doctored a weather map with a Sharpie so that he wouldn't be wrong about saying a hurricane was going to hit Alabama. Yes, he'd rather look stupid than incorrect. But OK, whatever.

Today the Dept of Commerce Inspector General released a 107-page report (!) on the incident, which must have cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in staff time and effort, not to mention it still makes the president look stupid. TPM has more:

[T]he inspector general’s report was delayed for several days because staff from Ross’ office were “actively preventing” its release with vague objections about privileged information, Inspector General Peggy E. Gustafson alleged in a letter last week. The published report Wednesday barely had any redactions.

In response to the report, an attorney for the Commerce Department wrote that “the absence of any formal recommendation shows that there were no major flaws in the Department’s handling of this situation.” Walsh, who is awaiting Senate confirmation to become the department’s official general counsel, said the report’s conclusions were “unsupported by any of the evidence or factual findings that the report itself lays out.”

But the bottom line, per the report, is a simple one: “It was unnecessary to correct the accuracy of a 5-day-old tweet.”

Right. And the president was still wrong.

Somebody call "lunch!"

Stuff to read:

Finally, last June, Jennifer Giesbrecht wrote that "Babylon 5 is the greatest, most terrible SF series." She's mostly right.

The right-wing science counter-revolution

Writing for New Republic, Ari Shulman presents a nuanced and well-thought analysis of the apparent right-wing hostility to science. It's not science per se they object to; rather, they object to what they perceive to be left-wing science:

The panel of experts that Covid skeptics have arrayed provides a case in point. Where mainstream opinion quickly converged on flattening the curve, Boris Johnson sang the praises of a herd immunity strategy, an idea that continues to hold sway among many skeptics in the United States. The Trumpian right’s treatment of masks as a symbol of tyranny claimed to garner credence from public health authority, as journalist Alex Berenson cited the initial divided view on the mask question as a telling lack of evidence. Likewise, where polite opinion early in the pandemic had held that the virus isn’t as bad as flu, Trumpian skeptics echoed that refrain as all-but-proven science, just as they’ve also sought to downplay the pandemic’s high fatality rate, theorizing vast numbers of undetected, asymptomatic cases—which would mean that society is already close to acquiring herd immunity.

Each of these views was backed by elaborate interpretations of the evidence, and propounded by a cadre of scientists and self-appointed epidemiologists. And these figures, in turn, gained rapid celebrity on the right as brave truth-tellers to a hysterical orthodoxy.

It is tempting for anyone who’s tried to adapt to the shifting expert consensus on Covid-19 to defend, at least in broad strokes, the “Republican war on science” narrative by arguing that the emerging cohort of counter-experts on the right are simply cranks. But most of these figures are genuine experts, albeit not all in the fields on which they opine. More to the point, they all adeptly borrow from the methodologies and rationalist rhetoric of scientific inquiry.

The product of these dynamics has not been, as we are often told, a Republican rejection of science itself—of its methodologies, its hunger for knowledge of the world, its desire for mastery over nature, its admiration for the excellence on display in rational inquiry. Rather, it has been the adoption of an outsider’s stance to the current scientific establishment—to its particular institutions, and to the pronouncements of its expert class.

In these corrosive, shallow, interminable debates about science, what is most sorely missing is any talk of judgment. It is impossible to understand how experts arrive at their advice, or how leaders use it wisely, apart from the exercise of judgment. Though we might think this point is obvious, it is belied by the common image of science as a neutral, even godlike encounter with eternal, capital-T Truth.

The whole essay is worth the time.

Everything go boom

Chicago had no official Independence Day fireworks display this year, because we didn't want to encourage a million people to converge on Grant Park. Instead, we appear to have had a record number of, ah, unofficial displays:

The 911 call center received 9,092 calls between June 28 and Sunday, approximately three times the number of calls received in the same time period last year, according to data provided by Mary May, an Office of Emergency Management and Communications spokesperson.

As of Sunday, the city had received a total of 19,925 fireworks-related calls this year, compared with 4,612 calls by the same date last year — a 332% increase.

Several Indiana fireworks stores faced shortages in supply leading up to July 4. Illinoisans looking to buy fireworks often travel to neighboring states such as Indiana, where sale and possession of consumer pyrotechnics are legal.

The Chicago Fire Department responded to 33 calls and made 26 transports due to fireworks-related injuries from Friday to Sunday of the July 4 weekend, Meritt said.

Let that not obscure the problem that Chicago also has way more illegal firearms these days. This weekend, people shot and killed 17 others, including a 7-year-old girl. And because of the 2nd Amendment fanatics in rural areas, we don't have the tools we need to clamp down on it.

Thanks, imbeciles

Because Covid-19 infections have started to climb again after just a few weeks of slowly dropping, the worst-affected states (coincidentally those with Republican governors who really, really wanted to re-open the economy) have had to slam on the brakes again.

John Scalzi is pissed:

Nearly every other Western country in the world has seen their infection rates drop down from the March/April time frame, but we haven’t, and now our leaders want to suggest that this is just the way it is and we’ll have to “live with it.” In fact, it’s not the way it is, or at least, wasn’t what it had to be. The reason we’re in this mess is that the GOP followed Trump’s lead in deciding this was a political issue instead of a health and science issue, and radicalized its base against dead simple measures like wearing masks and other such practices, and against waiting until infection rates dropped sufficiently to try to open up businesses again, because apparently they thought capitalism was magic and would work without reasonably fit humans.

It also means that all that time we spent in quarantine in March, April and May was effectively for nothing, and that if we want to actually get hold of this thing we’ll have to go back in quarantine again, at least through September and possibly for all of the rest of 2020.

We could have managed this thing — like nearly every other country has — if we had political leadership that wasn’t inept and happy to use the greatest public health crisis in decades as political leverage for… well, who knows? Most of the areas being hit hardest now — places like Florida, Arizona, and Texas — are deep red states; there is no political advantage to be had by having them hit by infection and death and economic uncertainty four months before a national election. The fact that Joe Biden is currently in a statistical tie with Trump in Texas voter polls should terrify the GOP. I don’t expect Biden to get Texas’ electoral votes in November, but honestly it shouldn’t even be this close now. And the thing is, things are almost certainly going to get worse in Texas before they get better.

Every vote for President Trump in November is a vote for this abject stupidity.

Trump to Country: Drop Dead

Josh Marshall sums up the criminal negligence of the president and his enablers:

The US is not experiencing a surge. We are back to exponential growth in the virus just as most of the rest of the wealthy, industrialized world is moving on. COVID is not done for them of course. There are masks and mitigation and distancing and people are still falling ill. Some are dying. But most of these countries have beaten Covid down into low enough numbers that they can get about the business of a new form of social and economic life.

More than 57,000 new cases were reported [July 3rd]. I was dumbfounded by that number even though the trend pointed to it. This is almost triple the number of cases of three weeks ago. This is a national catastrophe and one due almost all to ourselves, to a litany of horrible decisions and even more simple abdications of responsibility.

The White House tonight it’s shifting to a new message: “We need to live with it.” It is this brazen effrontery to point us to their failure and tell us, “deal. That’s just how it is.”

We are often helpless before nature and fate but the different outcomes in so many life parts of the world that it is neither nature or fate which have brought us to this pass.

Being President is a hard job and this was an historic challenge. That’s the job. It’s on you. You may not be at fault but you’re responsible. You can imagine good presidents of the past and bad struggling under the weight of this crisis. He’s done none of that. It’s all been a matter of blaming states for not having enough ventilators or tests, making covid denial a centerpiece of his movement. His whole record in the crisis has been denial and then finding nonsensical arguments that a crisis befalling the country to which he was elected head of state somehow has nothing to do with him.

None of this had to happen. It is a failure of cataclysmic proportions. It has many roots. It has revealed many insufficiencies and failures in our society. But the scale of it, the unifying force is a man who never should have been president, who has abandoned his responsibility to lead and protect the country, making it every state for itself, a chaos only organized by a shiftless and shambling effort to help himself at all costs at every point.

This morning, as is my habit on July 4th, I posted a portion of the Declaration of Independence on Facebook. I chose this section this year:

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

As one of my friends said, "Everything old is new again."

Holiday weekend

Tomorrow a good portion of the United States will celebrate our independence from the UK. NPR this morning reminded me about the portion of the US that Frederick Douglass described in his speech to the Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, N.Y., on 5 July 1852.

I think everyone should take 15 minutes and listen to it. Or read it, in full here. Or watch James Earl Jones read part of it here:

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: