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Justin Amash just announced an exploratory committee for a bid for the White House

Jane Coaston writing in Vox:

‘Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI), a libertarian House representative and frequent critic of Donald Trump’s presidency, announced his intention on Tuesday to launch an exploratory committee to examine a run for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination.

…Conservatives (and libertarians) are divided on the potential of Amash’s run, with some arguing that Amash could take valuable votes away from Democratic nominee Joe Biden and help Donald Trump. The actual research on third-party voters is a little complicated. Because so few Americans vote third party, it’s often hard to say if they have a real impact on the outcome of the race. But it’s certainly a get for the Libertarian Party. Candidate Jacob Hornberger told Reason Magazine that an outside candidacy could help the Libertarian Party. “When these people come in from outside the party, it provides a prestige factor.”…’

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Some totally non-sarcastic praise of Trump’s comic genius

Unknown

Dana Milbank writing in The Washington Post:

‘In conventional usage, sarcasm, from the Greek “sarkasmos,” or sneer, means to use irony in a cutting way — often enthusiastically stating the opposite of what one means. But like all pioneers in the field of comedy, Trump has shifted the boundaries so that “sarcastic” means, roughly, “a term applied retroactively to something I wish I hadn’t said.”
For example…’

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Combination of Foods We Eat May Affect Dementia Risk

Janice Wood writing in PsychCentral:

‘Researchers found that while there were few differences in the amount of individual foods that people ate, overall food groups or networks differed substantially between people who had dementia and those who did not have dementia.

“Processed meats were a ‘hub’ in the food networks of people with dementia,” said Samieri. “People who developed dementia were more likely to combine highly processed meats such as sausages, cured meats, and patés with starchy foods like potatoes, alcohol, and snacks like cookies and cakes.

“This may suggest that the frequency with which processed meat is combined with other unhealthy foods, rather than average quantity, may be important for dementia risk. For example, people with dementia were more likely, when they ate processed meat, to accompany it with potatoes and people without dementia were more likely to accompany meat with more diverse foods, including fruit and vegetables and seafood.”…’

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Republican Groups’Scathing Anti-Trump Ads

Lee Moran writing in HuffPost:

‘Two conservative groups that are working to defeat Donald Trump in the 2020 election released online ads Friday attacking the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Lincoln Project, of which conservative attorney George Conway (the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway) is a prominent member, released this video asking which kind of American its viewers would like to be ― one, like Trump, who demands, or one who makes sacrifices.

Republicans for the Rule of Law, meanwhile, shared a minute-long video of Trump musing during Thursday’s task force briefing about injecting disinfectant to combat the virus. Trump claimed Friday he was being sarcastic.

“50,000 people have died. This is our president,” read the text at the start of the clip. It ended with the words: “Unfit. Unwell. Unacceptable.”…’

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Trump goes into hiding

Oliver Darcy writing in CNN:

‘It looks like President Trump is going into hiding — from the press, that is. Facing an avalanche of controversy over his bizarre comments on sunlight and dangerous comments regarding disinfectants, the President held a record short briefing Friday evening (sans Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx), abruptly ending it after 22 minutes of statements without taking any questions from the press.

On CNN, Wolf Blitzer called Trump “chicken” and said he was “probably afraid” of the grilling he was all but certain to face over the “flat lie” he told the day before regarding disinfectants. Later in the night, Anderson Cooper, who argued Trump was guilty of “Soviet”-like spin for pretending his comments were sarcastic during a bill signing, said he “cut and ran” because he knew he’d face hard questions.

CNN and other news organizations, including Axios which broke the news, reported Friday eveningthat there has been an effort among White House aides to stop holding daily coronavirus briefings. And the schedule released for Saturday shows no briefings scheduled…

The move comes after Trump even started receiving criticism from Fox. When he tried to claim that he was merely being sarcastic with his disinfectant remarks, anchors like Neil Cavuto and Bret Baier pushed back. “Wow, that is a little unsettling,” said Cavuto. “Got to clarify this. The president was not joking in his remarks yesterday.” And Baier said Trump “clearly stepped in it” and did not appear to be joking…’

Link

Donald Trump, American Idiot

Umair Haque writing in Medium:

‘Immortalized in a song by a SoCal punk band, the American idiot is a figure everyone knows — and Americans, too often, don’t want to admit exists. When I say everyone, I mean everyone. Everyone in my dog park, everyone in the world.

Consider, for a moment, the actions of the American President since the beginning of the pandemic.

— Denying there was one

— Passing an inadequate stimulus bill

— Obstructing any kind of national strategy

— Encouraging “lockdown liberation” protesters

— Cutting funding for the WHO

— And finally, telling people to…drink Lysol

That, my friends, will be remembered as one of the textbook examples of what it means to be an American idiot.

So what does it mean, really? This morning at the dog park, I got ribbed by Massimo and Ben for the above. Yesterday, when I was at the dog park, I got asked, puzzled, by Wolfgang, the funny and gentle German, if it was really true: did Americans carry guns to Starbucks? I looked at him like a deer caught in the headlights of an approaching freight train. Then I nodded and shrugged. “But why?!” he asked, astonished.

He had a point. The point is made to me every single day now, in baffled conservations, in bewildered questions, in shocked and stunned observations: what the hell is wrong with Americans? Are they really this crazy? They can’t be. But they keep on…so are they? What the?

The world, you see, looks at America, and sees something very different than Americans do. It doesn’t just see a lunatic demagogue telling people to drink Lysol after cutting funding for the WHO. It sees a nation of people quicker to carry a gun than read a book, who’ll happily deny their neighbor’s kids healthcare but go to church every Sunday, who predictably, consistently vote against any improvement to their standards of living…which by now have reached standards that people in most of the rest of the world literally don’t believe, and neither do Americans.

If I tell you, for example, the simple fact that a 15 year old boy in Bangladesh now has a higher chance of making it to old age than an America, would you believe me? And yet…it’s true.

American life is made up of a series of abuses and exploitations and degradations that shock the rest of the world — all of it, not just some of it. You’re a kid, and you go to school, where armed, masked men burst in, and fire fake bullets at you — “active shooter drills.” Maybe you go into “lunch debt.” When it’s time to go off to college — good luck, it’s going to cost as much as a home. Therefore, you can forget about every really owning much, because you’re trying to pay off a series of mounting debts your whole life long. By middle age, like most Americans, you’re simply unable to make ends meet — who can, when going to the hospital can cost more than a mansion? Therefore, forget retirement — it’s something that vanished long ago. Maybe you’re working at Walmart in your old age, maybe you’re driving an Uber — but you’re still where you always were, being exploited and abused for pennies, to make the ultra rich richer.

Nobody — and I mean nobody — in the rest of the world thinks this is sane, normal, or desirable. Nobody. It’s so far right that even the hardest of European right eschews such a social model. The left, of course, points out how badly capitalism has failed — and it’s right. America is off the charts — a society so far into collapse that it can’t see normality at all anymore. It doesn’t even appear to vaguely remember that it’s not OK for everyone, more or less, to be exploited their whole lives long.

That brings me back to the American idiot. I don’t say the above to write a jeremiad, but to explain the American idiot to Americans, which is a job that I think sorely needs doing. Not for any lack of trying, perhaps — but certainly for a lack of success.

“The American idiot” isn’t an insult. It’s a term with a precise and specific meaning. The Greeks called those only interested in private life “idiots” — that is what the term really means. So it is for Americans.

What unites those “lockdown liberation” protesters, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, McKinsey and Co running concentration camps, and Faux News?They are all in it for private gain. There is no sense of a common wealth or of a public interest or a shared good whatsoever. In fact, even that’s an understatement.

This way of thinking stems from Ayn Rand, who was an acolyte of Nietzsche’s harder, later more embittered thinking, and to it, the idea of any kind of common good is itself a lie. To even imagine a common good or public interest is to do damage. To what? To the Uberman. To the Zarathustra. To the “master morality”, which must dominate the “slave morality”, is the world is to be fair…’

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Biden Predicts Trump Will Try To Delay Election To Help Chances Of Winning

silhouette of statue near trump building at daytime
Photo by Carlos Herrero on Pexels.com

Christina Cabrera writing in TPM:

‘Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said on Thursday that he anticipated President Donald Trump trying to pull some kind of scheme to push back this year’s election in order to boost his own chances of victory.

“Mark my words, I think he is gonna try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can’t be held,” Biden said during a Q&A at a virtual fundraising event.

He noted Trump’s refusal to fund the U.S. Postal Service, which is struggling under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic, as lawmakers across the country push for mail-in voting to keep the virus from spreading….’

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Wildlife Photographer Christina Mittermeier on the White Rhinos:

wr.‘Please step forward in support of @olpejeta, home to the last two northern white rhinos on the planet. There’s an opportunity right now to win a trip there yourself! For a donation of just $10, the winner will get to go on safari to meet the rhinos. Ami will also give you a private photography workshop there. She is one of my favorite people in the world and one of my favorite photographers. I know that she will be an exceptional teacher. You will also gain firsthand knowledge about the incredible efforts to save rhino and other species from extinction. The trip will be scheduled only when it’s safe to travel. Please donate at omaze.com/safari.

 

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Where Have All the Heart Attacks Gone?

Harlan Krumholz, M.D., professor of medicine at Yale:

As we fight coronavirus, we need to combat perceptions that everyone else must stay away from the hospital. The pandemic toll will be much worse if it leads people to avoid care for life-threatening, yet treatable, conditions like heart attacks and strokes.

via New York Times

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You Can’t Go Home Again: Inside Wuhan’s Postsurge Return to Life

undefinedSo far, Wuhan’s answer has been to create a version of normal that would appear utterly alien to people in London, Milan, or New York—at least for the moment. While daily routines have largely resumed, there remain significant restrictions on a huge range of activities, from funerals to hosting visitors at home. Bolstered by China’s powerful surveillance state, even the simplest interactions are mediated by a vast infrastructure of public and private monitoring intended to ensure that no infection goes undetected for more than a few hours.

But inasmuch as citizens can return to living as they did before January, it’s not clear, after what they’ve endured, that they really want to. Shopping malls and department stores are open again, but largely empty. The same is true of restaurants; people are ordering in instead. The subway is quiet, but autos are selling: If being stuck in traffic is annoying, at least it’s socially distanced.

via Bloomberg

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The Boston Dynamics Coronavirus Doctor Robot Dog Will See You Now

boston dynamics robot named spotIf the age of the coronavirus is anything, it’s surreal. And one of the most surreal things yet is happening at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where help has arrived not from extra human medical professionals, but in the form of famous Boston Dynamics robot dog Spot, now traipsing around with a tablet for a face. Spot’s new job is to be an avatar for hospital workers, who remotely operate the machine and speak to patients through the tablet, keeping staffers at a safe distance from sick people.

And even more remarkably, the patients haven’t been freaking out and noping right back home. “Part of it may be that we’re in this strange world of Covid, where it’s almost like anything goes,” says Dr. Peter Chai, of the hospital’s department of emergency medicine. “I think everybody, at least at this point, is starting to get the fact that we’re trying to limit exposure.”

 

..[T]heoretically, they’re the ideal medical professionals. They don’t get sick, they don’t need breaks, and they can do menial tasks like delivering supplies. All of these would free up real doctors and nurses to tend to patients.

via WIRED

Has anyone else read William Gibson’s Agency yet, in which a very similar creature plays an important part?

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Anti-lockdown protestor: “Sacrifice the Weak”

Rob Beschizza writing in Boing Boing:

‘Someone carrying a “Sacrifice the Weak” sign was spotted at one of the lighty-attended “reopen” marches that cable TV is hyping as the rebirth of the Tea Party.

Their banner read ‘Sacrifice the weak, reopen TN,’ and was spotted in the background of a news report by WKRN reporter Elizabeth Lane. Their sentiments were echoed on marginally-less offensive placards elsewhere at the same protest, with one woman toting a sign saying ‘Trust God for safety not man.’ Another woman who appeared to be along with her held a sign taking aim at ongoing efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine, which said: ‘Natural immunity over man-made poison.’

To think conservatives made the sanctity of life the centerpiece of their political lives, to the point where abortion may soon be made inaccessible to many women in America, only to discard whatever vestigial moral pretenses lurk in their belief system so they can get some ice cream….’

Link

Earth Day 2020: 7 things we’ve learned since the last Earth Day

‘1) We live with a lot of air pollution, but we can reduce it pretty quickly…
2) The virus that causes Covid-19 almost certainly originated in bats. Many more potential pandemic viruses are out there, lurking…
3) Life keeps disappearing at a stunning pace and scale…
4) We keep discovering new species and learning new facts about old ones …
5) In Australia, volatile weather and climate change converged to feed massive wildfires…
6) Satellites are beginning to obscure our view of the night sky…
7) Trees are superheroes, and the world is starting to recognize it…’

via  Vox

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Coronavirus second wave in winter 2020 could be worse, CDC director warns

Xeni Jardin writing in Boing Boing:

‘Winter is coming.

As a number of states rush forward to reopen their economies, Director Robert Redfield of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday a likely second wave of the novel coronavirus will be far more dire, because if it hits in the winter as predicted, it will coincide with onset of flu season.

“There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” CDC Director Robert Redfield told the Washington Post today. … “We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time,” he warned….’

Link

What the anti-stay-at-home protests are really about

‘Anti-social distancing and anti-stay-at-home order rallies are cropping up across the country, reminiscent of the early days of the Tea Party, when well-funded right-leaning groups lit a fire under an already outraged Republican base and helped ignite a political movement.

In fact, Adam Brandon, president of FreedomWorks, a right-leaning advocacy group that helped support the Tea Party movement back in 2009, said in an interview that “this has the same DNA [as] the Tea Party movement.”

The events — some, like in Michigan, featuring thousands of attendees — are organized largely by conservative groups calling state-based measures too draconian. Some of the groups have posted links and images on Facebook that downplay the seriousness of the virus. And other leaders have advocated against following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, like a ban on big gatherings and the recommendation to wearing face masks in certain public settings (because wearing them would be “counterproductive”). Some of the protests have taken on the feel of 2016 Trump campaign rallies, with participants wearing Make America Great Again hats and waving flags emblazoned with the president’s face…’

Via Vox

It may be that their stance will be fatal… 

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Experts say it may be time for grocery stores to ban customers from coming inside

Via CNN:

‘Dozens of grocery store workers have died from the coronavirus, despite masks, temperature checks and capacity restrictions to keep them safe. So far, supermarkets have resisted the most draconian policy: banning customers from coming inside.

However, some worker experts, union leaders and small grocery owners believe it has become too dangerous to let customers browse aisles, coming into close range with workers. Grocery stores are still flooded with customers, and experts say it’s time for large chains to go “dark” to the public and convert to curbside pickup and home delivery for food and other essential goods….’

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Trump is insane and it’s time for leading Democrats to say that out loud

David Masciotra writing in Salon:

‘No Democratic governor, even one with considerable power and influence like California’s Gavin Newsom or New York’s Andrew Cuomo, can afford to gamble with the health of his or her people by alienating Trump. But a prominent U.S. senator — perhaps Chris Murphy of Connecticut or Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — or even Joe Biden himself, must level with the country about what anyone outside Trump’s cult following can see with their own eyes. The president is sick. It’s time to talk about it.

A recent profile in the New Yorker of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quoted a staffer as claiming that behind closed doors McConnell has described Trump as “nuts.” Democrats should demand to know if the Republican Senate mastermind truly believes that the president is impaired, and force McConnell to choose between yet more lies and the future of his country.

Democrats should also get over their concerns about angering Trump supporters. Anyone who continues to applaud Trump’s weird and reckless disregard for humanity at this point is beyond the limit of rational persuasion. Trump supporters live in a hallucinatory dreamscape under the authority of a maniac. Let them have their anti-social distancing rallies, and allow them to believe that Barack Obama invented COVID-19 shortly after he was born in Kenya….’

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The New Cringeworthy

Marina Koren writing in The Atlantic:

‘The response to the pandemic has created a collective aversion to previously innocuous behaviors and settings…

“I was like, Why am I reacting this way? What’s happening?” [he] recounted to me recently. “And then I realized: Oh, I’m actually reacting to each time they touch their face.”…’

Link

“I’m an E.R. Doctor in New York. None of Us Will Ever Be the Same”

This long New York Times piece by an E.R. doctor and writer is worth your while as a cure for the complacency and numbness we are all feeling, perhaps largely unrecognized. Going into the hospital to do my job as a doctor each day, it has become automatic and unfeeling to don my protective gear and keep my distance. This piece is a window into the soul of someone on the front lines (I am not) and the toll that the ‘new normal’ is taking. If she worries (as she reflects in the piece) if it is even worth it being a physician anymore in the face of this virus which paralyzes thinking, feeling and caring people with its apparent ability to do what it will, perhaps writing this is redeeming.  Moral injury from dealing with the epidemic will be a persistent and  growing problem long after people have come off the respirators and stopped dying from the virus. I hope my capacities as a mental health professional can be of some use in adressing it going forward.

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R.I.P. Lee Konitz, 92

 

Jazz Saxophonist Dead at 92 From COVID-19

‘One of the most influential alto saxophone soloists of the modern age, Lee Konitz, died in a New York hospital on 15 April, aged 92, after contracting COVID-19.

The gifted improviser performed with dozens of first-class musicians throughout his career, including Miles Davis, Kenny Burrell, Stan Getz, Bud Powell, Chick Corea and Gerry Mulligan….’

– Martin Chilton writing in uDiscover

 

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Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting

Julio Vincent Gambuto writing in Medium:

‘What is about to be unleashed on American society will be the greatest campaign ever created to get you to feel normal again. It will come from brands, it will come from government, it will even come from each other, and it will come from the left and from the right. We will do anything, spend anything, believe anything, just so we can take away how horribly uncomfortable all of this feels. And on top of that, just to turn the screw that much more, will be the one effort that’s even greater: the all-out blitz to make you believe you never saw what you saw. The air wasn’t really cleaner; those images were fake. The hospitals weren’t really a war zone; those stories were hyperbole. The numbers were not that high; the press is lying. You didn’t see people in masks standing in the rain risking their lives to vote. Not in America. You didn’t see the leader of the free world push an unproven miracle drug like a late-night infomercial salesman. That was a crisis update. You didn’t see homeless people dead on the street. You didn’t see inequality. You didn’t see indifference. You didn’t see utter failure of leadership and systems…

From one citizen to another, I beg of you: take a deep breath, ignore the deafening noise, and think deeply about what you want to put back into your life. This is our chance to define a new version of normal, a rare and truly sacred (yes, sacred) opportunity to get rid of the bullshit and to only bring back what works for us, what makes our lives richer, what makes our kids happier, what makes us truly proud. We get to Marie Kondo the shit out of it all. We care deeply about one another. That is clear. That can be seen in every supportive Facebook post, in every meal dropped off for a neighbor, in every Zoom birthday party. We are a good people. And as a good people, we want to define — on our own terms — what this country looks like in five, 10, 50 years. This is our chance to do that, the biggest one we have ever gotten. And the best one we’ll ever get.

…If we want cleaner air, we can make it happen. If we want to protect our doctors and nurses from the next virus — and protect all Americans — we can make it happen. If we want our neighbors and friends to earn a dignified income, we can make that happen. If we want millions of kids to be able to eat if suddenly their school is closed, we can make that happen. And, yes, if we just want to live a simpler life, we can make that happen, too. But only if we resist the massive gaslighting that is about to come. It’s on its way. Look out….’

Link

What Does Covid-19 Do to Your Brain?

Via Wired:

‘Scientists are racing to figure out why some patients also develop neurological ailments like confusion, stroke, seizure, or loss of smell….’

My thoughts:

All vulnerable patients with infectious illnesses can suffer mental status alterations. High fevers make patients delirious. (The first thing investigated in the emergency room in an acute confusional presentation in a frail elder is the possibility of a urinary tract infection.)

It is possible that the coronavirus can directly invade the CNS but it is not known yet if it can cross the blood-brain barrier. The CNS effects may instead be due to the immune response provoked by the infection, which induces the secretion of immune-active molecules called cytokines. This so-called ‘cytokine storm’, which is also seen as a rare complication of other viral infections such as the flu, has the potential to attack and damage brain tissue.

One piece of evidence about whether the neurological complications are caused by direct viral invasion of the brain or indirect immune-response effects is whether viral particles are found in cerebrospinal fluid obtained by lumbar puncture from affected individuals. Case reports are contradictory with regard to CSF findings. There are not yet good guidelines or standardized protocols for detecting the virus in cerebrospinal fluid, which is a different process than testing nasal or throat swabs.

During the 2003 epidemic with the related coronavirus that caused SARS, which killed 774 people, a proportion of the autopsies performed on victims detected the viral genome in brain tissue in addition to its widespread presence in other organs. In animal models, SARS-CoV inoculated nasally rapidly spread into the brain via the olfactory neurons, showing a preference for the brainstem (which is involved in the control of respiration), and often caused death. The 1993 SARS-CoV and the current SARS-CoV2 which causes CoVid-19 both use the same cell surface receptor, ACE2, as their portals of entry into human cells.

Neurological symptoms likely only affect a proportion of infected patients. Reports first appeared in February in which 36% of a series of patients from Wuhan demonstrated neurological effects. Most were nonspecific (headaches, dizziness, or confusion) but a few patients had distinct neurological syndromes including strokes, prolonged seizures, and anosmia (loss of sense of smell). In some patients, the neurological symptoms preceded respiratory illness.

Interestingly, reports suggest that sudden anosmia may be more common than appreciated and one of the first symptoms of the infection. The olfactory receptors in the nose are “the only central nervous system cells exposed to the exterior world”, said one neuroscientist, and this might be the first place you would see CNS signs of CoVid infection if it was one of the virus’ behaviors. On the other hand, some clinicians think the loss of sense of smell is not a direct effect of the coronavirus infection. Some research suggests that human olfactory neurons do not express the ACE2 receptor, unlike other cells in the respiratory tract. Some theorize that the virus affects support cells for the olfactory neurons instead of those neurons themselves. Others suggest that the loss of smell may be due to secondary infection of the nasopharynx by Candida (yeast) in infected individuals.

A historical parallel to the neurological impact of CoVid-19 may exist. During and after the 1918 “Spanish flu’ epidemic, the world saw an epidemic of an atypical form of brain infection known as encephalitis lethargica or ‘sleeping sickness’ (as distinct from the African sleeping sickness transmitted by tsetse flies), which affected nearly 5 million people around the world between 1915-1926. A third died and many of those who survived where permanently neurologically impaired, left in a speechless, apathetic and immobile condition. Others, who appeared to make a complete recovery, developed neurological or psychiatric disorders years or decades later, e.g. the postencephalitic Parkinsonism which was the basis of the patients described in neurologist Oliver Sacks’ book Awakenings. Interestingly, there is speculation that Adolf Hitler may have had encephalitis lethargica as a young adult. There is strong evidence that he had Parkinsonism in his later years, and one one could certainly speculate that he suffered from mental health disturbances.

No recurrence of this epidemic has been reported. Although the cause of the brain infection remains uncertain, the strong correlation to the influenza epidemic suggests a causal link. Immunological evidence of influenza infection was frequently found in encephalitis lethargica patients, although recent studies show that no viral RNA appears in the few 100-year old samples of brain tissue from these patients. As argued above with respect to the coronavirus, while CNS pathology may be due to direct infection of the brain, a virus may or may not be able to cross the blood-brain barrier and enter the CNS. An alternative mechanism may be via an autoimmune response.

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Unholy anorexia

Neuropsychologist-writer  Paul Broks, in Aeon:

‘Medieval mystics starved the body to feed the soul. Understanding this perfectionist mindset could help treat anorexia today…

I am prepared to speculate that disgust will eventually prove crucial to understanding the anorectic mindset, medieval and modern. …With eating behaviour at its evolutionary root, physical disgust elaborates biologically and culturally to shape mental attitudes towards the body of a kind that, in vulnerable individuals, sets body and mind in conflict. The holy anorexics’ quest was spiritual purity, whereas their present-day counterparts are driven by a warped notion of physical perfection. But in both its medieval and modern forms, anorexia is a self-destructive expression of ‘mind over matter’, a way of asserting mental over physical selfhood. Self-loathing and shame, derivatives of disgust, are the main drivers….’

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Donald Trump threatens to adjourn Congress unilaterally. Can he do that?

Dahlia Lithwick writing about what would be unprecedented power grab in Slate:

‘At his coronavirus press conference on Wednesday, President Donald Trump issued a stunning threat-slash-promise-slash-constitutional fantasy. Complaining that Democrats were blocking his judicial appointees, the president said that the Senate should either end its current pro forma session and come back to Washington amidst a pandemic to approve his appointees or officially adjourn so that he can make recess appointments. “The Senate has left Washington until at least May 4,” Trump said. “The Constitution provides a mechanism for the president to fill positions in such circumstances, the recess appointment it’s called. The Senate’s practice of gaveling into so-called pro forma sessions where no one is even there has prevented me from using the constitutional authority that we’re given under the recess provisions. The Senate should either fulfill its duty and vote on my nominees or it should formally adjourn so that I can make recess appointments.”

 
“If the House will not agree to that adjournment,” he continued, “I will exercise my constitutional authority to adjourn both chambers of Congress. The current practice of leaving of town while conducting phony pro forma sessions is a dereliction of duty that the American people cannot afford during this crisis. It is a scam what they do.”

Trump is likely referencing Article 2, Section 3 of the Constitution, which provides that the president can “on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper.” Does he have the power to actually do this, though? According to this 1964 article from the New York Times the Senate Parliamentarian issued an opinion in that year, regarding presidential authority to adjourn Congress: “The answer is yes—but only under, certain unusual circumstances. These conditions are so limited that a President has never exercised the power to adjourn Congress.” …’

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Will coronavirus fracture the United States into regional blocs?

Ezra Marcus writing in mic.com:

‘Depictions of American federalism gone haywire have a storied history in near-future science fiction. In Paolo Bacigalupi’s 2015 novel The Water Knife, southwestern states militarize their borders, raise armies, and wage war over shrinking water resources. Neal Stephenson’s epic 2019 novel Fall depicted a country divided into a coastal democracy and a tyrannical heartland theocracy called “Ameristan.” In the 1981 film Escape from New York, Manhattan is a Supermax prison surrounded by towering walls. When Americans imagine a dystopian future, the idea of regions fractured by conflict looms large.

 
The coronavirus pandemic has brought these concepts out of the realm of fantasy. In the absence of a cohesive federal response to the crisis, states have taken it upon themselves to form regional blocs. Powerful blue state regions, including the West Coast and the Northeast, have taken the lead.Imagine, for example, if more governors follow the lead of South Dakota’s Republican leader Kristin Noem, who is just one of eight governors nationwide who have refused to issue stay-at-home orders. Will a coalition of like-minded obstinates form to counter the coastal leaders? …

 
If Trump demands that states re-open, and the West Coast states refuse, a conservative-minded Mountain West Economic Development Zone incorporating Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas, and Wyoming could jump at the chance to follow White House orders. So might a neo-confederacy of Gulf states, aligned with conservative Midwest bastions like Indiana. It could become like regional musical chairs, with millions of Americans suddenly living under vastly different scenarios than those in neighboring states.

And then, say if coronavirus were to flare up in the newly reopened states, the West Coast bloc could conceivably close its entire Eastern border to limit exposure to new cases. Picture thousands of cars backed up on I-80, as the California Highway Patrol takes the temperature of every driver coming in from Nevada. There could be regional caste systems based on levels of herd immunity and the availability of routine serological testing, with immunity passports required to go to work or cross state lines…’

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Trump says his “authority is total”

Xeni Jardin writing in Boing Boing:

‘During a totally unhinged coronavirus briefing that was a verbal abuse session and campaign rally, impeached and manifestly unfit U.S. president Donald Trump said “When somebody is the President of the United States, the authority is total.”

TRUMP:
When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total. And that’s the way it’s gotta be… It’s total and the governors know that.

That’s it, folks. That’s the blog post.

Nothing matters….’

Something that at any other point in history would be considered infamously momentous barely rates a notice now. 

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Supercut of every stop-motion monster Ray Harryhausen ever animated

Via Boing Boing:

‘Ray Harryhausen was a pioneer of stop-motion animation who won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 1949 for his work on Mighty Joe Young with Willis H. O’Brien.

He was created the infamous skeleton sword fight from 1963’s Jason and the Argonauts, and also worked on similar big-monster classics like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Clash of the Titans. As you can see in the video, it’s an impressively meticulous body of work!…’

Utterly delightful. The stuff of my childhood nightmares. 

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Astronomers Spot the Brightest Supernova Ever Recorded

 

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Ryan Mandelbaum writing in Gizmodo:

‘Back in 2016, a telescope spotted a supernova flaring so brightly that it far outshone its own galaxy. The exploded star continued emitting radiation for more than 1,000 days, unleashing more energy than any supernova previously documented. But that’s only the start of the story.

The supernova, named SN2016aps, was unlike any supernova on record, lasting for so long that postdocs became professors while still studying it. Not only was it a big show, but it was also a massive one, with five to 10 times the mass of a typical supernova. It was one of the largest stars ever seen to explode. Researchers hope it will help them understand some of the universe’s early epochs….’

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Trump’s GOP Friends Want Him To Stop Talking

Nicole Lafond writing in TPM:

‘Some of President Trump’s closes allies would like him to stop talking now.

And they’re saying it publicly.

While the New York Times cited several unnamed sources in this new report on Trump’s coronavirus briefings, there were also a handful of familiar names who spoke on the record urging Trump to stop participating in the daily pressers. Several White House allies, campaign members and Republicans lawmakers told the Times that Trump’s appearance is hurting him more than helping him.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a close ally and golf partner of the President, told the Times that Trump “sometimes drowns out his own message” and said he has encouraged Trump to decrease his appearances to “a once-a-week show.” Other Republican senators were willing to openly cringe at the daily briefings on-the-record as well: Sen. Shelly Moore (WV) said they tend to go “off the rails a little bit” and Sen. Susan Brooks (IN) criticized the length.

But the TV President is unlikely to be swayed. Administration officials told the Times that he’s expressed to aides he enjoys the free air time, which is unsurprising for a president who tweets about the “ratings” of his pandemic mitigating press conferences as thousands of Americans die of the virus…’

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Stanford Medicine National Daily Health Survey for COVID-19

 

Via Stanford University:

‘Our goal is to learn and predict which geographical areas will be most impacted by coronavirus based on how you are feeling.  This information will be used to inform local and national responses, such as redirecting medical resources or improving policies and public guidance.  Given the 9-10 day delay between onset of symptoms and hospitalization, and the 20% hospitalization rate of patients, tools like this will be necessary to truly track and fight the spread.

Your involvement will hopefully help save lives….’

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Report: Trump Privately Asks Why Government Can’t Just Let COVID ‘Wash Over’ The Country

Cristina Cabrera writing in TPM:

‘President Donald Trump reportedly has been privately suggesting an eyebrow-raising solution to the COVID-19 outbreak consuming the nation: Let it keep doing that.

The Washington Post reported on Saturday that during a Situation Room meeting on the pandemic in March, Trump asked White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, “Why don’t we let this wash over the country?”

Two unnamed sources told the Post that Fauci was stunned by the question.

“Mr. President, many people would die,” the doctor reportedly told Trump.

Other unnamed officials said that Trump has “repeatedly” (in the Post’s words) asked the same question in the Oval Office.

Trump reportedly began mulling over the idea after hearing about the United Kingdom’s now-abandoned “mitigation” strategy that would let COVID-19 spread throughout the country with few movement restrictions imposed on the population in the hopes of building a “herd immunity” against the virus.

However, a study by medical advisers to the British government found in mid-March that the strategy would “likely result in hundreds of thousands of deaths,” prompting the U.K. to drop the plan.

The same study also predicted that 1.1 to 1.2 million Americans would die if the strategy were adopted in the U.S….’

Link

The Challenge of Building the Post-Pandemic World

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Opinion pages are starting to focus on what the world will look like after the pandemic. Wishful thinking, since we are still in the thick of things, but yearning for renewal comes easier around the spring equinox when we literally turn toward the light; Easter, channeling its pagan spring festival antecedents’ theme of rebirth; and Passover, embodying the notion of deliverance from oppression.

But, as Viet Thanh Nguyen writes in The New York TImes on ‘The Ideas That Won’t Survive the Coronavirus’, “Even if America as we know it survives the coronavirus, it can hardly emerge unscathed. ” For Nguyen, our collective near-fatal experience can disabuse us of the illusion of invincibility rooted in ‘the hearty good cheer’ of American exceptionalism, unmasking the symptoms of the social virus with which America is afflicted – ‘inequality, callousness, selfishness and a profit motive that undervalues human life and overvalues commodities’. Perhaps the sensation of imprisonment during quarantine can facilitate empathy with real imprisonment, confinement in refugee and detention camps which are de facto prisons, and the economic imprisonment of ‘poverty and precariousness’ where many live paycheck to paycheck and ‘where illness without health insurance can mean death.’ Nguyen can only note the hope that imprisonment often radicalizes and births new consciousnesses.

As a writer, Nguyen hopes that our struggle with the pandemic may echo the archetypical ‘hero’s journey’ in which a struggle with a truly monstrous ‘worthy opponent’ creates fundamental transformation. The hero is the body politic, the opponent not Covid–19 (‘which, however terrible, is only a movie villain’) but our response, shaped by the structural inequalities of our society, e.g. a government prioritizing the protection of the least vulnerable. And, of course, our response to the coronavirus pandemic is merely a template for the final battle — climate catastrophe. ‘If our fumbling of the coronavirus is a preview of how the United States will handle that disaster, then we are doomed.’

‘But amid the bumbling, there are signs of hope and courage: laborers striking over their exploitation; people donating masks, money and time; medical workers and patients expressing outrage over our gutted health care system; a Navy captain sacrificing his career to protect his sailors; even strangers saying hello to other strangers on the street, which in my city, Los Angeles, constitutes a nearly radical act of solidarity.’

The question of which ideas have survived once we make it through the crisis is one of ‘which story will let the survivors truly live.’

Paul Krugman writes about how the pandemic is hastening the death of American democracy, reflecting on the Wisconsin election this week where the Supreme Court required in-person voting despite the epidemic, and where many who requested absentee ballots never received them. ‘[D]emocracy, once lost, may never come back. And we’re much closer to losing our democracy than many people realize.’

He draws parallels to Hungary over the past decade ‘to see how a modern democracy can die.’ Beginning in 2011 that country’s white nationalist ruling party essentially made its rule permanent by rigging the electoral system and consolidated its control by suppressing independent news media, rewarding friendly business interests and punishing critics. [Sound familiar?] Until recently, such ‘soft authoritarianism’ was as far as it went, ‘neutralizing and punishing opposition without actually making criticism illegal.’ But the coronavirus crisis has been used as an excuse to abandon even the pretense of constitutional government and give Viktor Orban the power to rule by decree.

‘If you say that something similar can’t happen here, you’re hopelessly naïve. In fact, it’s already happening here, especially at the state level. Wisconsin, in particular, is well on its way toward becoming Hungary on Lake Michigan, as Republicans seek a permanent lock on power.’

The parallel process of consolidation of power, suppression of opposition, and rigging of the electoral process underway in Wisconsin for the past two years culminated in Tuesday’s election. The Democratic primary was a moot point with Biden the de facto candidate, but a seat on the State Supreme Court was also at stake. And the insistence on a ‘normal’ election disproportionately suppressed turnout in Democratic-leaning urban areas as opposed to Republican-heavy rural and suburban areas.

‘So the state G.O.P. was nakedly exploiting a pandemic to disenfranchise those likely to vote against it. What we saw in Wisconsin, in short, was a state party doing whatever it takes to cling to power even if a majority of voters want it out — and a partisan bloc on the Supreme Court backing its efforts.’

As I pointed out in an earlier post here, ‘Donald Trump, as usual, said the quiet part out loud: If we expand early voting and voting by mail, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” ’ Does anyone doubt that the same thing could happen, sooner rather than later, at the national level? The prospect of Trump gaining a second term by using voter suppression to eke out an Electoral College win is very real. And, if he does, Krugman finds it likely he will ‘do a full Hungary.’ And, if he loses, would the GOP and Fox News support his likely contention that Biden’s victory was based on voter fraud?

‘[W]hat just happened in Wisconsin …shows that one of our two major parties simply doesn’t believe in democracy. Authoritarian rule may be just around the corner.’

Jamelle Bouie agrees that ‘Trump Wants 50 Wisconsins on Election Day,’ with a more detailed examination of how the state’s GOP pulled off its subversion of a free and fair electoral process and why it mattered so much.

‘Wisconsin Republicans will do anything to protect their hold on the reins, especially when that power has national implications. Wisconsin is a tipping point state in the upcoming presidential election, and a party that controls the rules of the game is one that can put its thumb on the scale for its allies.’

He too points to the extraordinary admission by Trump that his side will lose if every eligible person who wants to vote can cast a ballot. But this is not merely Trump’s demagoguery; the Republican Party in general agrees that it is impossible to persuade a majority of voters to support their agenda in the court of public opinion, so instead they have decided to rig the court itself.

 Timothy Egan sounds a more hopeful note, observing that some of the greatest advances in American history were birthed by disaster, citing Emancipation, Social Security, and robust clean air and water mandates.

One prospect is for a government-run health care system for all.

’When even the most dreadful Republicans — but I repeat myself — say that virus testing and treatment should be free, the door has opened to the obvious next step. Since the outbreak, one in four Republicans have suddenly come around to some version of what most nations already have.

Now, try running for office on a platform of taking away people’s health care. Or tolerating the condition that leaves nearly 28 million Americans with no health care at all. Yep, that’s the current Republican policy, led by President Trump’s attempt to gut Obamacare through the courts. Good luck with that in November.’

In the area of employment policy, ‘progressive pipe dreams’ like paid family leave, working from home, universal sick leave, subsidized day care, and a liveable minimum wage, all seem more plausible all of a sudden. And, given that Covid–19 death are disproportionately related to diet-related impairments of health, we have the opportunity to make some structural changes in the food system. He lists universal free school meals; allowing the >40 million Americans receiving food stamps to shop online and get their groceries delivered like everyone else; standardizing food labelling so that “expired” food that is perfectly safe to eat can be used by food banks; and remedying the harrassment and demeaning of farmworkers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants.

Cleaner air appears to be a momentary byproduct of people working at home, bolstered by the projected decrease in emissions to come from our virus-connected economic downturn (although we need to worry about the stimulus to consumption from crashing oil prices). But a lasting influence on the trajectory of climate change will require more global change.

‘We have only a few years to save ourselves from ourselves. Our trashed and overheated world is a slower pandemic. The good news is that, even with the crash in oil prices, renewable energy use is on an upward course. Coal is yesterday, no matter how much Trump tries to promote it and China drags its heels. More than anything, the pandemic has shown how quickly things can change if they must. Carpe diem.’

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With Each Briefing, Trump Is Making Us Worse People

Tom Nichols writing in The Atlantic:

‘There has never been an American president as spiritually impoverished as Donald Trump. And his spiritual poverty, like an overdrawn checking account that keeps imposing new penalties on a customer already in difficult straits, is draining the last reserves of decency among us at a time when we need it most.

I do not mean that Trump is the least religious among our presidents, though I have no doubt that he is; as the scholar Stephen Knott pointed out, Trump has shown “a complete lack of religious sensibility” unique among American presidents. (Just recently he wished Americans a “Happy Good Friday,” which suggests that he is unaware of the meaning of that day.) Nor do I mean that Trump is the least-moral president we’ve ever had, although again, I am certain that he is. John F. Kennedy was, in theory, a practicing Catholic, but he swam in a pool of barely concealed adultery in the White House. Richard Nixon was a Quaker, but one who attempted to subvert the Constitution. Andrew Johnson showed up pig-drunk to his inauguration. Trump’s manifest and immense moral failures—and the shameless pride he takes in them—make these men seem like amateurs by comparison. 

And finally, I do not mean that Trump is the most unstable person ever to occupy the Oval Office, although he is almost certain to win that honor as well. As Peter Wehner has eloquently put it, Trump has an utterly disordered personality. Psychiatrists can’t help but diagnose Trump, even if it’s in defiance of the old Goldwater Rule against such practices. I know mental-health professionals who agree with George Conway and others that Trump is a malignant narcissist.

What I mean instead is that Trump is a spiritual black hole. He has no ability to transcend himself by so much as an emotional nanometer. Even narcissists, we are told by psychologists, have the occasional dark night of the soul. They can recognize how they are perceived by others, and they will at least pretend to seek forgiveness and show contrition as a way of gaining the affection they need. They are capable of infrequent moments of reflection, even if only to adjust strategies for survival.

Trump’s spiritual poverty is beyond all this. He represents the ultimate triumph of a materialist mindset. He has no ability to understand anything that is not an immediate tactile or visual experience, no sense of continuity with other human beings, and no imperatives more important than soothing the barrage of signals emanating from his constantly panicked and confused autonomic system.

The humorist Alexandra Petri once likened Trump to a goldfish, a purely reactive animal lost in a “pastless, futureless, contextless void.” This is an apt comparison, with one major flaw: Goldfish are not malevolent, and do not corrode the will and decency of those who gaze on them….’

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Finally, CNN Hosts and Guests Are Asked About Trump Derangement Syndrome

Via Red State:

‘Thursday night CNN held a virtual town hall, hosted by noted radiology expert Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Anderson Cooper, in which viewers could submit coronavirus questions to Robert Redfield, CDC Director. The questions were captured in a chyron, and finally it looked like a question we all wanted asked on CNN would be asked.

“Is Stage-4 TDS considered an underlying morbidity?”

How did that get past the screeners?

If you’re not aware, TDS is referring to Trump Derangement Syndrome, an extremely serious mental condition permeating the nation’s mainstream media newsrooms, the staff of The Bulwark, Rick Wilson, and Expert Something Tom Nichols. Every day that Trump serves as POTUS seems to worsen the condition….’

Link

What does it mean to exhibit the shroud of Turin online?

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The presumption, apparently, is that the medium of a live broadcast can facilitate access to whatever sacred power one might believe the shroud to possess:

‘On Saturday, the archbishop of Turin, Cesare Nosiglia, responded to calls for spiritual solace in these unprecedented days by announcing plans for an extraordinary showing of the Shroud of Turin on the day before Easter.

This object, the supposed burial cloth of Jesus Christ, is famous for its faint impressions of Christ’s bloodstained body that adhered to it, allegedly by miracle. But it is also well-known for the contentious debates over authenticity that still boil even three decades after a carbon-dating analysis determined that the cloth originated in the medieval period. Much of the shroud’s allure comes from its mystery and secrecy. Since it is only rarely shown to the public, announcements like this one are headlining events.

But as a testament to the realities of the COVID-19 crisis, this exhibition will take place over television and through livestreaming social media venues. (You can watch the English-language version on YouTube. It will begin at 5 p.m. local time, 11 a.m. Eastern in the U.S.) Whether Nosiglia knows it or not, his decision to exhibit the Shroud of Turin virtually in real time during a global pandemic finds neat points of synchronicity with the history of the shroud’s rise to becoming Christianity’s most famous—and notorious—sacred artifact. It also forces us to rethink the limits and capabilities of digital mediation as life is exiled to virtual platforms….’

Via Slate

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Partisan Differences in Social Distancing during the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Hunt Alcott et al at Stanford.edu:

‘We study partisan differences in Americans’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Political leaders and media outlets on the right and left have sent divergent messages about the severity of the crisis, which could impact the extent to which Republicans and Democrats engage in social distancing and other efforts to reduce disease transmission. We develop a simple model of a pandemic response with heterogeneous agents that clarifies the causes and consequences of heterogeneous responses. We use location data from a large sample of smartphones to show that areas with more Republicans engage in less social distancing, controlling for other factors including state policies, population density, and local COVID cases and deaths. We then present new survey evidence of significant gaps between Republicans and Democrats in beliefs about personal risk and the future path of the pandemic. …’ ‘

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Coronavirus economy plans are clear: No return to normal in 2020

Ezra Klein writing in Vox:

‘Over the past few days, I’ve been reading the major plans for what comes after social distancing. You can read them, too. There’s one from the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, the left-leaning Center for American Progress, Harvard University’s Safra Center for Ethics, and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer.

I thought, perhaps naively, that reading them would be a comfort — at least then I’d be able to imagine the path back to normal. But it wasn’t. In different ways, all these plans say the same thing: Even if you can imagine the herculean political, social, and economic changes necessary to manage our way through this crisis effectively, there is no normal for the foreseeable future. Until there’s a vaccine, the US either needs economically ruinous levels of social distancing, a digital surveillance state of shocking size and scope, or a mass testing apparatus of even more shocking size and intrusiveness….’

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Are your hospitals at risk of being overwhelmed?

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Via Washington Post:

Plug in your zip code and find out if your region can handle a projected surge based on an assumption that 2 out of 10 adults are infected. 

Almost 17 million adults, or 6.5 percent of the U.S. adult population, live in communities where covid-19 patients could overwhelm hospital beds, needing more than all available.

76 million adults, or 30 percent of the U.S. adult population, live where patients could overwhelm intensive-care beds.

125 million adults, or 48 percent of the U.S. adult population, live where virus patients could overwhelm the supply of mechanical ventilators. Those breathing machines are among the key hospital resources that can help patients facing death when the disease attacks their lungs.

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Coronavirus research done too fast is testing publishing safeguards, bad science is getting through

A pharmacotherapy specialist who has consulted on infectious disease treatments for decades writing in The Conversation:

‘… I am both exhilarated and worried as I watch the unprecedented pace and implementation of medical research currently being done. Speed is, of course, important when a crisis such as COVID-19 is at hand. But speed – in research, the interpretation and the implementation of science – is a risky endeavor….’

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Trump’s evidence of vote-by-mail election fraud is a “pants on fire” lie – Vox

Aaron Rupar writing in Vox:1217680361 jpg 0

‘…The idea of more states moving toward a mail-in system ahead of November’s election is gaining steam amid the coronavirus pandemic. The dilemma Wisconsin voters faced on Tuesday between staying safe at home or heading to polling places to vote is one most states are interested in helping their citizens avoid. Trump, however, has other, more self-interested concerns.

Not only is the president leading Republican efforts to prevent federal funds from being used for mail-in efforts, but the briefing on Wednesday revealed he really doesn’t have any good reasons for his position.

Trump was pressed on the point during the White House coronavirus task force briefing by CNN’s Jim Acosta. Acosta referenced claims the president made the day before about why he thinks mail-in voting is bad — “You get thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody’s living room, signing ballots all over the place,” Trump said — and asked him to back it up.

“I think there is a lot of evidence, but we’ll provide you with some. There’s evidence that’s being compiled just like it’s being compiled in the state of California, where they settled with Judicial Watch saying that a million people should not have been voting. You saw that? I am telling you, in California, in the great state of California, they settled and we could’ve gone a lot further. Judicial Watch settled where they agreed that a million people should not have voted, where they were 115 years old and lots of things and people were voting in their place.”

…Judicial Watch is a right-wing nonprofit led by staunch Trump loyalist Tom Fitton. The settlement Trump referred to is a January 2019 agreement between the organization and Los Angeles County that required the county to remove inactive registrations from the voter rolls. By definition, these people hadn’t voted — that’s why their registrations were inactive. Yet Trump has somehow spun this into an unfounded claim about a million people casting illegal ballots….’

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Yes, you can train Face ID to unlock while wearing a mask

Charlie Sorrel writing in Cult of Mac:

‘You can’t usually train Face ID while you’re wearing a mask, because the iPhone doesn’t recognize that you are even showing it a face. Just like how Portrait mode on the camera sometimes refuses to lock on, if you simply don a mask and try to train Face ID, it will fail.

What you need is a way to trick the Face ID training app into recognizing you. The trick, according to students at the Xuanwu Lab, is to wear half a mask. If you fold the mask — any kind of mask will work — in half, vertically, then the iPhone will see the other half of your face. It takes some finessing, but once it locks on, you’re good to go.

Step one is to fold your mask in half and stand in front of a mirror. The mask should cover the parts of your face that it will cover when you’re wearing it normally. This includes (half of) the tip of the nose. Use the mirror to get everything right, then open up the Face ID section of the Settings app on your iPhone: Settings > Face ID & Passcode. If you only set up one Face ID appearance, then tap on the button to add an alternative appearance. If you’ve already added an alternative, you should reset Face ID and begin over.

Now, proceed as usual. If the app doesn’t recognize your face, move the mask to occlude your face a little more. Then, gradually reveal it again, until the app’s scanner locks on. Finally, move your head as instructed to scan your new masked appearance.

If you have trouble holding the mask in place (it shouldn’t move relative to your face), keep your head still and move the iPhone instead….’

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Hospitals across the US say Feds are seizing coronavirus supplies

Noam Levey writing in The Los Angeles Times:

‘Although President Trump has directed states and hospitals to secure what supplies they can, the federal government is quietly seizing orders, leaving medical providers across the country in the dark about where the material is going and how they can get what they need to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Hospital and clinic officials in seven states described the seizures in interviews over the past week. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is not publicly reporting the acquisitions, despite the outlay of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, nor has the administration detailed how it decides which supplies to seize and where to reroute them.

Officials who’ve had materials seized also say they’ve received no guidance from the government about how or if they will get access to the supplies they ordered. That has stoked concerns about how public funds are being spent and whether the Trump administration is fairly distributing scarce medical supplies….’

Link

How to force the White House to provide the states with COVID-19 supplies

Gould and Pozen writing in Slate:

‘Our constitutional tradition gives us hardly any tools to address what is happening now: a president who has proved unwilling or unable to meet a genuine disaster with decisive action. The Constitution’s preamble speaks of promoting the general welfare and providing for the common defense, but courts have never read this language to create enforceable duties. Nearly all U.S. constitutional rights are so-called negative rights against government interference, not positive rights that force public officials into action. And unlike many other democracies, our Constitution lacks a “no-confidence” mechanism that could allow a poorly performing president to be replaced immediately with a more effective one.

The upshot, in this case, is a kind of invisible breakdown in our constitutional system. If Trump had taken strong steps over the past two months to limit the spread of COVID-19, those steps could have been tested for conformity with individual liberties, federalism principles, and the separation of powers, as well as relevant statutes. Yet by jeopardizing our national security through inaction, Trump has insulated himself from legal scrutiny or accountability.

Only one institution can remedy this breakdown. In area after area where government intervention might be useful, Congress has the power, under Article I of the Constitution, to compel the executive branch to act.

Recognizing as much, congressional Democrats have introduced bills that would require the executive branch to oversee the production of specific quotas of N95 face masks, face shields, and ventilators. The Defense Production Act of 1950 already empowers the president to do what is “necessary to create, maintain, expedite, expand, protect, or restore production and deliveries or services essential to the national defense,” but Trump did not utilize this power at all until March 27 (he invoked it again last Friday), and even then in a limited manner that falls far short of what many experts recommend. The new bills would give him no choice but to press harder….’

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Asymptomatic Cases Could Be Spreading COVID-19 More Than We Thought

Stephanie Lee writing in BuzzFeed:

‘an emerging body of data suggests that there are probably a significant number of infected people who don’t have symptoms but are likely to be transmitting the virus. Since they may not know that they’re sick, they may be taking fewer precautions than people with symptoms.

Researchers still don’t know how common these cases are or how much they are driving the pandemic. On Monday, the director of the CDC told NPR that the number of asymptomatic individuals “may be as many as 25%.”…’

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Why this crisis is a turning point in history

 

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John Gray writing in The New Statesman:

‘The deserted streets will fill again, and we will leave our screen-lit burrows blinking with relief. But the world will be different from how we imagined it in what we thought were normal times. This is not a temporary rupture in an otherwise stable equilibrium: the crisis through which we are living is a turning point in history. 

The era of peak globalisation is over. An economic system that relied on worldwide production and long supply chains is morphing into one that will be less interconnected. A way of life driven by unceasing mobility is shuddering to a stop. Our lives are going to be more physically constrained and more virtual than they were. A more fragmented world is coming into being that in some ways may be more resilient….’

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Wear a face mask in public to slow COVID-19, says CDC — ‘I don’t think I’m going to be doing it,’ says Trump

Via Boing Boing:

‘President Donald Trump said on Friday that the Centers for Disease Control will soon officially begin recommending the public use of non-medical, non-surgical grade masks to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“You don’t have to do it. … I don’t think I am going to be doing it,” Trump said about wearing a face mask, during his announcement that the CDC now recommends people wear face masks.

“We’re healing,” the president added, without evidence….’

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Why Martha McPhee Carries a Notebook Everywhere

The novelist, writing in Wirecutter:

‘As it turns out, my notebooks—with their pressed flowers, theater-ticket stubs, different colors of sand glued onto the page, the shells, old photographs that have tumbled out of drawers—are like that red wheelbarrow, beside the white chickens, upon which so much depends. William Carlos Williams, as poet and medical doctor, would have appreciated what neuroscientists call the efficacy of writing on paper. Besides offering a sense of control, paper and pens and anything else we take to it helps us make sense of things. Students who take lecture notes by hand retain and understand the information more deeply than those who take notes on computers because something beautiful and mysterious happens when we relinquish speed to the human pace of thought, physicalized on the page.

But that’s not why my notebook comes with me everywhere. I take it with me because it helps me track the uncharted territory of the present moment. In this act of gathering—scrawls about things noticed on the way to a store, the playbill for my son’s brief acting career, glue-sticked to the page—I’m forced to slow down and tend to the parts that evoke a whole. Sometimes they plant the seed for an idea that I might write about later on. But mostly, I relish in the quiet engagement of pen on paper, my hand working with my brain to create something concrete and real, something that can’t be deleted in an instant after it is read….’

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Google knows if everyone in your county is actually staying home or not

Kate Cox writing in Ars Technica:

‘The entire world is scrambling to mitigate the novel coronavirus pandemic. By now, a majority of US states are under some kind of stay-at-home order, with governors nationwide asking or requiring non-essential businesses to close and everyone to plant their butts at home as much as possible.

As the disease continues to march its way across the country and the globe, though—as of this writing, there have been more than 250,000 US diagnosed cases—officials, regulators, and we the work-from-home masses are all wondering: are we all actually complying with these new rules, or is it still chaos on the streets out there somewhere?

Google has unfathomable reams of data from billions of individuals worldwide, and it has pulled some of that location information together into community mobility reports to try to answer that question. Here’s the good news: by and large, trips to virtually everywhere that isn’t “home” have dropped a whole lot.

To make the reports, Google used location data from any account that has opted into allowing Google to store location history. The company’s services have billions of active daily users, so even if only a minority of users allowed location use, it would still create an enormous data set. Google broke down locations into six broad categories: Retail and recreation, such as malls, restaurants, and museums; grocery and pharmacy, which includes farmer’s markets and food warehouses along with supermarkets and drugstores; parks, including local, national, and state parks; transit stations; workplaces; and residential.

The reports, which so far go through March 29 (last Sunday), are broken down by country. For the United States, Google has also provided state-level reports which show data at the county level. While there’s a fair amount of variation, the trend across the board shows a huge drop in non-essential travel and significantly reduced travel in the grocery and pharmacy category as well. The “residential” category is also up across the board, showing that people are staying home.

The regional reports are more robust for urban centers than rural ones, simply because more densely populated areas have more data for Google to draw from. For example, Kings County, New York—better known as the borough of Brooklyn—has a population of about 2.5 million packed into its borders. That’s a large enough data set for Google, which found that Brooklyn residents are indeed making significantly fewer trips through transit stations and to retailers. Travel to workplaces is also down, likely due to a combination of people working from home where possible and being laid off or furloughed where not….’

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Incredibly Comprehensive Statistical Personality Test Shows Which Fictional Characters You Are Most Similar To

UnknownVia Digg:

‘Covering 121 questions and 400 characters, this “which character are you” test from Open-Source Psychometrics Project isn’t your regular BuzzFeed personality quiz.

What it is instead is an extremely extensive test that gives you an understanding of which fictional characters you are most similar to with a level of detail uncommon for most personality quizzes. There are different versions of the test — the most comprehensive version requires you to answer 121 questions while the standard version only comprises 28 — but for each version, you answer questions about yourself by moving a slider between two adjectives and gauge where your personality falls on the spectrum. The test then matches your personal assessment with the personality profiles of different fictional characters, which are compiled from data from user surveys….’

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The Decisions Are Only Going to Get Harder

Juliette Kayyem writing in The Atlantic:

‘Quick, decide: If 20 percent of a city’s police department is infected or quarantined because of the coronavirus, how should the remaining officers decide which problems to take on? …

Also decide: Which patients should doctors and nurses prioritize for life-saving efforts if hospitals simply become overwhelmed? Who wants to write that policy? …

Then decide: Should schools even try to open anytime soon? …

On these and other ugly questions, recent experience suggests that the White House is unlikely to do anything more than provide broad guidance to states—and then leave the hard part to them. That’s no way to fight a 50-state disaster, but federalism is a convenient way for a president to let somebody else take the blame…’

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Coronavirus lockdowns have changed the way Earth moves

Elizabeth Gibney writing in Nature:

‘The coronavirus pandemic has brought chaos to lives and economies around the world. But efforts to curb the spread of the virus might mean that the planet itself is moving a little less. Researchers who study Earth’s movement are reporting a drop in seismic noise — the hum of vibrations in the planet’s crust — that could be the result of transport networks and other human activities being shut down. They say this could allow detectors to spot smaller earthquakes and boost efforts to monitor volcanic activity and other seismic events….’

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Democrats fear judicial sabotage if Congress is allowed to vote remotely

Speaker Nancy Pelosi says there are “serious constitutional” concerns with remote voting. Is she right?

via Vox

Congress could become incapacitated either by members contracting coronavirus or their reluctance to assemble and risk contagion. Remote voting might be an answer, given surmounting the technological and security challenges. But constitutionality is also a serious barrier, raising the danger of implementing a novel process at risk of being struck down by court challenge. Provisions of the Constitution are open to the interpretation that lawmakers are required to gather together in a single location, the Founding Fathers of course unable to be be faulted for not anticipating cyberspace or virtual reality. However, legislative bodies are empowered to establish their own rules about how votes are to be cast. Democrats worry that the Supreme Court under Roberts would not agree with this argument, especially given the vastly increased tendency of this Court to overturn precedent. The author suggests a mechanism of getting an advisory ruling on the constitutionality of remote voting before a test case is brought, so that the partisan Court would not be considering a specific legal provision that one party supports and the other opposes. However, although used on the state level, Federal advisory opinions are currently unconstitutional and would require an amendment to permit them.

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What If a Shrinking Economy Wasn’t a Disaster?

As the coronavirus pandemic grows, it brings a secondary, economic disaster—unemployment, small business closings, local government budget shortfalls. Given the way our economy is structured, widespread job losses and plummeting consumer demand trigger a whole lot of suffering. But, as philosopher Barbara Muraca explained in 2013, the activist and scholarly movement known as degrowth is building a vision of a society where economies would get smaller by design—and people would be better off for it.

Muraca traces the start of the degrowth movement to the 1972 publication of Limits to Growth, an influential report by the Club of Rome. The report presented an ecological argument—that humans were unsustainably consuming the Earth’s resources. In the years that followed, French scholars expanded the argument into social and psychological realms. They critiqued the central role of constant growth in modern western societies. By the early 2000s, degrowth had come to include criticism of wealthy countries’ advocacy of “Western-style” growth-oriented economies in the Global South. For example, some degrowth writers embrace the struggles of indigenous people in Ecuador and Bolivia to achieve a constitutional right to a “buen vivir”—a concept of community-level well-being rooted in economic and cultural relationships with local ecological systems.

When it comes to what an ideal degrowth society would look like, the writers Muraca cites are not a unified bloc. Some focus on small-scale democracy and economic activity, such as local food systems. Others envision the centrally planned production and distribution of a minimal set of goods to satisfy everyone’s basic needs. Some degrowth thinkers have also advocated universal basic income or jobs guarantees as ways to provide for people’s basic necessities while reducing overall economic activity and resource use.

Whatever the specifics, degrowth is a radical idea. But it’s gotten increasing traction among activists and scholars in rich countries, particularly since the worldwide recession in 2008. Given the need to reduce carbon emissions to lessen the impacts of climate change, curbing material consumption in rich places seems to many like a necessary goal.

via JSTOR Daily

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Was Modern Art Really a CIA Psy-Op?

The number of MoMA-CIA crossovers is highly suspicious, to say the least….

In the battle for “hearts and minds,” modern art was particularly effective. John Hay Whitney, both a president of MoMA and a member of the Whitney Family, which founded the Whitney Museum of American Art, explained that art stood out as a line of national defense, because it could “educate, inspire, and strengthen the hearts and wills of free men.”

via JSTOR Daily

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Despite CDC recommendations to the contrary, hate group intends to hold rally

Michael Hill has no intention of letting a global pandemic cancel plans for the League of the South’s annual conference.

The 68-year-old Hill, president of the League, posted the following to the group’s website March 18.

“At present, we are doing more than simply ‘monitoring’ the situation. We are actively making plans and raising funds to help our members who are in financial straits, and we are moving ahead with our plans for upcoming events, including our 2020 national conference in late June.”

Hill’s decision goes against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations against gatherings of more than 10 people. Older adults in particular are likely at higher risk for the disease, the CDC notes. The average age of the League’s state chairmen and national staff is roughly 57.

via Boing Boing

Although I must be breaking some PC principle to do so, since it doesn’t appear that others are saying this, this and other recent stories, such as —

— have me stating the obvious. The pandemic seems poised as a proof of concept re: social Darwinism. It may be selecting against the unfittest in terms of factors like respect for scientific (e.g. epidemiological and public health) principles, deference for experts, altruistic concern for the good of one’s peers, and openness to being educated.  (If only their selfish ignorance did not place the potentially innocent around them at risk too.) I wonder if there is any empirical data that people in such a demographic are being infected at higher rates?

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Hand-Washing Technique Is Surprisingly Controversial

…[W]hat you’re washing with has a much bigger statistical effect than how long you’re washing….

Another good example is the temperature you wash at. Namely, it doesn’t matter. Again, the issue is about the soap and about how you’re rubbing your hands around. That will work in cold water as well as warm. But the Food and Drug Administration’s food code for restaurant safety still expects hand-washing sinks to be able to deliver very hot water.

viaFiveThirtyEight

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How Authoritarians Are Exploiting the Covid-19 Crisis to Grab Power

Kenneth Roth writing in New York Review of Books:

For authoritarian-minded leaders, the coronavirus crisis is offering a convenient pretext to silence critics and consolidate power. Censorship in China and elsewhere has fed the pandemic, helping to turn a potentially containable threat into a global calamity. The health crisis will inevitably subside, but autocratic governments’ dangerous expansion of power may be one of the pandemic’s most enduring legacies.

 

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It will take some time, but rest assured: a coronavirus vaccine is coming, and it will work

The biopharmaceutical industry will be able to make a Covid-19 vaccine— probably a few of them—using various existing vaccine technologies. But many people worry that Covid-19 will mutate and evade our vaccines, as the flu virus does each season. Covid-19 is fundamentally different from flu viruses, though, in ways that will allow our first-generation vaccines to hold up well. To the extent that Covid does mutate, it’s likely to do so much more slowly than the flu virus does, buying us time to create new and improved vaccines.

via  3 Quarks Daily

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The presumption of good faith can help end polarization

Taking time for thoughtful consideration has fallen out of fashion, writes Emily Chamlee-Wright. How can we restore good faith and good judgement to our increasingly polarized conversations?

…Emily Chamlee-Wright recommends practicing the presumption of good faith. That means that we should presume, unless we have good evidence to the contrary, that the other person’s intent is not to deceive or to offend us, but to learn our point of view.

via Big Think