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“This was just somebody saying the sky is purple when it’s blue.”

The bizarre rise of ‘sovereign citizens’ claiming not to be bound by the laws of the US has been accompanied by ‘paper terrorism’ involving spurious claims to other people’s homes. ‘Citizens’ invade others’ property, change the locks, and jam the courts with litigation by filing bogus titles and claims on ornate letterheads of fictitious jurisdictions.

— via New York Times(https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/26/nyregion/moors-newark.html)

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Six Rules That Will Define Our Second Pandemic Winter

UnknownKatherine Wu, Ed Yong, and Sarah Zhang write in The Atlantic  that the “pandemic’s endgame has shifted” and we are going to have to adjust our expectations.

While vaccines have largely succeeded in preventing severe infections, they are not protecting against all symptomatic infections or eliminating transmission in the US. One simple reason may be that respiratory diseases are difficult to immunize against. Injections in the arm “are just not very good at stimulating immunity in the nose,” where the virus first takes hold. They are good at stimulating immunity deep in the lungs, thus explaining their prevention of severe disease. Thus the most likely scenario is that, especially with the highly transmissible Delta variant and the likely emergence of further variants, the virus will continue to circulate. 

Even though prevention of severe disease is the most robust and enduring effect of vaccination, “rare events are common at scale” and additional layers of prevention — improved air circulation in buildings mask wearing, and social distancing — will continue to be necessary, especially to prevent infections of the unvaccinated such as children.

The proportion of vaccinated matters but so does their distribution. Fewer of the most vulnerable Americans are vaccinated and they tend to cluster together, creating hotspots — with overwhelmed hospitals running out of ICU beds or beds in general, lacking oxygen, and turning people away — even though the vaccination rate is increasing. While in the UK less than 2% of people over 65 are unvaccinated, in the US the number is above 10% in many counties in the South and Mountain states. The more unvaccinated people are concentrated, the more easily the virus can find its next victim. The demographics of vaccination are also shifting the vulnerable people by age group, down to uninoculated children. Even though children are more resilient against infections compared with adults, the Delta variant means they are at relatively greater risk than before. Relative risk keeps shifting, even if the virus stops mutating and becomes a static risk (which is unlikely). 

And as vaccination increases, a higher proportion of cases will appear in the vaccinated, by the math. So panic over the proportion of vaccinated people in a disease outbreak is misguided, and not an indication that vaccination is not useful. 

‘In July, an NBC News article stated that “At Least 125,000 Fully Vaccinated Americans Have Tested Positive” for the coronavirus. In isolation, that’s an alarming number. But it represented just 0.08 percent of the 165 million people who were fully vaccinated at the time. More recently, Duke University reported that 349 students had tested positive in a single week—a figure that represents just 2.5 percent of the more than 14,000 students who were tested. The denominator matters…’

A longer-lived pandemic will make rare events more noticeable, e.g. “long Covid”, reinfection after recovery, atypical symptoms and affected organs. More people will know someone with such effects. And the virus will continue to mutate. In a more immunized population, a stealthy variant of the virus could succeed the super-transmissible and fast-acting Delta variant or its ilk. What is likely is that the virus will not become deadlier. “Viruses want to spread, not kill.” But, no matter the characteristics of a variant, it cannot persist without lax human behaviors. 

 

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Opinion: Our constitutional crisis is already here

American political division

‘The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves. The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial. But about these things there should be no doubt:

First, donald trump will be the Republican candidate for president in 2024…

Second, trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary…

Meanwhile, the amateurish “stop the steal” efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that trump and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020…

The stage is thus being set for chaos. Imagine weeks of competing mass protests across multiple states as lawmakers from both parties claim victory and charge the other with unconstitutional efforts to take power. Partisans on both sides are likely to be better armed and more willing to inflict harm than they were in 2020. Would governors call out the National Guard? Would President Biden nationalize the Guard and place it under his control, invoke the Insurrection Act, and send troops into Pennsylvania or Texas or Wisconsin to quell violent protests? Deploying federal power in the states would be decried as tyranny. Biden would find himself where other presidents have been — where Andrew Jackson was during the nullification crisis, or where Abraham Lincoln was after the South seceded — navigating without rules or precedents, making his own judgments about what constitutional powers he does and doesn’t have.

Today’s arguments over the filibuster will seem quaint in three years if the American political system enters a crisis for which the Constitution offers no remedy.

Most Americans — and all but a handful of politicians — have refused to take this possibility seriously enough to try to prevent it….’

— Robert Kagan via The Washington Post

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Why your friends have more friends than you do

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‘Have you ever felt like your friends were more popular than you? You may have been onto something. In 1991, the sociologist Scott Feld compared two numbers: how many friends a participant had and the average number of friends that these friends had. He found that people almost always had fewer friends than their friends did. The reason: friends aren’t distributed equally. People with few friends are less likely to be in your circles while people with many friends are more likely to be in your circles. The result? Your friends are, on average, have more friends than you do….’

— via Boing Boing

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s popularity is plunging

‘Governor Greg Abbott is setting a fine example of how to plummet in popularity. The far-right Republican politician — who in Texas has made it harder to vote, prohibited vaccine and mask mandates in local governments, allowed Texans to carry concealed guns without a permit, and has made it nearly impossible for a woman to get an abortion, even in cases of rape — is losing admirers, according to a new Dallas Morning News and UT Tyler poll. Since March 2020, his approval has plunged by 14 points, from 59% to 45%…’

— via Boing Boing

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Happy Mabon!

‘Mabon falls on the Autumn Equinox and is the second of the three harvest festivals (Lammas, Mabon, and Samhain). Just like Ostara on the opposite side of the Wheel of the Year, at Mabon the days and nights are of equal length. Though it’s typically celebrated on Sept 22 , the exact moment of the Equinox varies from year to year. This is due to a slight misalignment between the Gregorian calendar and the actual rate of the Earth’s rotation around the Sun. The Equinox also occurs at differing local times, so that depending on where you live, it may fall the day before or after the date listed on any given calendar. For this reason, a date range of September 21-24 is often cited in sources on the Wheel of the Year.

Though temperatures may still be warm during the day, summer has truly come to an end. The leaves on deciduous trees have begun to turn colors and fall to the ground, and there is a chill in the evening air. The days were longer than the nights until this moment, and after this the nights will begin their reign. The God is making his exit from the stage of the seasons, heading toward his symbolic death at Samhain in just a few short weeks. As with Ostara, the theme of balance is highlighted here, reminding us that everything is temporary, that no season lasts forever, and that neither dark nor light ever overpowers the other for long.

All Sabbats are occasions to express gratitude to the God and Goddess for the blessings in our lives, but Mabon is particularly so, coming at the height of the harvest season. Traditionally, this was a very busy and physically exhausting time. This holiday provided a brief rest from toiling in the fields—a day to sit back and enjoy the fruits of the labor thus far. In these modern times, most of us are not involved in agriculture, but we can still take a moment to rest from our labor and relax, appreciating all that we have. It is a time to recognize the need for balance between work and play.

But how should you celebrate Mabon? For starters, Mabon rituals can include decorating your altar with acorns, pine cones, seasonal fruits and nuts, and/or a few of the first colored leaves that drop from the trees. As with Lamas, harvest imagery like scythes and baskets can be used. Candles and altar cloths in autumn colors like rusty red, orange, brown, and gold are appropriate. If you have a feast, whether solo or with others, include seasonal vegetables like onions, potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables…’

— via Mabon (Autumn Equinox) – The Wiccan Calendar – Wicca Living

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How Endemic COVID Becomes a Manageable Risk

A Second Major Seasonal Virus Won’t Leave Us Any Choice: During the shift from a pandemic emergency to an endemic hazard, fights over how forcefully we deal with COVID’s acute risk will morph into debates over how we adjust society to reduce the virus’s persistent perils. The twin burden of flu and COVID is going to compel more collective action. We’ve been far too complacent about the seasonal flu, allowing it to sicken and kill too many people each year. With a second serious disease in the picture, we’re going to be forced to take action….’

— Scott Gottlieb via The Atlantic

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Why The World Should be Very Concerned About the Nipah Virus

‘The Nipah virus is making news again after tragic reports that a 12-year-old boy died from the virus on Sept. 5 in Kerala’s Kozhikode district. He had been admitted to a private hospital after running a high fever and showing symptoms of encephalitis…

The World Health Organization classifies (Nipah) as a “virus of concern” for future epidemics because “each year it spills over from its animal reservoir into humans,” says Dr. Stephen Luby, a professor of infectious disease at Stanford University. And when humans are infected, it can be transmitted from person to person.

But the virus is not as transmissible as some other viruses. “There are occasional Nipah superspreaders who infect a lot of people,” says Luby. “But the average transmission rate is less than one person per infection.

“However, each time a person is infected, the virus is in an environment that selects for human adaptation and transmissibility. The risk is that a new strain that is more efficiently transmitted person to person could generate a devastating outbreak. Indeed, since 70% of people who are infected with Nipah virus die, such a strain could represent the worst pandemic humanity has ever faced.”…’

— KAMALA THIAGARAJAN via NPR

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Dangerous trend among GOP candidates shows the trump threat is here to stay

‘So is this really how it’s going to be? Are more and more Republican candidates across our great land going to treat it as a requirement that they cast any and all election losses as dubious or illegitimate by definition?

We’re now seeing numerous examples of GOP candidates running for office who are doing something very close to this. Which suggests the legacy of donald trump could prove worse for the health of democracy than it first appeared….’

— Greg Sargent via Opinion: Washington Post

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Can dogs understand human intent?

I’ve got your number…

‘Theory of mind describes humans’ ability to attribute mental states to other people. Evidence suggests that some animals might possess limited forms of theory of mind, including apes, birds, and dogs. A new study suggests that dogs are able to tell the difference when someone withholds a treat unintentionally versus intentionally…’

— via Big Think

Understanding intentionality is a difficult cognitive task and a core facet of theory of mind. The dog evolved in close proximity to humans and forming social bonds across the species was a trait heavily selected for. This made dogs exceptionally skilled at understanding aspects of human mental states and distinguished them from their nondomesticated forebears.

Related:

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The Democrats’ high-risk, high-reward plan to save Roe v. Wade

Austin Texas, 09/01/21

‘With the increasingly likely demise of Roe looming on the horizon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced last week that the US House will soon hold a vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), legislation that would enshrine a nationwide right to abortion and preserve many of the specific legal protections recognized by Supreme Court decisions like Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992)…’

— via Vox

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Attorney General Merrick Garland: Justice Department will “protect” abortion seekers in Texas

‘After the Supreme Court allowed Texas’s abortion ban to come into effect, providing bounties to private “abortion hunters” who sue women and anyone who helps them get an abortion, uncertainty reigns. The Justice Department yesterday said it would “protect” women seeking abortions in Texas, but without offering details of how beyond that it would employ a federal law known as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act…’

— via Boing Boing

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Immunology is Where Intuition Goes to Die

‘…The thing is, the immune system is very complicated. Arguably the most complex part of the human body outside the brain, it’s an absurdly intricate network of cells and molecules that protect us from dangerous viruses and other microbes. These components summon, amplify, rile, calm, and transform one another: Picture a thousand Rube Goldberg machines, some of which are aggressively smashing things to pieces. Now imagine that their components are labeled with what looks like a string of highly secure passwords: CD8+, IL-1β, IFN-γ. Immunology confuses even biology professors who aren’t immunologists…

…It works, roughly, like this…’

— Ed Yong writing in The Atlantic

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Seeing squares: Japan’s tenji block paving guides visually impaired

 

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‘The tactile paving was invented in Japan more than 50 years ago to help those with visual impairments move smoothly and safely around urban environments.

And they’ve gone global over the years, becoming a familiar sight in cities from London to Sydney….’

— via France 24

I was pointed to this by Sean Bonner, who said in his newsletter:

‘It’s a perfect example of how just taking other people into account at the design level can have a massive impact. These are ubiquitous in Tokyo, and at the same time essentially invisible to almost everyone. I love everything about them…’

These are so eminently sensible and humane, I am angered that I have never seen them on the streets of American cities. Have you?

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Texas school system closes after 2 teachers die of COVID-19

 

‘Connally Independent School District officials closed its five suburban Waco schools for the rest of the week after the Saturday COVID-19 death of Natalia Chansler, 41, a sixth grade social studies teacher at Connally Junior High School, said Assistant Superintendent Jill Bottelberghe.

Chansler’s death came days after David McCormick, 59, a seventh grade social studies teacher at Connally Junior High, died of COVID-19, Bottelberghe said.

It was not immediately known if either teacher was vaccinated….’

— via Associated Press