The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Wednesday, 74 March 2020

Just when you thought the Republican Party couldn't become more anti-science and pro-profit (at the expense of workers), the Wisconsin Supreme Court just struck down Wisconsin's stay-at-home order on a 4-3 party-line vote.

If only that were all:

Someday, we'll all look back on this time, laugh nervously, and change the subject.

All-or-nothing doesn't work

Harvard Medical School epidemiologist Julia Marcus argues that "quarantine fatigue is real," and it may be healthier to start relaxing self-isolation (for many people) than to continue it:

Public-health experts have known for decades that an abstinence-only message doesn’t work for sex. It doesn’t work for substance use, either. Likewise, asking Americans to abstain from nearly all in-person social contact will not hold the coronavirus at bay—at least not forever.

I’m not talking about the people who are staging militaristic protests against the supposed coronavirus hoax. I’m talking about those who are experiencing the profound burden of extreme physical and social distancing. In addition to the economic hardship it causes, isolation can severely damage psychological well-being, especially for people who were already depressed or anxious before the crisis started.

[T]he choice between staying home indefinitely and returning to business as usual now is a false one. Risk is not binary. And an all-or-nothing approach to disease prevention can have unintended consequences. Individuals may fixate on unlikely sources of contagion—the package in the mail, the runner or cyclist on the street—while undervaluing precautions, such as cloth masks, that are imperfect but helpful.

[A]s years of research on HIV prevention have shown, shaming doesn’t eliminate risky behavior—it just drives it underground. Even today, many gay men hesitate to disclose their sexual history to health-care providers because of the stigma that they anticipate. Shaming people for their behavior can backfire.

Scientists still have a lot to learn about this new virus, but early epidemiological studies suggest that not all activities or settings confer an equal risk for coronavirus transmission. Enclosed and crowded settings, especially with prolonged and close contact, have the highest risk of transmission, while casual interaction in outdoor settings seems to be much lower risk. A sustainable anti-coronavirus strategy would still advise against house parties. But it could also involve redesigning outdoor and indoor spaces to reduce crowding, increase ventilation, and promote physical distancing, thereby allowing people to live their lives while mitigating—but not eliminating—risk.

Of course, the Trump Administration's abject failure to provide adequate testing and safety guidance will only prolong our anxiety and isolation. But right-wing governments never make the trains run on time, no matter what their propaganda says.

Fifty days in

Illinois has had a stay-at-home order in effect for over seven weeks now, though last week the state and county opened up forest trails and other outdoor activities that allow for proper distancing and discourage people clumping together in groups. So today I drove up to the northern suburbs to the site of the largest Civilian Conservation Corps project undertaken during the agency's run from 1933 to 1940.

It was good to get outside. Not my fastest-ever pace, but still respectable, and somehow I got over 10,000 steps just on the walk.

And when I got back, this was waiting in my inbox:

Not all horrible news

Yes, yes, the world has most of the Biblical plagues going on right now, including apparently 40 mm–long hornets, but I can see some bright spots, despite (or because of) all this:

Alas, the rest of the news isn't as benign:

And finally, I mentioned a shooting in my neighborhood last week that hadn't yet made the papers. It took a couple of days, but CWB Chicago now has the story.

Cari Lightner died 40 years ago today

Clarence Busch, a man with multiple arrests for intoxication including a hit-and-run drunk-driving charge from less than a week earlier, killed 13-year-old Cari Lightner on a quiet road in Fair Oaks, California, on 3 May 1980. In response, Cari's mother Candace founded MADD: Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which in just four years got the Federal Government and most of the states to crack down on drunk driving. The organization and the legislation they got passed reduced drunk-driving deaths 40% by 2000.

My dad met Candy Lightner in 1982, and wrote an Emmy-nominated TV movie about her and her success in saving other people from drunk drivers, for which he received a Writers Guild award in 1984. (He would have won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Special as well but for the truly groundbreaking Special Bulletin.)

You can watch the trailer for MADD on Video Detective, and the entire movie Special Bulletin on YouTube.

Gosh, where to begin?

Happy May Day! Or m'aidez? Hard to know for sure right now. The weather in Chicago is sunny and almost the right temperature, and I have had some remarkable productivity at work this week, so in that respect I'm pretty happy.

But I woke up this morning to the news that Ravinia has cancelled its entire 2020 season, including a performance of Bernstein's White House Cantata that featured my group, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago. This is the first time Ravinia has done so since 1935.

If only that were everything.

First, via Josh Marshall, former Obama Administration disaster-preparedness expert Jeremy Konydndyk lays out the facts about our plateau (60,000 excess weekly deaths) and how the Trump Administration continues to do nothing to help us slow Covid-19 deaths.

Next, all of this:

But some good news:

Finally, while alarming in its own right, the record water levels in Lake Michigan (4 months in a row now) have exposed some historic shipwrecks.

It all just keeps coming, you know?

Welcome to day 31 of the Illinois shelter-in-place regime, which also turns out to be day 36 of my own working-from-home regime (or day 43 if you ignore that I had to go into the office on March 16th). So what's new?

Oy:

Finally, via Bruce Schneier, the Dutch intelligence service had an unintentional back door into several other countries' communications. (Scheier says, "It seems to be clever cryptanalysis rather than a backdoor.")

I filled my tank today, oh boy

Remember how I love my car? I love it even more today, and I'm a bit spooked by its costs.

A new filling station opened up about 1500 m from my house, and they have the lowest gas prices around. Even though I last filled my car on November 24th, in Indiana, and even though I've driven 1,623 km since then, I still had half a tank of gas. So for $10, I put 21 L of regular into the tank, which means my car cost me 0.6¢ per kilometer to operate over the last 144 days, and I got an average of 1.3 L/100 km fuel economy.

I have not paid that little for fuel—47.5¢/L—since January 2004. (In fairness, the car I owned then used premium gas.)

That said, I have not seen that fuel price in real terms since 2002. In fact, back when I bought my first car in June 1989, regular gas cost 32.5¢/L, which would be 67.6¢/L adjusted for inflation.

We live in very strange times.

And you thought things were getting better

The number of new Covid-19 cases per day may have peaked in Illinois, but that still means we have new cases every day. We have over 10,000 infected in the state, with the doubling period now at 12 days (from 2 days back mid-March). This coincides with unpleasant news from around the world:

  • Covid-19 has become the second-leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 12,400 deaths per week, just behind heart disease which kills about 12,600.
  • More than 5 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total unemployed to 22 million, the highest percentage of Americans out of work since 1933. April unemployment figures come out May 8th, when we will likely have confirmation of a 13-15% unemployment rate. Note that the unemployment rate was the lowest in history just two months ago.
  • Consumer spending on nearly everything except groceries has fallen, in some places catastrophically. Chicago's heavy-rail authority, Metra, has seen ridership fall 97% system-wide and predicts a $500 million budget deficit this year. (For my own part, since my March 31st post on the subject, my spending on dining out, lunch, and groceries combined has fallen 70% month-over-month.)
  • UK Foreign Secretary (and acting Prime Minister) Dominic Raab announced today that lockdown measures would continue in the UK "for at least the next three weeks," reasoning that premature relaxation would lead to a resurgence of the virus as seen worldwide in 1918.
  • FiveThirtyEight explains why Covid-19 has caused so much more disruption than Ebola, SARS-1, and swine flu.
  • Talking Points Memo takes a deeper look at the hidden mortality of Covid-19.
  • Brian Dennehy has died at 81.
  • Chicago could get 75 mm of snow tonight. In April. The middle of Spring. FFS.

But we also got some neutral-to-good news today:

I pitched the Goat-2-Meeting to my chorus board for our next meeting, and unfortunately got told we don't donate to other NPCs. I guess we're not a bleating-heart organization.

What could possibly go wrong?

We all know President Trump's pathologies pretty well by now. Between the malignant narcissism and his natural distrust for anyone who knows more than he does on a particular subject, plus his well-documented habit of believing things he wants to believe instead of the black-and-white reality right in front of him, it doesn't take an Oliver Sacks to guess how he has reacted to everyone telling him he can't simply restart the economy on May 1st. And, sadly, he does not disappoint:

Over the weekend, the president said he would weigh multiple factors to arrive at the "toughest" decision of his administration to date. Trump signaled that he has consulted his top health professionals, business leaders and others whom he described as "smart people" in recent days. The ultimate call "will be based on a lot of facts and instincts," he said. In a Fox News phone interview Saturday, Trump said he would come to a conclusion "fairly soon."

But Trump seemed to telegraph his eagerness to restart much of the U.S. in a tweet Sunday evening, urging governors to perfect their testing abilities and to "be ready, big things are happening. No excuses!"

Trump has said he would like to reopen the country with a "big bang."

The motivation to restart the economy — even piecemeal — sooner rather than later may be based on a political calculation by the president that he needs to demonstrate that things are "on the upswing."

Naturally, Dr Anthony Fauci, who as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has become the de facto spokesperson for the government on the realities of the pandemic, has drawn the president's ire, given the inevitability he would have to contradict the most prolific liar in US history. Greg Sargent:

As part of this latest exercise in blame-shifting, Trump has taken his first public shot at Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and his own administration’s leading medical expert. Trump angrily retweeted a call for Fauci’s firing, while again hailing his own early restrictions on travel from China and furiously bashing the media for failing to recognize that decision’s foresight and brilliance.

As for reopening the economy, presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden published his plan yesterday:

First, we have to get the number of new cases of the disease down significantly. That means social distancing has to continue and the people on the front lines have to get the supplies and equipment they need. President Trump needs to use his full powers under the Defense Production Act to fight the disease with every tool at our disposal. He needs to get the federal response organized and stop making excuses. For more Americans to go back to their jobs, the president needs to do better at his job.

Second, there needs to be widespread, easily available and prompt testing — and a contact tracing strategy that protects privacy. A recent report from Mr. Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services made clear that we are far from achieving this goal.

Third, we have to make sure that our hospitals and health care system are ready for flare-ups of the disease that may occur when economic activity expands again. Reopening the right way will still not be completely safe. Public health officials will need to conduct effective disease surveillance. Hospitals need to have the staff and equipment necessary to handle any local outbreaks, and we need an improved federal system to get help to these places as needed.

Imagine if the incumbent president had a plan—any plan—other than "May 1st." Because if we simply go back to pre-pandemic norms then, it will indeed be a May Day situation.