The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Liberate Minnesota!

No, really, the president Tweeted that earlier today:

I mean, what the actual f? (He also wants to liberate Michigan and Virginia, by the way.) Charlie Pierce warned only Monday that this kind of nonsense was coming:

The acting director of the Office of National Intelligence is encouraging citizens to break local laws, endangering themselves and others, in the middle of a pandemic. Of all the screwy moments that we have experienced since the founding of Camp Runamuck, this is going to rank very close to the top. And it is not going to be a surprise to anyone if another AstroTurf movement similar to the Tea Party rises, especially if the president* “opens up” the country at the beginning of May.

This nonsense is coming, and it’s going to be encouraged by the national government, and I don’t know how we avoid it.

Andrew Sullivan, after point out that the virus doesn't have a social message, breathed a sigh of relief that Trump is so very lazy:

But of course we all know by now, including the Republicans, that it is meaningless. Trump claims the powers of a tyrant, behaves like one, talks like one, struts like one, has broken every norm a liberal democracy requires, and set dangerous precedents that could enable a serious collapse in constitutional norms in the future.

This, in Bill Kristol’s rather brilliant phrase, is “performative authoritarianism.” It has a real cost — it delegitimizes liberal democracy by mocking it and corrodes democratic institutions by undermining them. But it is not the cost of finding ourselves run by an American Victor Orban. Orban saw the coronavirus emergency the way most wannabe strongmen would and the way I feared Trump might: as an opportunity to further neuter any constitutional checks on him and rule by decree. Trump saw it purely as an obstacle to his reelection message about a booming economy, a blot on his self-image, an unfair spoiling of his term. Instead of exploiting it, he whined about it. He is incapable of empathy and so simply cannot channel the nation’s grief into a plan of action. So he rambles and digresses and divides and inflames. He has managed in this crisis to tell us both that he is all-powerful and that he takes no responsibility for anything.

And I suspect that this creepy vaudeville act, in a worried and tense country, is beginning to wear real thin. A man who claims total power but only exercises it to protect his personal interests, a man who vaunts his own authority but tolerates no accountability for it, is impressing no one.

The emergency I feared Trump could leverage to untrammeled power may, in fact, be the single clearest demonstration of his incompetence and irrelevance

Simply put, "Trump can't lie his way out of this one," as several pundits have observed. Also:

Fun times, fun times. Good thing it will actually seem like spring tomorrow in Chicago after another snowfall last night.

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.

Stop letting him distract you

I mentioned this morning that the President has ordered a halt to payments to the WHO to shift the blame from his own failures. That explains part of the story; Graeme Wood explains the rest:

Defunding the WHO (or at least threatening to do so) is yet another instance of Trump’s signature move, one that I described just weeks ago, when he insisted on calling SARS-CoV-2 “the Chinese virus,” and for a few days journalists and social-media scolds obediently modified their criticisms to fit his latest outrage. The move is simple. When Trump is ensnared in controversy, when he is being asked straightforward, damning questions and his inquisitors do not stop asking them, he says or does something outrageous to change the subject. It works every time. It is working now.

The trick, as with the “Chinese virus,” is to choose a plausible enemy, one whose misdeeds are not only undeniable but vital to acknowledge. It is, of course, true that COVID-19 originated in China, and anyone who suggests otherwise should not be trusted. As for the WHO, its errors were serious and unforced. Its delegation to Wuhan helped China underplay the severity of the outbreak, costing the rest of the world precious weeks. It denied that COVID-19 was contagious among humans as late as January 14, in an infamous tweet.

These are all good reasons to criticize the WHO.

But to weigh these reasons, good and bad—the WHO’s sins against its virtues—is to go back to playing the sucker’s game, and to have an excellent view of Abdul-Jabbar’s armpit as the basketball hurtles overhead toward the hoop. Cutting off money to the WHO is not about policy. It is misdirection: Look here, not there, because you are calling attention to something you are not welcome to see.

The tactic he is using is one that has fooled too many people, too many times. We should hope, along with the WHO, that we won’t get fooled again.

And if you'd like to watch a drowning man who thinks he's an Olympic swimmer, just watch:

He just can't help it

Today's Covid-19 news roundup highlights how no one in the White House should go anywhere near this crisis response effort:

All of this, and we still have an hour to go before lunch.

There was one bit of good news, though. The National Transportation Safety Board released a report this week that said air-transport fatalities dropped by 75% between the 1983-2000 period and 2001-2017. One expects that Covid-19 will reduce those numbers even further.

April is the cruelest month

Chicago might have been breeding lilacs out of the dead land yesterday, but today we woke up to this:

Because so few people are going in to the office these days, the expressways have almost no traffic. So people drive faster. Which led to this earlier this morning:

About 60 vehicles were involved in a massive pile-up on an ice-slickened Kennedy Expressway near North Avenue early Wednesday, sending 14 people to hospitals as 45 others were evaluated on the scene, according to the Chicago Fire Department.

Fire officials and the Illinois state police blamed icy conditions for causing the multiple collisions on the Kennedy around 5 a.m, as well as crashes throughout the Chicago area.

“Overnight conditions deteriorated. We got some snow. Some icy conditions on the expressway. Vehicles driving at high rates of speed caused the accident,” Deputy District Fire Chief John Giordano told reporters at the scene. “It caused an effect where vehicles couldn’t stop behind them because of the high speeds they were traveling, and thus the amount of vehicles we have at this time.”

All inbound lanes on the Kennedy near North Avenue will be closed for several hours, according to Illinois State Police. Several outbound lanes are also closed. The fire department warned drivers to be aware of the road conditions and to avoid the Kennedy.

State police reported that troopers have responded to other vehicle crashes throughout the area. Injuries have been reported but none appear to be life threatening.

Good job, guys. I'm glad no one got seriously hurt.

The weather forecast calls for a high today around 4°C, and 8°C tomorrow, so the snow should melt before lunchtime tomorrow, if not before sundown tonight.

The Endorsement

It's official:

I mean, we all knew this was coming, especially after Bernie Sanders endorsed Biden yesterday. Because, I mean, he had to. Lookit:

And finally, despite my grocery bill, I'm going to take a look at these upside-down drink recipes to preserve my liver through the crisis.

The guy who stood up to Trump

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease director Dr Anthony Fauci, while never rude nor inappropriate, nevertheless persists in not letting the president get away with bullshit about Covid-19. James Fallows has some thoughts about why:

Anthony fauci is different from any other prominent official Donald Trump has dealt with in his time as president. The difference is that Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is not afraid. To put it in terms Trump might recognize: What the hell does he have to lose?

This reality does not make it possible to predict what Trump will do with Fauci—fire him, ignore him, give him buddylike Hey, we see things differently respect, or something else. Nothing about Trump is predictable, except his reduction of all discourse to the two themes of his own greatness and the unfairness of his critics.

Anyone behaves differently in the presence of any president. People who say that is not true have not had the experience themselves. But Anthony Fauci has dealt with a lot of presidents before Trump.

Fauci is a sophisticated bureaucratic officer, and he knows how to “tell them exactly what’s the truth” as tactfully as he can. In his repeated press-briefing “corrections” of Trump’s fantasies and misstatements, Fauci has made it sound as if he is saying, “Yes, and …” rather than “No, that’s nuts.” His occasional face-palm moments while Trump is riffing are little glimpses of indiscipline while not at the microphone. Onstage he is honest and polite.

Fauci is offering an unusually clear lesson to all others who have submitted to Trump: This is how it looks when you’re not afraid.

Exactly. Intelligence, integrity, and nothing to lose, plus a healthy understanding of how the president has destroyed the reputations (or worse) of everyone who has worked for him, have given Dr Fauci the cojones to let all of Trump's crazy roll off him. I wish more Republicans had those.

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.

How shelter-in-place has affected sleep

Fitbit reported earlier this month that, following shelter-in-place orders, people go to sleep later but sleep more:

Based on our review of aggregated and anonymized data, we saw that in locations with shelter-in-place mandates, bedtime and bedtime consistency shifted. 

For the most part, people are going to bed later but getting more sleep, as well as more quality rest. For those whose quality of sleep has improved, they have been spending more time in deep and REM sleep.

Even though sleep duration has been longer, it is still important to maintain bedtime consistency for many health reasons. While going to bed later and waking up later makes sense for now, it will be important to try to keep up that consistency even when our schedules change.

According to my Fitbit, I've increased my average night's sleep by 4 minutes and got to sleep an average of 9 minutes later between Decemeber and the last 30 days. My "sleep score" (a proprietary Fitbit metric that ranges from 0 to 100) also went up an average of 4 points also. I'm actually trying to increase my average night's sleep by another 10 minutes, but it's harder than it seems.

We may be flattening a bit

Illinois' doubling time for Covid-19 cases has increased from 2.1 days to 7.9 days, as of yesterday.

In other news:

And finally, I'll leave you with this touching performance of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" by its composer, Curt Smith, and his daughter Diva: