The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Covid isn't like the flu. It's like smoking

The Atlantic makes a solid case for treating Covid-19 as a behavior problem, not a virus:

The “new normal” will arrive when we acknowledge that COVID’s risks have become more in line with those of smoking cigarettes—and that many COVID deaths, like many smoking-related deaths, could be prevented with a single intervention.

The pandemic’s greatest source of danger has transformed from a pathogen into a behavior. Choosing not to get vaccinated against COVID is, right now, a modifiable health risk on par with smoking, which kills more than 400,000 people each year in the United States.

The COVID vaccines are, without exaggeration, among the safest and most effective therapies in all of modern medicine. An unvaccinated adult is an astonishing 68 times more likely to die from COVID than a boosted one. Yet widespread vaccine hesitancy in the United States has caused more than 163,000 preventable deaths and counting. Because too few people are vaccinated, COVID surges still overwhelm hospitals—interfering with routine medical services and leading to thousands of lives lost from other conditions. If everyone who is eligible were triply vaccinated, our health-care system would be functioning normally again.

We haven’t banned tobacco outright—in fact, most states protect smokers from job discrimination—but we have embarked on a permanent, society-wide campaign of disincentivizing its use. Long-term actions for COVID might include charging the unvaccinated a premium on their health insurance, just as we do for smokers, or distributing frightening health warnings about the perils of remaining uninoculated. And once the political furor dies down, COVID shots will probably be added to the lists of required vaccinations for many more schools and workplaces.

It's time to cough up a better strategy for getting people jabbed.

Two thoughts about the world

First, I believe this might be the greatest gaffe* of the 21st century:

Second, for everyone whinging on about paying $5 per gallon of gas, why not take this opportunity to finally switch to the metric system? Then you'd only be paying $1.29 per liter** of gas!

* And I do mean "gaffe" in the sense that it's an absolutely true statement made absolutely unintentionally.

** Of course, they're used to this way of pricing petrol in London, where they're today whinging on about 159p per liter ($8 per gallon).

Spring, Summer, Spring, Summer, who knows

This week's temperatures tell a story of incoherence and frustration: Monday, 26°C; Tuesday, 16°C; yesterday, 14°C; today (so far), 27°C. And this is after a record high of 33°C just a week ago—and a low just above 10°C Tuesday morning.

So while I'm wearing out the tracks on my window sashes, I'll have these items to read while my house either cools down or warms up:

And finally, Ian Bogost feels elated that cryptocurrencies have crashed, particularly because he doesn't own any.

Stuff I didn't have time to read today

I had to put out a new version of the Inner Drive Azure tools for my day job today, and I had more meetings than I wanted (i.e., a non-zero number), so these kind of piled up:

There were other things I'll read later, but it's past 6pm and someone is staring at me because she needs a walk.

What did we say about crypto?

Don't. Just don't. Tulips look like a better investment than cryptocurrency.

First, the Justice Department has launched a prosecution against an unnamed defendant for allegedly laundering $10 million in Bitcoin:

U.S. authorities filed charges in March after allegedly discovering that a sanctioned country had set up a PayPal-type payment platform system with the defendants’ help, according to Friday’s ruling. It said investigators were able to use sophisticated blockchain analysis tools to trace that person’s actions, since despite cryptocurrencies’ anonymizing features, all transactions to individual accounts are recorded in public ledgers that can be amassed into large data sets.

The $10 million in bitcoin payments originated from the United States and were transmitted for customers of the payment platform, according to a U.S. law enforcement affidavit cited by the ruling. The platform advertised its services as designed to evade American sanctions, and the defendant “proudly stated” it could do so using bitcoins while knowing the country was blacklisted, the ruling said.

The US Magistrate Judge overseeing the case reminded the defendant that despite the mythology surrounding them, cryptocurrencies are traceable and are considered cash for the purposes of international sanctions. They are, in other words, not the perfect vectors for bribing foreign dictators that their proponents promote.

Economist Paul Krugman makes (as you'd suspect) the economic argument against cryptocurrencies (sub.req.), if the legal and moral arguments didn't persuade you:

By now, we’ve all heard of them, but what exactly are cryptocurrencies? Many people — including, I fear, many people who have invested in them — probably still don’t fully understand them. Saying that they’re digital assets doesn’t really get at it. My bank account, which I mainly reach online, is also a digital asset, for all practical purposes.

In any case, as we look forward, the value of cryptocurrencies will have to rest on their underlying economic uses, which are …

Well, that’s just the thing. I’ve heard many discussions in which crypto supporters have been asked exactly what economic role crypto can play that isn’t more easily and cheaply achieved through other means — debit cards, Venmo, etc. Other than illegal transactions, in which crypto may sometimes offer anonymity, I have yet to hear a coherent answer.

As it is, cryptocurrencies play almost no role in economic transactions other than speculation in crypto markets themselves. And if your answer is “give it time,” you should bear in mind that Bitcoin has been around since 2009, which makes it ancient by tech standards; Apple introduced the iPad in 2010. If crypto was going to replace conventional money as a medium of exchange — a means of payment — surely we should have seen some signs of that happening by now. Just try paying for your groceries or other everyday goods using Bitcoin. It’s nearly impossible.

Those who question crypto’s purpose are constantly confronted with the argument that the sheer scale of the industry — at their peak, crypto assets were worth almost $3 trillion — and the amount of money true believers have made along the way proves the skeptics wrong. Can we, the public, really be that foolish and gullible?

Well, maybe the crypto skeptics are wrong. But on the question of folly and gullibility, the answer is yes, we can.

As Julia Ioffe pointed out yesterday in reference to ordinary Russians believing the Kremlin's propaganda, in a country where 30% of the population believe in "replacement theory," our folly and gullibility have no limit.

One million dead (or more)

The CDC reported today that the US has officially passed 1 million Covid deaths:

The confirmed number of dead is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 336 days. It is roughly equal to how many Americans died in the Civil War and World War II combined. It’s as if Boston and Pittsburgh were wiped out.

Three out of every four deaths were people 65 and older. More men died than women. White people made up most of the deaths overall. But Black, Hispanic and Native American people have been roughly twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as their white counterparts.

Of course, the CDC also believes we passed 1 million actual Covid deaths a few months ago, as the total number of excess deaths since 1 February 2020 has passed 1,119,000.

NPR reports that vaccine misinformation and Republican Party politics has led to a majority of those deaths in unvaccinated populations:

[W]e've been hit so hard due to fragmentation and inequalities in our health care system, as well as vaccine hesitancy, often fueled by politically motivated misinformation. Consider this, A - if you tally up the number of unvaccinated people who died from COVID after vaccines were open to all adults last year, it's about 319,000 lives lost, according to a Brown University analysis.

So Covid has killed more Americans than any other single event by many hundreds of thousands:

The collapse of crypto

I want to call attention to an article from October by Ben Mackenzie and Jacob Silverman that seems prescient today:

Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler has compared [the cryptocurrency industry] to betting in unlicensed, unregistered casinos. “We’ve got a lot of casinos here in the Wild West,” Gensler said in a chat last month with the Washington Post. “And the poker chip is these stablecoins.” In this casino, the chips themselves might be just as risky as sitting down at the blackjack table.

A stablecoin is a digital currency whose value is directly linked to another asset, kind of like the dollar under the gold standard. The value of a stablecoin is supposed to remain constant. Such cryptocurrencies are useful because converting fiat money into and out of a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin can be slow and cumbersome; if you load up on stablecoins, you’re dealing in the coin of the realm and can make your transactions quickly. The most popular stablecoin by a country mile is Tether. According to a recent study, 70 percent of Bitcoin trading is done in Tethers. On any given day, Tether is by far the most-traded coin, its volume often double that of Bitcoin. If you want to gamble at the crypto casino, you need Tethers.

I was never into betting on crypto for the same reason I was never into online poker: There’s no human interaction involved, and drinking at my desk while watching numbers flicker by on a screen is not my thing. I’m also not eager to gamble on things where I don’t know the risks involved and when I may be playing by different rules than others. For all of its talk about ensuring trust via strong code and decentralized authorities, the crypto industry remains, like many pockets of its mainstream finance counterpart, profoundly concentrated and often untrustworthy.

For those who look past all this and end up on the losing end if this $2 trillion bubble pops, it might be catastrophic, especially as crypto exchanges increasingly resemble unlicensed banks, with some now encouraging users to directly deposit their paychecks into crypto. For the average investor/gambler (is there a difference anymore?), one would be best advised to heed a popular saying in Vegas: Look around the poker table; if you can’t spot the sucker, you’re it.

Forward to this past week, and the tulips South Sea Company Ponzi scheme crypto market seems like the casino is closing.

Margaret Atwood on the Alito draft opinion

Canadian author Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid's Tale in the 1980s, when the establishment of a theocracy in 21st-century Massachusetts seemed like science fiction. Today, she worries she might only have gotten the location wrong:

Although I eventually completed this novel and called it The Handmaid’s Tale, I stopped writing it several times, because I considered it too far-fetched. Silly me. Theocratic dictatorships do not lie only in the distant past: There are a number of them on the planet today. What is to prevent the United States from becoming one of them?

For instance: It is now the middle of 2022, and we have just been shown a leaked opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States that would overthrow settled law of 50 years on the grounds that abortion is not mentioned in the Constitution, and is not “deeply rooted” in our “history and tradition.” True enough. The Constitution has nothing to say about women’s reproductive health. But the original document does not mention women at all.

Let’s look at the First Amendment. It reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The writers of the Constitution, being well aware of the murderous religious wars that had torn Europe apart ever since the rise of Protestantism, wished to avoid that particular death trap.

t ought to be simple: If you believe in “ensoulment” at conception, you should not get an abortion, because to do so is a sin within your religion. If you do not so believe, you should not—under the Constitution—be bound by the religious beliefs of others. But should the Alito opinion become the newly settled law, the United States looks to be well on the way to establishing a state religion. Massachusetts had an official religion in the 17th century. In adherence to it, the Puritans hanged Quakers.

If Justice Alito wants you to be governed by the laws of the 17th century, you should take a close look at that century. Is that when you want to live?

I sure don't. Why do Republicans?

Monty the piping plover dies suddenly

The male of the Montrose Beach endangered piping plover couple, who has spent the last three weeks waiting for his true love to return, died yesterday:

“It is with great sadness that we confirm the passing of Monty, one of the Montrose Beach piping plovers,” said Irene Tostado, of the Chicago Park District.

Tamima Itani, of the Chicago Piping Plovers group, shared more details, saying Monty died Friday afternoon.

“He was observed gasping for air before dropping and passing away,” said Itani.

Great Lakes piping plovers numbered only 26 known individuals as recently as 1990, but conservation—like the protection given Monty and Rose since they arrived in Chicago three years ago—has brought the number up to about 140.

Sad news indeed.

Total Perspective Vortex

NPR did a segment this morning on the 1978 movie Grease, which correspondent Dori Bell had never seen—since, you know, she's a late Millennial. As I listened to the movie, while slowly waking up and patting Cassie, the timeline of the movie and the play just made me feel...old.

The play, which premiered in 1971, takes place in the fall of 1958. The movie came out in 1978.

So try this out, with the dates changed a bit: The play premiered in 2015 and takes place in 2002.

Oh, it gets better, Gen-Xers and Boomers: Grease the movie is to us today what It Happened One Night was to people in 1978. Because 1978 is 44 years ago, as 1934 was 44 years before 1978.

So, sure, Bell had trouble relating to Grease for the same reasons people just after the Vietnam War would have trouble relating to a movie made in the depths of the Great Depression.

Time for my Geritol...