Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Literary Corner: If You Look at Children

2020 is the "Desperate Housewives" of years, with writers so addicted to over-the-top melodrama for its own sake that they'll sacrifice any kind of meaning for a momentary effect, and you keep dissolving into giggles at the moment when you ought to be taking it the most seriously. Hurricanes in Manhattan isn't crazy enough, it's been done before, so they have to have a tornado watch in Manhattan instead. Give me a break.

In any case, it passed, having done little in my neighborhood other than to knock down a lot of tree branches, showing a particular hostility to the locust trees, seen above, in a post-hurricane dappling of late-afternoon sun (and a very pleasant post-hurricane breeze).


Like Things Go Away
by Donald J. Trump

My view is the schools 
should open. This thing’s 
going away. It will go away 
like things go away 
and my view is schools 
should be open. 

If you look at children, 
children are almost — 
and I would almost say 
definitely, but almost — 
immune from this disease.

I don’t know how you feel 
about it but they have much 
stronger immune systems
than we do somehow for this.

(Fox & Friends, 5 August 2020, via The Wrap.)

OK, so as you know, children are not immune from Covid-19. They are less likely to get infected than adults, and much less likely to suffer from severe symptoms (though 10% of infected babies become critically ill, and children who have been infected are in danger of ending up with a multisystem inflammatory syndrome resembling Kawasaki disease, which is pretty scary), but those who do get infected seem to carry a lot of virus ("children younger than age 5 may host up to 100 times as much of the virus in the upper respiratory tract as adults"), and they can infect others, like adults, including their teachers, and their kindly, beloved grandfathers like PRESIDENT TRUMP:
Children under 10 were roughly half as likely as adults to spread the virus to others, consistent with other studies. That may be because children generally exhale less air — and therefore less virus-laden air — or because they exhale that air closer to the ground, making it less likely that adults would breathe it in.... And those between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults do.
Also, I don't know how you feel about it but it DOESN'T MATTER HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT IT. Facts don't care about President Trump's feelings, as the guy says. And "like things go away" covers a pretty broad range of outcomes. The Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble—they're only made of clay—but viruses really hang around, though their virulence seems to decline at different rates and evolves back and forth. "Virulent" (from the Latin virulentus meaning "full of virus" or poison, which is what virus meant in pre-microscope days) is a terrific word, I'm glad it showed up. 

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Everybody’s got it in for somebody. Trump says Twitter’s got it in for Trump. Facebook’s got it in for ethics. Consumers have it in for the economy. And I’m keeping my back against the wall.

It's getting brutal out there
This is one pissed-off nation. And as in all things, it’s the people at the top who set the mood.

So yes, Trump again. The Huffington Post recently made note, among other Trumpian horrors, of the President's complaint that Twitter’s trending topics are “ridiculous, illegal, and, of course, very unfair." He made note of the unfairness on Twitter, which of course, drove his trend numbers up even higher.

So disgusting to watch Twitter’s so-called “Trending”, where sooo many trends are about me, and never a good one. They look for anything they can find, make it as bad as possible, and blow it up, trying to make it trend. Really ridiculous, illegal, and, of course, very unfair!
Of course, this would have nothing to do with the fact that if you spend your presidency posting on Twitter (when you’re not playing golf or  acting like a shmuck and sending disguised thugs out to beat up peaceful protesters in the streets of Portland) you become a pretty hot topic. 

All the same, it’s hard to tell what’s “illegal” about Trump’s trending. The press could ask, but when Trump knows the answer will make him look bad, he simply walks out of the press conference. Which, of course, leads to more tweets. Which ups his trend still more.

On to another topic.

Values? We don’t need 
no stinking values!

Yes, yes, I know it feels like 100 years ago, but it was only last week that, in response to leadership from the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League, major advertisers boycotted Facebook over hate speech, various divisive lies, and trollery that Marc Zuckerberg and his gang have been tolerating. How could anybody who loves money more than humanity blame Facebook? Hatred attracts eyeballs, and eyeballs attract advertisers, and advertisers shell out money to advertise.

The boycott kind of fizzled, because it turns out that big national advertisers are only a drop in Zuckerberg’s bucket. He said his strength was coming from small local advertisers, although I suspect big political organizations on both sides of the aisle are willing to overlook the hate speech in their search for an advertising audience.

The most ancient rule of beastly behavior is, if you’re in it up to your neck, have the intelligence to keep your mouth shut. But not Carolyn Everson, Zuckerberg's VP of global business solutions, whatever the hell that title means.

“The truth is we are not trying to be neutral in the sense that we have no values,” she told an interviewer for Advertising Age. “We have actually very clear values, we have values around voice, around safety, authenticity, privacy, dignity. We have values, but depending which side of the aisle you’re on, depending on a decision we make, you might think we’re one way or the other, but there is no advantage to us to be taking sides.”

What those values specifically are is another question, perhaps for another day. And yes, when there’s money to be made there’s “no advantage” to taking sides on racism, fascism, misinformation, perhaps even lynching or a coup d’état. Not when a buck is a buck, right Zuck?

Consumers lose confidence.
The unconscionable nerve of them!

Late last month, Bloomberg news reported that “U.S. consumer confidence declined in July by more than forecast as Americans became rattled by the recent increase in Covid-19 cases and its impact on the economy and the job market.”

Since then, the Republicans and the Trump Administration have rolled up their sleeves and done whatever they could to drive consumer confidence even lower. As of this writing, they’ve let the $600 weekly supplement to unemployed Americans expire. They’ve taken off from Washington, ignoring a House bill, pushed through by Democrats, that would have restored some stability to the lives of unemployed Americans. 

Liveable income? Protection against eviction and homelessness? Control of the Corona Virus? They’re not only on the chopping block, they’re also getting scooped up and tossed into the paper shredder. But don’t worry, the Republicans fully intend to protect Fortune 500 companies against lawsuits from employees and their families if the employees are forced to work in unhealthy conditions and then contract or die from Covid-19.

Of course corporations will be protected. As Mitt Romney so ably described the concept four years ago, "Corporations are People." So there! Carry that comforting thought through the day with you.

Cross-posted at The New York Crank

Pre-operational postscript

And I would have gotten away with it too, if not for those meddling scientists. Via.

Or putting it another way (from Jonathan Swan's Axios interview of Trump, to which I'll be returning, as transcribed in
Trump: “Many of those tests are now obsolete, because you know, it’s called science, and all of a sudden something’s better. But because we tested so many people, 55-60 million people, very soon, we get cases. You test, some kid has even just a little runny nose, it’s a case. And then you report many cases. So we look like we have more cases than massive countries, like China – which by the way, doesn’t report, as you know.”
The test makes it a Covid-19 case, as Trump sees it. Sure the kid has the sniffles, but it's not "a case" unless some meddling functionary goes and tests for it, so it shouldn't count. It's not fair to count it, not fair to Trump.

That is, in the White House it's OK to test everybody that might come in the president's breathing range, because that's important stuff involving the president's health. But out there in the world, it's not about a virus that a kid with a runny nose might communicate to teachers or grandparents, possibly killing them the way Mrs. Miller or Robert O'Brien or one of those Secret Service guys could have killed the president (and Trump never shows any awareness that asymptomatic cases exist as well), it's about keeping score of the administration in his competition with the other Leaders. Not that he's trying to say it isn't really Covid, but how's he supposed to win if our own refs are so nitpicky all the time, calling a foul when the virus hardly even brushed against the guy?

It's not just that he has a different standard for events outside his own body, it's that he doesn't accord the same reality to things happening outside his body, and he sincerely expects his audience (all projections of the only mind whose full existence he can recognize, his own) to accept that.

And in that way it's perhaps not so much that he hasn't reached the concrete operational stage at all as that he can't make the required effort to extend it beyond his immediate purview into the bodies he doesn't occupy. And not so much, as I was trying to say, that testing magically creates Covid infections as that the infections couldn't happen without the malignant forces arrayed against him, which are somehow connected to testing, though he's not going to (can't) inquire too closely into how it works.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Hi It's Stupid: Preoperational

Illustration by Andrew Couts via Daily Dot.

Hi, it's Stupid to say Donald Trump really believes Covid testing causes Covid disease. I was having an argument over this with a really smart friend, who took the view that with all the terrible things you can fairly accuse him of, it's a bad thing, both ethically and tactically, to accuse him of things he's not guilty of. With which I totally agree, as a general principle.

On the other hand, it developed during the conversation that he really didn't understand very clearly why it's wrong to say, "We have more Cases because we do more Testing," and as I say he's a really smart person, and it struck me that there are probably a whole lot of smart people who know Trump shouldn't say this but don't quite know what we should say instead, including the reporters and opinionists in the new media who have certainly done such a poor job of communicating it that they might as well not understand it. So I thought I'd walk everybody through the argument, ending up with an explanation as to why it's really not that unfair to accuse Trump of believing that testing makes people sick.

Donald Trump, Vlad the Impaler, and the Presidential Vampire Problem

Vlad the Impaler enjoys his lunch.(Woodcut 
lifted from Wikipedia.)

With Donald Trump in charge, what are we to make of America’s destiny? 

Our lives have become a nightmare of outrages and horrors, each playing a game of Can You Top This with the previous outrage or horror. 

Autocratic merchandise from the 
not-so-little shop of horrors

Our psychopath-in-chief threatens to postpone the next presidential election. 

He sends armed thugs in insignia-less military camo fatigues to beat up, gas, and shoot with “less lethal” munitions people who peacefully protest against police brutality. 

He alienates our longstanding friends abroad and sucks up to tyrants. 

He spills a can of intelligence beans to Vladmir Putin, rendering other nations’ impression of our espionage apparatus so untrustworthy that I suspect the rest of the democratic world will not only refuse to share intelligence with us, but won’t even give us the time of day. 

He ignores a pandemic, turning it into an American plague (over 150,000 dead so far and counting) while the rest of the world tamps down the viral spread in their own nations. 

And I’m only skimming the surface. Under Trump, America has become bereft of sympathetic allies and hence militarily weaker. We have become a cesspool of viral disease. We now teeter on the edge of becoming an economic basket case as well. 

If some enemy agent had sneaked into America and done all this to us, we’d undoubtedly arrest, charge, try, and then execute him. We executed Osama Bin Laden even without benefit of a trial. But because Trump is President of the United States, our only hope is to vote him out of office — and even that prospect is pockmarked with horrifying possibilities that range from ballot tampering by agents of the White House to an armed coup d’état.

Does Trump remind you of
anyone else you’ve heard about?

I’ve been trying to think who else in history — past the usual suspects like Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini —Trump reminds me of.  Vlad Dracul, the 15th Century Transylvanian Prince, A.K.A Vlad the Impaler, sprang to mind. 

Like Trump, Vlad Dracul was a psychopath who liked to portray himself as a tough guy. His favorite form of execution — of foreign intruders and also of his own subjects that he didn’t like — was to impale them, threading them alive onto sharpened poles as if they were shish kebab, and leaving them mounted by the public roadsides for the horrific edification of Vlad’s other subjects. 

Did he feel any pity for his victims, writhing in pain on poles until they died? Hardly. Vlad, like Donald Trump, had all the human empathy of a pit viper. He was said to have enjoyed his lunch while watching the impalement of his own living subjects. (See the woodcut at the top of this post.)

Needless to say, Vlad not only failed to charm the people he ruled, but also made himself one of the most despised men in history. It is said that the folk legend of Dracula the vampire evolved out of his memory. That memory nourished folktales of a bloodsucking bat who drains his victims dry, a veritable incarnation of Satanic evil, from which Bram Stoker fashioned his retelling of the vampire legend.

The undead presidency
of Donald Trump

Since Donald Trump is not likely to step down willingly, his presidency threatens to have the semi-immortal characteristics of Dracula. Even when his presidency is dead, it will be undead. It will abhor the sunlight, but stay up until the wee hours tweeting bat screeches that tell us he’s coming for our throats.

I am speaking in wildly hyperbolic metaphor, of course, but in the end, it may be necessary to drive a silver stake through his heart and bury him at a crossroads. Ditto, his entire cavern full of bloodsucking eutherians, from William Barr, to Mike Pompeo, to Jared Kushner, to enablers like Mitch McConnell.

The good news is, this would have the potential to create one of the first great infrastructure programs to revive our failing economy. Call it the Crossroads Repair and Highway Reinforcement act of 2021. 

Or is this idea simply bats? Don’t answer that!

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Fuq the Blues, They Don't Vote For Us

Illumination ca, 1413-15 by the Boucicault Master, Paris, depicting the Roman emperor Galerius "on his deathbed, suffering from a horrendous malady that reportedly caused his entrails to decay inside his body and worms to come out of his mouth, ears, and nose... as two servants cover their mouths from the stench of his rotting flesh." J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

In March 1992, Ed Koch, the former New York City mayor, wrote that Baker had dismissed concern about Jewish anger [over G.H.W. Bush administration demands that Israel join Madrid peace process], saying “F*** the Jews, they don’t vote for us.” Baker adamantly denied it.

Fred Zeidman, a Houston-area businessman and Republican fundraiser who is friendly with the Bush family and with Baker, said the remark has long been misunderstood. Baker was aiming his ire at another Cabinet member, Zeidman said, and intended it as a joke. (JTA, December 2018)

Meaning, of course, Baker really did say it, and providing evidence that calling your racism a "joke" is an old Republican habit, but let that pass. Nowadays Republican politicians demand lockstep fealty to the Israeli government, but most American Jews don't agree, and so they still don't vote for them. So it goes.

Meanwhile, the latest outrage is the revelation, in a terrific piece by Katherine Eban for Vanity Fair ("How Jared Kushner's Secret Testing Plan 'Went Poof Into Thin Air'"), that the coronavirus response team of business bros convened at the White House by Jared Kushner had managed by early April to put together a plausible proposal for a national Covid testing plan to coordinate distribution of test kits and contact tracing, beef up antibody testing, and report all test data directly to a national repository as well as state and local authorities, but ditched it under the impression that only Democrats were really suffering from the disease so it wasn't worth the trouble, because it really looked like a lot of work, and besides the virus might just disappear (according to models pushed by Dr. Birx), and

Most troubling of all, perhaps, was a sentiment [a public health expert who worked with the team] said a member of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically. “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy,” said the expert.

That logic may have swayed Kushner. “It was very clear that Jared was ultimately the decision maker as to what [plan] was going to come out,” the expert said.

Fuck the Blues, in essence. Kushner decided he could probably get away with killing me, so why not? (Press Secretary McEnany has not denied that there was a plan that went poof, but denied that politics played a role in the decision.)  And announced that all the problems had been solved already:

Of course they didn't get away with it, in a certain sense: Birx's happy talk was wrong and Fauci's warnings were right, the virus didn't disappear, and the prematurely unlocked Red states all became epicenters as the situation in the Northeast began to ease off, and the political situation for Trump became really dire, with previously unshakable Republican states like Florida and Arizona and Georgia, even Texas, starting to look attainable for Democrats. But it's not clear that there will be any direct retribution for the tens of thousands of human lives that have been lost because of this crazy callousness, if that's what it was.


I'm taking some time off -- I'll be back in a week (possibly sooner). But some favorite guest bloggers will be here, so stop by.