Monday, July 06, 2020

At What Point Does Covid-19 Become Another Flu?

President Trump notoriously dismissed Covid-19 early on as just another flu.  That was quickly disproved.  I wonder, though, whether there is a point at which influenza and Covid-19 are really comparable.

Apparently flu kills from 20,000 to 80,000 people a year.  20,000 divided by 50 weeks equals 400 a week, 80,000 would equal 1600 a week.  Deaths are just one metric.  Another consideration is severity of illness and longevity of effects.  My impression is that on both counts Covid-19 has been worse than flu in that regard.

The idea of comparing covid-19 and the flu was discredited by its extensive use in the early days of the pandemic to minimize the dangers of the covid-19.  But now it seems to me that we're focusing exclusively on covid-19 and, perhaps, losing some perspective on the overall picture.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Housecleaning and Statue Removal

There's someone named Marie Kondo who advises on decluttering.  (Our house is cluttered, so no I've not followed her advice, but I'm sensitive to the issue so I recognize the name.)

I think she's the one who advises only keeping stuff which speaks to you. I wonder if that advice would work as applied to statues?

Personally, few statues speak to me.  The Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Park does, but likely only because of its associations with my wife.  The Lincoln Memorial does.  The Gaudens' of Clover Adams.

Some would speak to me if I were visiting, but not as part of my daily routine. Those statues for which I know some background, like the TR statue at the American Museum of Natural History, might speak to me. (Though I'd likely interpret it as partially a reference to TR's "Rough Riders" though Wikipedia doesn't mention any blacks in the regiment.)

So by the Marie Kondo test, I'm fine with removal of most of the statues. 

Saturday, July 04, 2020

The National Garden of American Heroes

One of the items on the agenda of Biden's transition task force is, I hope, a listing of Trump executive orders to be reviewed, possibly modified, and perhaps revoked in the early days of a Biden administration.  One of the top items is this July 3rd order for creating the National Garden of American Heroes.

It's nonsense.  The listing looks like an abbreviated one from this "Conservapedia Gallery of American Heroes"

Friday, July 03, 2020

The Last Mile Problem in Government--AMS

One of the problems of our government is the threads connecting national legislation to local effectiveness are often broken. 

I think I just found one such case today.  The USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has a program called "Farmers to Families Food Box".  Briefly the concept is to buy food, mostly perishable, which can't find a market under our pandemic conditions, and provide it in boxes to needy families. I'm thinking the boxing is a new idea being pushed by Secretary Perdue.

AMS has experience buying perishable food and providing it to schools for school lunches, tribes, etc.etc. But this is a new program using money appropriated by Congress (and perhaps CCC funding, not sure).  So AMS ran a new bidding process to find more vendors capable of handling the boxing and distribution to nonprofit organizations..  (I'm not sure how much overlap between the vendors in the new program and those AMS has dealt with before.  I do know there has been some scrutiny of some vendors with allegations political influence was involved in awards to new vendors.) 

So my picture is, you've this established network of AMS procurements, intermediaries, and recipients.  But now you have new additional money, additional intermediaries, and hopefully new recipients.  Where the threat is broken in my metaphor is the last mile problem--connecting new recipients with the old or new intermediaries.

If I understand the program correctly, which is a problem, AMS and the administration are making the assumption that existing nonprofits can make the connection.  But a question on the FSA employee group Facebook page raised the question.  Checking the AMS sit they have a list of the approved vendors who are getting the food and boxing it.  But there is no national database showing which nonprofits the vendors are dealing with. So the question is, if Jane Doe in Mississippi is interested in getting a box--who does she contact?  As far as I can see, she has to use the phone book to locate a nonprofit which might be  distributing the boxes.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Race Is a Social Construct?

Political correctness these days claims that race is socially constructed; perhaps it goes further to say there is no objective, independent basis for race.

I tend to bristle at such claims because I believe groups of humans can be grouped by common genetics.  But regardless of that, things like this Tweet remind me that society does construct "races". 

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

New--The Phishing Call

I'm long familiar with the phishing email.  But today my wife and I dealt with a phishing phone call, which is new on me. 

Briefly someone who claimed he was from Amazon said they had an order for $359 for an Apple Watch to be sent to Dayton Ohio, which was suspicious.  When we said we didn't order it, he claimed he needed to establish 2-step verification on the account.  When challenged he was able to give an employee id number and a phone number to call.  Of course, we rejected the premise.  If it were real, we could have rejected the charge on our credit card.

But I'm impressed by the phishing.  Seems there's an arms race going on, where scam artists and merchants and customers are trying to keep up with each other. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Contrarian on Bounties

Big hullabaloo now about the possibility  that Russia has offered bounties to Al Qaeda [Taliban] to kill American soldiers/contractors.

While I bow to no one in my low opinion of the current president, I think remember from the book/movie "Charlie Wilson's War" the degree to which the US government encouraged and aided the Afghan resistance fighters to shoot down Russian helicopters. Distinctions can be made between that effort and the Russian actions as currently reported/suspected, but the similarity is uncomfortable.

A closer example from our history is the use of rewards for [scalps of Native Americans.

Fund the IRS

That's my first wish for the next Democratic president.  Why?  See this distressing report by Pro Publica.

Monday, June 29, 2020

On Removing Statues and Renaming Names

I'm of two multiple minds on the issue, as I am on most things:

  • on one hand I never give a thought to statues or names--who or what they stand for.  I just accept them as part of the environment, rather like the weather or gravity.
  • on the other hand I know intellectually, if not emotionally, that some people do, at least at some times.  I really doubt that a black person who drove through Alexandria every day on the way to work gave much of a thought to the statue of the Confederate soldier which used to stand at the intersection of the two main streets.  More likely their attention was on navigating the traffic.  But I accept the idea that such a statue could, on occasion, be disturbing.
  • on the third hand, my two positions above are coming from my background as a white 79 year old American male.  If I make the effort, I can imagine perhaps a German street with a statue of Hitler or an idealized Wehrmacht soldier and a Jewish person's reaction to it.  If I come at the issue from that direction, as putting myself in the place of a Jew confronting a statue or name which commemorated the Third Reich, it's a lot easier to empathize with the reaction of a black American confronting a reminder of the Confederacy or of slavery.
My contrarian side is a bit activated on the third point--some resistance to the implied comparison of the German treatment of the Jews and American slavery. But the above describes my position today.

I think in the long run the specifically Confederate statues and names will be removed.  That set of symbolic victories will be enough in the long run to reduce the feeling behind the movement.  As is usual with humans we'll end with a mixed bag of things, with no clear algorithm evident. 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

A Thought for Hillary

I was struck by this in an Atlantic piece on Biden:
"It’s better to be a mystery [like Biden is to many] than to be like Hillary Clinton, who faced what amounted to a 25-year negative-advertising campaign that left even sympathetic voters suspicious. Her 2016 word cloud was dominated by liar, criminal, and untrustworthy, with strong registering a bit too."
That seems to be the way she's remembered now. But it's wrong about the way she was regarded during her political career.  Wikipedia shows that she had 22 appearances topping the "most admired woman in America" list between 1948 and now, far more than anyone else.  (Ike and Obama each had 12 as the most admired man.)

Granted this just means that she had a plurality of strong supporters, but there were years in which her favorability was quite high.  What happened in 2015-16 was the Republican publicity machine tearing her down, aided by a "both sides" media world, eager to balance Trump's real faults with Hillary's supposed ones.

You can see I'm aggrieved here.  I won't say that Clinton was a good candidate nor that she didn't open the door to some of the attacks.  I will say she would have been an above-average president, not the total disaster of the man who beat her.