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“His Name Was Emmett Till”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2021

This piece by Wright Thompson on how the murder of Emmett Till has been remembered and forgotten is a difficult, compelling, and important read. The story centers around the still-little-known barn where Till was tortured and murdered by a group of several white men in 1955.

But the way Till’s name exists in the firmament of American history stands in opposition to the gaps in what we know about his killing. No one knows, for instance, how many people were involved. Most historians think at least seven were present. Only two were tried: half brothers J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant. Another half brother, Leslie Milam, was there that night too. He lived in an old white farmhouse a few dozen steps from the barn, next to where Jeff Andrews’s house now stands.

In 1955 an all-white, all-male jury, encouraged by the defense to do their duty as “Anglo-Saxons,” acquitted J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant. Because the defendants couldn’t be tried again, they got paid to make a confession to a national magazine — a heavily fictionalized account stage-managed by their lawyers — and Leslie Milam and his barn were written out of the story. Ask most people where Till died and they’ll say Money, Mississippi, the town where Till whistled at Bryant’s wife outside the family’s store. An Equal Justice Initiative monument in Montgomery says Money. Wikipedia does too. The Library of Congress website skips over the barn, which is just outside the town of Drew, about 45 minutes from the store.

I learned about the barn last year and have since made repeated visits, alone and with groups, once with members of Till’s family. Over and over, I drove from my home in the Mississippi hill country back into the gothic flatland where I was born. The barn’s existence conjures a complex set of reactions: It is a mourning bench for Black Americans, an unwelcome mirror for white Americans. It both repels and demands attention.

America’s Abstract Freedom

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2021

This is quite a paragraph from David Bentley Hart’s Three Cheers for Socialism in Commonweal:

Americans are, of course, the most thoroughly and passively indoctrinated people on earth. They know next to nothing as a rule about their own history, or the histories of other nations, or the histories of the various social movements that have risen and fallen in the past, and they certainly know little or nothing of the complexities and contradictions comprised within words like “socialism” and “capitalism.” Chiefly, what they have been trained not to know or even suspect is that, in many ways, they enjoy far fewer freedoms, and suffer under a more intrusive centralized state, than do the citizens of countries with more vigorous social-democratic institutions. This is at once the most comic and most tragic aspect of the excitable alarm that talk of social democracy or democratic socialism can elicit on these shores. An enormous number of Americans have been persuaded to believe that they are freer in the abstract than, say, Germans or Danes precisely because they possess far fewer freedoms in the concrete. They are far more vulnerable to medical and financial crisis, far more likely to receive inadequate health coverage, far more prone to irreparable insolvency, far more unprotected against predatory creditors, far more subject to income inequality, and so forth, while effectively paying more in tax (when one figures in federal, state, local, and sales taxes, and then compounds those by all the expenditures that in this country, as almost nowhere else, their taxes do not cover). One might think that a people who once rebelled against the mightiest empire on earth on the principle of no taxation without representation would not meekly accept taxation without adequate government services. But we accept what we have become used to, I suppose. Even so, one has to ask, what state apparatus in the “free” world could be more powerful and tyrannical than the one that taxes its citizens while providing no substantial civic benefits in return, solely in order to enrich a piratically overinflated military-industrial complex and to ease the tax burdens of the immensely wealthy?

I mean, when you put it like that…

The US Isn’t Ready for Another Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2021

Olga Khazan writing for The Atlantic:

After an inept coronavirus response, will the United States do better when the next pandemic strikes? Experts generally agree that America learned from the past year, and that the next public-health crisis won’t be quite as bewildering. But America’s pandemic preparedness still has major gaps, some of which are too big for any one administration to fix. In recent weeks, I’ve called back many of the experts I interviewed over the past 18 months about masks, testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and more. I asked them, “Are we ready for another one?” The short answer is “Not quite.” The long answer is that being truly “ready” will be harder than anyone realizes.

The Trump administration mishandled the American response to Covid-19 so completely that it’s tempting to pin most of the pandemic carnage on him. But the more I read about the pandemic (Michael Lewis’s The Premonition is a recent example), the more I have come to believe that the majority of the American pandemic deaths were baked in, no matter who was President. Trump was definitely a worst-case scenario, but even a more competent person in the White House in Jan 2020 (like Clinton or Sanders or Romney) would not have done so much better. Poor public health infrastructure, politicized government agencies, no mandatory paid leave, an overpriced healthcare system that only works for some, uncoordinated national response (+ federalism), years of defunding government programs, a reactive (rather than proactive) CDC, unhealthy populace, poverty, systemic racism in medicine, entitled individualism, high rate of uninsured people, growing anti-science sentiment — the pandemic was destined to race through the United States like a brush fire no matter what.

Even the European Union, whose member nations do not share many of America’s aforementioned challenges (but have other issues), did only marginally better than the US in preventing Covid deaths. The UK did worse:

a chart showing the cumulative covid deaths per million of the US, UK, EU, and world

EVs Won’t Save Us from Our Car Culture’s Ill Effects

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2021

From Electric Vehicles Won’t Save Us by Coby Lefkowitz:

This isn’t a story about Elon Musk, or Tesla, or a contrarian take about how “oil is good, actually.” I unconditionally support electric vehicles in their quest to take over the primacy of gasoline-powered vehicles in the market. But I don’t save that enthusiasm for their prospects on society broadly. From the perspective of the built environment, there is nothing functionally different between an electric vehicle and a gasoline propelled one. The relationship is the same, and it’s unequivocally destructive. Cars, however they’re powered, are environmentally cataclysmic, break the tethers of community, and force an infrastructure of dependency that is as financially ruinous to our country as it is dangerous to us as people. In order to build a more sustainable future and a better world for humanity, we need to address the root problems that have brought us to where we so perilously lie today.

America’s Individualism and Our Poor Pandemic Response

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2021

Ed Yong writing in The Atlantic, Individualism Is Still Sabotaging the Pandemic Response:

From its founding, the United States has cultivated a national mythos around the capacity of individuals to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, ostensibly by their own merits. This particular strain of individualism, which valorizes independence and prizes personal freedom, transcends administrations. It has also repeatedly hamstrung America’s pandemic response. It explains why the U.S. focused so intensely on preserving its hospital capacity instead of on measures that would have saved people from even needing a hospital. It explains why so many Americans refused to act for the collective good, whether by masking up or isolating themselves. And it explains why the CDC, despite being the nation’s top public-health agency, issued guidelines that focused on the freedoms that vaccinated people might enjoy. The move signaled to people with the newfound privilege of immunity that they were liberated from the pandemic’s collective problem. It also hinted to those who were still vulnerable that their challenges are now theirs alone and, worse still, that their lingering risk was somehow their fault. (“If you’re not vaccinated, that, again, is taking your responsibility for your own health into your own hands,” Walensky said.)

The pandemic demonstrated, in plain and easily understandable numbers of Covid deaths, that America is a place where the swift leave the stragglers to the wolves. I hope against hope that’ll change for the better in the future.

Germany Came to Terms with Its Nazi Past. Why Can’t America Do the Same with Slavery?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2021

For the Washington Post, Michele Norris wonders what it will take for the US to finally and fully acknowledge its history of slavery.

America experienced 246 years of slavery before it was officially ended with the passage of the 13th Amendment. That was followed by decades of legal segregation and oppression under Jim Crow, followed by a period of willful blindness and denial. A tourist from a foreign land might well conclude that the Confederacy had actually won the Civil War, based on the number of monuments, buildings and boulevards still named for heroes of its defeated army. The real truth of our shared history was a casualty of that war and, like any wound left untended, the results can be catastrophic.

A full accounting of slavery is one of terror and trauma, and for decades the natural inclination was to ask, why would anyone want to claim that history? But at a moment when the United States is dangerously divided, when we are having bitter and overdue conversations about policing, inequality and voting rights, when marauders fueled by white-nationalist rhetoric can overwhelm the Capitol, proudly waving the Confederate battle flag, the more important question is this: What happens if we don’t?

She uses Germany’s remembrance and examination of Nazism and the Holocaust as an example of a country that has properly faced up to its terrible past in order to move fully forward.

Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung refers to Germany’s efforts to interrogate the horrors of the Holocaust and the rise of Nazism. It has been a decades-long exercise, beginning in the 1960s, to examine, analyze and ultimately learn to live with an evil chapter through monuments, teachings, art, architecture, protocols and public policy. The country looks at its Nazi past by consistently, almost obsessively, memorializing the victims of that murderous era, so much so that it is now a central feature of the nation’s cultural landscape. The ethos of this campaign is “never forget.”

I visited Germany back in 2018 and its efforts to engage with past horrors were quite noticeable and stood in stark contrast to American activity along similar lines.

In particular, as a nation the US has never properly come to terms with the horrors it inflicted on African Americans and Native Americans. We build monuments to Confederate soldiers but very few to the millions enslaved and murdered. Our country committed genocide against native peoples, herded them onto reservations like cattle, and we’re still denying them the right to vote.

As Norris convincingly argues, “it is long past time to face where truth can take us”.

The Last Free Election in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2021

Yale historian Timothy Snyder has been one of the most prominent & insistent voices warning against the rise of authoritarianism & fascism in the United States in recent years — you may remember his 20 lessons from the 20th century on fighting authoritarianism from November 2016 and his more recent piece on the right’s coup attempt on January 6th.

Over the weekend, Snyder published a short piece about what he believes will happen as a result of the 1/6 insurrection and the Republicans’ ongoing effort to push their Big Lie about election fraud — basically the end of democracy in America.

I have the Cassandra feeling this spring because it is so obvious where all of this is heading. President Trump tells a big lie that elections are rigged. This authorizes him and others to seek power in extra-democratic ways. The lie is institutionalized by state legislation that suppresses voting, and that gives state legislatures themselves the right to decide how to allocate the electoral vote in presidential elections.

The scenario then goes like this. The Republicans win back the House and Senate in 2022, in part thanks to voter suppression. The Republican candidate in 2024 loses the popular vote by several million and the electoral vote by the margin of a few states. State legislatures, claiming fraud, alter the electoral count vote. The House and Senate accept that altered count. The losing candidate becomes the president. We no longer have “democratically elected government.” And people are angry.

No one is seeking to hide that this is the plan. It is right there out in the open. The prospective Republican candidates for 2024, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley, are all running on a big lie platform. If your platform is that elections do not work, you are saying that you intend to come to power some other way. The big lie is designed not to win an election, but to discredit one. Any candidate who tells it is alienating most Americans, and preparing a minority for a scenario where fraud is claimed. This is just what Trump tried in 2020, and it led to a coup attempt in January 2021. It will be worse in January 2025.

Like he says, so obvious and out in the open. As far as I’m concerned, this is a done deal and there’s not a lot that can be done to stop it. The horse left the barn some time ago and most people can’t even tell the door is open, much less that it needs closing.

America’s Drinking Problem

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2021

This piece on alcohol and the human fixation on it is interesting throughout — and/because it includes the sentence: “For an illustration of what followed, I direct you to the film Dazed and Confused.”

But even presuming that this story of natural selection is right, it doesn’t explain why, 10 million years later, I like wine so much. “It should puzzle us more than it does,” Edward Slingerland writes in his wide-ranging and provocative new book, Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization, “that one of the greatest foci of human ingenuity and concentrated effort over the past millennia has been the problem of how to get drunk.” The damage done by alcohol is profound: impaired cognition and motor skills, belligerence, injury, and vulnerability to all sorts of predation in the short run; damaged livers and brains, dysfunction, addiction, and early death as years of heavy drinking pile up. As the importance of alcohol as a caloric stopgap diminished, why didn’t evolution eventually lead us away from drinking-say, by favoring genotypes associated with hating alcohol’s taste? That it didn’t suggests that alcohol’s harms were, over the long haul, outweighed by some serious advantages.

Versions of this idea have recently bubbled up at academic conferences and in scholarly journals and anthologies (largely to the credit of the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar). Drunk helpfully synthesizes the literature, then underlines its most radical implication: Humans aren’t merely built to get buzzed-getting buzzed helped humans build civilization. Slingerland is not unmindful of alcohol’s dark side, and his exploration of when and why its harms outweigh its benefits will unsettle some American drinkers. Still, he describes the book as “a holistic defense of alcohol.” And he announces, early on, that “it might actually be good for us to tie one on now and then.”

But hard liquor and solitary drinking changed the game.

Southern Europe’s healthy drinking culture is hardly news, but its attributes are striking enough to bear revisiting: Despite widespread consumption of alcohol, Italy has some of the lowest rates of alcoholism in the world. Its residents drink mostly wine and beer, and almost exclusively over meals with other people. When liquor is consumed, it’s usually in small quantities, either right before or after a meal. Alcohol is seen as a food, not a drug. Drinking to get drunk is discouraged, as is drinking alone. The way Italians drink today may not be quite the way premodern people drank, but it likewise accentuates alcohol’s benefits and helps limit its harms. It is also, Slingerland told me, about as far as you can get from the way many people drink in the United States.

How Does America’s Response to Climate Change Look From Abroad?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2021

For this video, the NY Times talked to several people from around the world (Britain, Zimbabwe, Norway, India, etc.) about what they think about how the United States is approaching climate change and other environmental challenges. Spoiler alert: there is a lot of incredulity about how shitty America is doing in this area. And that matters because what happens here affects everyone around the world.

See also What Does U.S. Health Care Look Like Abroad? and What Do U.S. Elections Look Like Abroad?

“If Democracy Is Dying, Why Are Democrats So Complacent?”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2021

For The Atlantic, Luke Savage writes that Democrats have to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to protecting American democracy.

If you’ve followed recent Democratic messaging, you’ll have heard that American democracy is under serious attack by the Republican Party, representing an existential threat to the country. If you’ve followed Democratic lawmaking, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the threat is actually a rather piddling one. The disconnect, in this case, isn’t attributable to Democratic embellishment, but to inexcusable complacency.

Without meaningfully reforming the rules of the Senate, the Biden administration & Congressional Democratic leadership basically gets to pass one substantial bill per year (through budget reconciliation). That’s it. If Democrats lose the House in 2022, which seems likely or even certain without the passage of a federal voting rights bill, then it’s only one or two bills. And then maybe Democrats don’t see the White House, a Senate majority, and a House majority for a generation and we’ll all have to ask ourselves whether we actually like living in a de facto nationalistic one-party state.

When a Raindrop Falls in the US, Where Does It End Up?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2021

map showing the path of a raindrop that fell in Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico

a satellite fly-through view of the path of a raindrop that fell in Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico

Using data from the United States Geological Survey, River Runner visualizes the path taken by a raindrop from its landing spot to its eventual endpoint. Just click on any spot in the US and it maps out the path the drop would take, complete with a satellite fly-through of the route. I spent many happy minutes playing with this, although the endpoint of “Canada” for a raindrop that lands in my Vermont yard was somewhat unsatisfying.

See also The Marvelous Mississippi River Meander Maps and a map of all of the rivers in the US. (via waxy)

A Visualization of American Age Generations

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2021

a stacked bar chart showing the relative population distribution of age generations from 1920 to the present

From Flowing Data, a stacked bar chart showing the relative population distribution of age generations from 1920 to the present. The thing that’s really apparent to me in this graph is how the size, increased life expectancy, and better quality of life of the Silent and (especially) Baby Boomer generations really shifted the social order in America. It’s a triple whammy: this large group of very healthy people stuck around so much longer than the previous generations that they were able to keep their wealth and political/corporate power instead of handing it off to the next generations. It’s a generational firewall — they didn’t leave any room for their children or grandchildren. Instead, Gen X and Millennials got branded as lazy/apathetic and financially careless. (via @mikey_two)

The Continuing Trauma of the Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2021

Because of the remarkable Covid-19 vaccines, the pandemic is easing in America. In many parts of the country, things are returning to some semblance of normal, whatever that means. But many will continue to struggle and come to terms with what happened for awhile longer. Ed Yong, What Happens When Americans Can Finally Exhale:

But there is another crucial difference between May 2020 and May 2021: People have now lived through 14 months of pandemic life. Millions have endured a year of grief, anxiety, isolation, and rolling trauma. Some will recover uneventfully, but for others, the quiet moments after adrenaline fades and normalcy resumes may be unexpectedly punishing. When they finally get a chance to exhale, their breaths may emerge as sighs. “People put their heads down and do what they have to do, but suddenly, when there’s an opening, all these feelings come up,” Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, the founder and director of the Trauma Stewardship Institute, told me. Lipsky has spent decades helping people navigate the consequences of natural disasters, mass shootings, and other crises. “As hard as the initial trauma is,” she said, “it’s the aftermath that destroys people.”

And it wasn’t just the pandemic:

Not everyone will feel this way. Perhaps most Americans won’t. In past work, Silver, the UC Irvine psychologist, found that even communities that go through extreme traumas, such as years of daily rocket fire, can show low levels of PTSD. Three factors seem to protect them: confidence in authorities, a sense of belonging, and community solidarity. In the U.S., the pandemic eroded all three. It reduced trust in institutions, separated people from their loved ones, and widened political divisions. It was something of a self-reinforcing disaster, exacerbating the conditions that make recovery harder.

Also, let’s not forget: “Globally, the pandemic is set to kill more people in 2021 than in 2020.”

“Maybe We Need Masks Indoors Just a Bit Longer”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2021

Since yesterday’s announcement, I’d been feeling uneasy about the CDC’s decision to update its guidance to state that fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks in most situations indoors or out. Zeynep Tufekci’s piece in the Times nails why.

It’s difficult for officials to issue rules as conditions evolve and uncertainty continues. So I hesitate to question the agency’s approach. But it’s not clear whether it was responding to scientific evidence or public clamor to lift state and local mandates, which the C.D.C. said could remain in place.

It might have been better to have kept up indoor mask mandates to help suppress the virus for maybe as little as a few more weeks.

The C.D.C. could have set metrics to measure such progress, saying that guidelines would be maintained until the number of cases or the number vaccinations reached a certain level, determined by epidemiologists.

The vaccine is on its way to controlling Covid-19 in the US — but we’re not there yet. We’re not the UK or Israel…they’re further along in their vaccination campaigns and their daily cases and deaths are way down, warranting behavioral changes. In the US, over 600 people/day are still dying of Covid-19 and our case positivity rate is still above 3%. Too many people, including almost all children, are still vulnerable and as Tufekci says, the CDC could have waited a few more weeks to more quickly drive down the virus levels.

Update: The CDC’s move has been sharply condemned by National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union of registered nurses:

“The union noted that more than 35,000 new cases of coronavirus were being reported each day and that more than 600 people were dying each day. “Now is not the time to relax protective measures, and we are outraged that the C.D.C. has done just that while we are still in the midst of the deadliest pandemic in a century,” Ms. Castillo said.”

And Ken Schultz notes that the needle the CDC is trying to thread here might not work out the way that they’d hoped.

Imagine the social preference ordering is:

1. Unvaccinated wear masks, vaccinated don’t.
2. Everyone wears masks.
3. No one wears masks.

Selfish, short-sighted behavior and the inability to monitor vaccination status mean that, in trying to get #1, you can end up at #3.

So I trust the CDC’s position that #1 is socially desirable from a scientific perspective. But by undermining mask mandates, they have made it more likely that we end up in #3, which science says is still risky. Living with #2 for now respects both science and social science.

US Quarters to Honor Maya Angelou and Sally Ride

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2021

US quarters featuring Sally Ride and Maya Angelou

Starting in 2022, the US Mint will release into circulation 20 quarters featuring notable American women as part of the American Women Quarters Program. From the US Mint:

The American Women Quarters may feature contributions from a variety of fields, including, but not limited to, suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, space, and the arts. The women honored will be from ethnically, racially, and geographically diverse backgrounds. The Public Law requires that no living person be featured in the coin designs.

The Mint recently announced that the first two women to be featured are astronaut Sally Ride and writer Maya Angelou. The designs for the two new coins were revealed in the NY Times yesterday.

Michael Lewis’s New Book About the Pandemic (and Who Should Have Been in Charge)

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2021

book cover for The Premonition by Michael Lewis

When large, seemingly sudden systemic failures occur, Michael Lewis is one of those writers who’s just waiting to pounce on it and tell us all about it. So it’s not a surprise to see that his new book comes out tomorrow: The Premonition: A Pandemic Story (ebook). From a Time interview with Lewis:

The Premonition makes sense of the COVID-19 pandemic through three people, each of whom knows a great deal about how to stop it-and none of whom is ever approached by the U.S. government: A “redneck epidemiologist” named Carter Mercher who had written the closest thing the government had to a pandemic strategy; Joe DeRisi, a McArthur Fellow who once built a chip containing all the world’s viruses; and Dr. Chastity Dean, an obscure local health official in California.

And from a mainly positive review by the NY Times’ Jennifer Szalai:

True to form, Lewis makes few grand claims for what he finds, preferring instead to let the curated details speak for themselves. “I like to think that my job is mainly to find the story in the material,” he writes in the prologue. “I think this particular story is about the curious talents of a society, and how those talents are wasted if not led. It’s also about how gaps open between a society’s reputation and its performance.”

The main question running through “The Premonition” is how, when it came to the initial Covid response, a very rich country that was ranked first globally in pandemic readiness in 2019 managed to incentivize almost all the wrong things.

Of course, this is the reality that all of us have been living for the past year, so the failures of the system don’t come as much of a surprise. Still, Lewis finds ways not just to showcase the brokenness of the system writ large but to zoom in on the sand in the gears.

But Szalai also notes the drawback of most of Lewis’s books:

This method of hewing so tightly to his characters’ perspectives gives Lewis’s narrative its undeniable propulsion, but it also comes at a cost. He doesn’t supply any endnotes, or even a sense of how many people he talked to. His main characters are presented to us as they would undoubtedly like to appear: charmingly obsessive, unwaveringly principled and unfailingly right.

You can listen to a brief interview with Lewis on NPR’s Morning Edition.

The 1619 Project Book

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2021

1619 Project Book

The excellent 1619 Project, developed by Nikole Hannah-Jones at the NY Times, is being released in book form this fall: The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (ebook). The book “substantially expands” on the original project, and will include new & expanded essays and works by Hannah-Jones and contributors.

The essays show how the inheritance of 1619 reaches into every part of contemporary American society, from politics, music, diet, traffic, and citizenship to capitalism, religion, and our democracy itself. This legacy can be seen in the way we tell stories, the way we teach our children, and the way we remember. Together, the elements of the book reveal a new origin story for the United States, one that helps explain not only the persistence of anti-Black racism and inequality in American life today, but also the roots of what makes the country unique.

They’re doing a children’s book too: The 1619 Project: Born on the Water (ebook).

1619 Project Book

Labor Shortage or Terrible Jobs?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2021

Anne Helen Peterson noticed a bunch of reports about fast food & retail businesses around the US having trouble finding employees, which difficulty the business owners are blaming on lazy American workers whose unemployment benefits have been extended/expanded during the pandemic. But what if, she writes, those benefits are actually providing a safety net to American workers so that they do not need to take terrible jobs for low wages at terrible companies under terrible management? The ‘Capitalism is Broken’ Economy:

Stick with me here, but what if people weren’t lazy — and instead, for the first time in a long time, were able to say no to exploitative working conditions and poverty-level wages? And what if business owners are scandalized, dismayed, frustrated, or bewildered by this scenario because their pre-pandemic business models were predicated on a steady stream of non-unionized labor with no other options? It’s not the labor force that’s breaking. It’s the economic model.

Unemployment benefits have offered a steady paycheck while you figure out your options. Put differently: a version of the safety net that’s been missing from most American employment, and, by extension, the ability to say no. No, I don’t have to work for a restaurant that only gives me my hours three days ahead of time, thus making it nearly impossible to find reliable childcare. No, I don’t have to work clopen shifts. No, I don’t have to expect a job without sick leave or paid time off. No, I don’t have to deal with asshole customers or managers who degrade me without consequence. No, I don’t have to work in a job with significant, accumulating health risks.

Her question near the end of the piece is worth considering: “If a business can’t pay a living wage, should it be a business?”

The United States of Guns

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2021

Like many of you, I read the news of a single person killing at least 8 people in Indianapolis, Indiana yesterday, which comes on the heels of several other mass shootings in 2021. While these are outrageous and horrifying events, they aren’t surprising or shocking in any way in a country where more than 33,000 people die from gun violence each year.

America is a stuck in a Groundhog Day loop of gun violence. We’ll keep waking up, stuck in the same reality of oppression, carnage, and ruined lives until we can figure out how to effect meaningful change. I’ve collected some articles here about America’s dysfunctional relationship with guns, most of which I’ve shared before. Change is possible — there are good reasons to control the ownership of guns and control has a high likelihood of success — but how will our country find the political will to make it happen?

An armed society is not a free society:

Arendt offers two points that are salient to our thinking about guns: for one, they insert a hierarchy of some kind, but fundamental nonetheless, and thereby undermine equality. But furthermore, guns pose a monumental challenge to freedom, and particular, the liberty that is the hallmark of any democracy worthy of the name — that is, freedom of speech. Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech.

This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

We’re sacrificing America’s children to “our great god Gun”:

Read again those lines, with recent images seared into our brains — “besmeared with blood” and “parents’ tears.” They give the real meaning of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning. That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily — sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year).

The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?

Roger Ebert on the media’s coverage of mass shootings:

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

Jill Lepore on the United States of Guns:

There are nearly three hundred million privately owned firearms in the United States: a hundred and six million handguns, a hundred and five million rifles, and eighty-three million shotguns. That works out to about one gun for every American. The gun that T. J. Lane brought to Chardon High School belonged to his uncle, who had bought it in 2010, at a gun shop. Both of Lane’s parents had been arrested on charges of domestic violence over the years. Lane found the gun in his grandfather’s barn.

The United States is the country with the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world. (The second highest is Yemen, where the rate is nevertheless only half that of the U.S.) No civilian population is more powerfully armed. Most Americans do not, however, own guns, because three-quarters of people with guns own two or more. According to the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Policy Opinion Center at the University of Chicago, the prevalence of gun ownership has declined steadily in the past few decades. In 1973, there were guns in roughly one in two households in the United States; in 2010, one in three. In 1980, nearly one in three Americans owned a gun; in 2010, that figure had dropped to one in five.

A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths:

The only guns that Japanese citizens can legally buy and use are shotguns and air rifles, and it’s not easy to do. The process is detailed in David Kopel’s landmark study on Japanese gun control, published in the 1993 Asia Pacific Law Review, still cited as current. (Kopel, no left-wing loony, is a member of the National Rifle Association and once wrote in National Review that looser gun control laws could have stopped Adolf Hitler.)

To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle. Just don’t forget to provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately. And remember to have the police inspect the gun once per year and to re-take the class and exam every three years.

Australia’s gun laws stopped mass shootings and reduced homicides, study finds:

From 1979 to 1996, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths was rising at 2.1% per year. Since then, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths has been declining by 1.4%, with the researchers concluding there was no evidence of murderers moving to other methods, and that the same was true for suicide.

The average decline in total firearm deaths accelerated significantly, from a 3% decline annually before the reforms to a 5% decline afterwards, the study found.

In the 18 years to 1996, Australia experienced 13 fatal mass shootings in which 104 victims were killed and at least another 52 were wounded. There have been no fatal mass shootings since that time, with the study defining a mass shooting as having at least five victims.

From The Onion, ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens:

At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”

But America is not Australia or Japan. Dan Hodges said on Twitter a few years ago:

In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.

This can’t be the last word on guns in America. We have to do better than this for our children and everyone else whose lives are torn apart by guns. But right now, we are failing them miserably, and Hodges’ words ring with the awful truth that all those lives and our diminished freedom & equality are somehow worth it to the United States as a society.

‘The Last Time a Vaccine Saved America’

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2021

In 1955, epidemiologist Thomas Francis Jr. announced the results of a field trial of the polio vaccine that Jonas Salk had developed. America erupted in joy.

Now a phalanx of bulky television cameras focussed on Francis as he prepared to report on the efficacy of the vaccine. He had good news to share: to cheers from the audience, he explained that the Salk vaccine was sixty to seventy per cent effective against the most prevalent strain of poliovirus, and ninety per cent effective against the other, less common strains. All this had been shown through what was, at that time, the largest vaccine trial ever conducted.

All afternoon and evening, church bells rang out across America. People flooded into the streets, kissing and embracing; parents hugged their kids with joy and relief. Salk became an instant national hero, turning down the offer of a ticker-tape parade in New York City; President Dwight D. Eisenhower invited him to the White House and, later, asked Congress to award him a Congressional Gold Medal. That night, from the kitchen of a colleague’s house, Salk — whose name was being touted in newspapers, magazines, radio reports, and television news broadcasts around the world — gave his first network-TV interview to Edward R. Murrow, whose show “See It Now” had exposed the tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy a year earlier. Blushing in admiration, Murrow asked the doctor, “Who owns the patent on this vaccine?” “The people,” Salk said, nobly. “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

In the days that followed, schoolchildren were instructed by their teachers to write thank-you notes to Salk. Universities lined up to offer him honorary degrees. Millions of American doctors, nurses, and parents got down to the serious business of vaccinating their children against polio, using a shot they’d been anticipating for seventeen years.

But the polio vaccine rollout had its challenges, including a manufacturing negligence & oversight failure that resulted in tens of thousands of polio cases in otherwise healthy children.

In May, the polio vaccination drive was temporarily suspended. Leonard Scheele, the U.S. Surgeon General, inspected the facilities of all six vaccine companies and fired the government officials he considered to be culpable; the director of the N.I.H. and the Secretary of Health voluntarily resigned. New safety procedures were developed, including an improved means of filtering the viral mix just before the formaldehyde was added. Better tests were developed to detect live virus, and stricter record-keeping was instituted. The incident could have created a vaccine-hesitancy crisis. But, incredibly, the American public readily accepted the medical establishment’s explanation for the failure, and its pledges to right the situation. The nation’s trust in medical progress and in Dr. Salk was so resolute that, when it was announced that a new, safe polio vaccine was available, parents pushed their children back to the head of the line. It’s hard to imagine such an outcome today.

‘Private Choices Have Public Consequences’

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2021

This is a very good and bracing essay from David Roth for Defector about a certain type of knee-jerk libertarian response to the pandemic in the US.

In place of any actually ennobling liberty or more fundamental freedom, contemporary American life mostly offers choices. But since most of these are not really choices at all in any meaningful way, it might be more accurate to say that we’re offered selection. The choice between paying for health insurance and running up six figures of non-dischargeable debt because you got sick, for instance, is honestly less a choice than a hostage situation. But because the second outcome is still extremely possible even if you choose to pay for health insurance, it’s more correct to say that the choice is already made, and that the decision is more about choosing from an array of variously insufficient and predatory options the one whose name or price or risk you like most. Sometimes there isn’t even that, and the choice is a binary one between something and nothing. None of this is really what anyone would choose, but these ugly individuated choices are what we get.

And then:

The broader complacent and unreasoned acceptance that props up our otherwise untenable status quo is shot through all these facile “it’s a private matter and a personal choice” formulations; if you have accepted that mostly useless choices between dreary outcomes are all you could ever get as a citizen in the wealthiest and most powerful country on earth, then you have also accepted that these choices are actually very important, and that making them is the thing makes you free. None of these personal choices actually make anything better for the person making them. In the case of the vaccine, those choices have devastating downstream impacts for all the people who glance off the choice-maker as they carve their personal hero’s journeys through the world. None of this matters as much as the idea that the choice is theirs to make.

Eyes on the Prize to Re-Air on PBS

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2021

The fantastic civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize will soon be available for viewing on public media and online. WORLD Channel and PBS will begin airing the 14-part series in early April. The first part of the series, covering the civil rights movement from 1954-1965, will also be available to watch online starting in mid-April. Check out the press release for more info.

Eyes on the Prize, created by Executive Producer Henry Hampton, is an award-winning and critically-acclaimed in-depth documentary series on civil rights in America. Hampton set out to share his vision of what he called “the remarkable human drama that was the Civil Rights Movement” through the experiences and challenges of those fighting for justice. Produced by Blackside Inc, Eyes on the Prize tells the definitive story of the civil rights era from the point of view of the ordinary men and women whose extraordinary actions launched a movement that changed the fabric of American life and embodied a struggle whose reverberations continue to be felt today.

With contemporary interviews and historical footage, the Academy Award-nominated documentary traces the civil rights movement from the Montgomery bus boycott to the Voting Rights Act; from early acts of individual courage through the flowering of a mass movement and its eventual split into factions. The late Julian Bond, political leader and civil rights activist, narrates.

If you’ve never seen Eyes on the Prize, you should definitely take this opportunity to check it out. (via @jbenton)

One Year Ago Today

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 11, 2021

For reasons I do not quite understand, I just spent the better part of an hour reading two oral histories of March 11, 2020, aka the day the United States finally took the Covid-19 pandemic seriously — this one from Wired published back in April 2020 and this one published today by Buzzfeed News. You may not want to relive that day and everything it’s come to signify, but apparently I did. (See also a Twitter search for “year ago today” and Covid One Year Ago.)

Several things happened on 3/11 that made Americans and their government finally realize that our lives were about to significantly change: the stock market plunged, the NBA suspended its season after a player tested positive, the WHO called it a “pandemic” for the first time, Trump addressed the nation and announced a ban on travel from Europe, and Tom Hanks & Rita Wilson announced that they had tested positive for the virus.

Claudia Sahm: Frankly, the night before, the 10th, I was in a bit of a panic because I was worried that I was overreacting. It was like gaslighting the way Trump and Republicans and Fox News would talk about the coronavirus. Like, “We’ve got this one, it’s not a big deal. It’s like the common flu.” Listening to that, I was saying, “We need to get going.” Congress needs to do real things. That morning, I stood in front of the House Democrats at the minority whip breakfast and told them what they needed to do with a relief package. I told the House Democrats that the $8.3 billion package that they had passed the week before was an insult.

DANIEL MERTZLUFFT, director of Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical, who was then in a Broadway theater audience: In the three hours I was seeing Company, the world had changed. I went to drinks after work with friends, one of whom is a business owner that works in theater marketing, and I remember him arriving at the bar and sort of realizing for the first time what it must have been like on the day the Great Depression started. What he said was, “This is not a month; this is going to be months. My business no longer exists. I have to fire my entire team.”

The Trump, Hanks, and NBA news all hit within a period of 30 minutes — I vividly remember being on Twitter and texting w/ friends as the news rolled in that evening. I’d stocked up on food & such during the last week in February and had been fully convinced the day before by this video on the exponential growth of epidemics that this was going to be a world-changing event, but the pace of events that evening was unprecedentedly dizzying. (via the morning news)

BirdCast: Real-Time Bird Migration Forecasts

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2021

Birdcast

Colorado State University and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have developed a system called BirdCast that uses machine learning & two decades of historical bird movement data to develop daily bird migration forecasts for the United States.

Bird migration forecasts show predicted nocturnal migration 3 hours after local sunset and are updated every 6 hours. These forecasts come from models trained on the last 23 years of bird movements in the atmosphere as detected by the US NEXRAD weather surveillance radar network. In these models we use the Global Forecasting System (GFS) to predict suitable conditions for migration occurring three hours after local sunset.

The map above is the migration forecast for tonight — overall, warmer temperatures and increased bird movement are predicted for the next week or two. They also maintain up-to-the hour records of migration activity detected by the US weather surveillance radar network; this was the activity early this morning at 3:10am ET:

Birdcast

If the current & predicted bird radar maps were a part of the weather report on the local news, I might start watching again.

What the End of the Pandemic Looks Like

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 08, 2021

Stat’s Andrew Joseph and Helen Branswell on the short-term, middle-term, and long-term future of the coronavirus in the US. The short-term outlook is dominated by vaccination & variants; some parts of the country will continue to be affected by outbreaks:

Conditions may be ripe for a better summer, however. Vaccine supplies should be flowing more freely, at least in the U.S.; the Biden administration now expects enough vaccine doses in hand for all adults by the end of May. With most vulnerable populations protected, there should be fewer hospitalizations and deaths. And with warmer weather, people can return to outdoor life.

Widespread transmission of the virus could be replaced by more sporadic and localized outbreaks. There’s also growing evidence that vaccines don’t just protect people from getting symptomatic Covid-19, but can reduce transmission.

And in the long-term, well, SARS-CoV-2 will be around for years and even decades to come:

Years from now, SARS-CoV-2 could join the ranks of OC43, 229E, NL63, and HKU1 — the four endemic, seasonal coronaviruses that cause a chunk of common colds every year. Essentially, our immune systems — primed by vaccines, boosters, and previous encounters with the coronavirus — will be ready to knock back SARS-2 when we see it again, potentially blocking an infection or leading to one that causes no symptoms or maybe just the sniffles.

It’s good to read stuff like this — it provides a basis to use when calibrating your optimism or pessimism for future activities and desires.

America’s Vaccine Glut and “Vaccine Diplomacy”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 05, 2021

After the Biden administration announced they will have enough Covid-19 vaccine supply to cover every single adult in the country by the end of May, I got to wondering about what they were going to do with the tens & hundreds of millions of surplus doses already procured for the remainder of the year. “Oh,” I thought, naively, “We’ll be able to distribute it to countries that can’t easily procure or manufacture vaccines of their own!” And I’m sure some of that will happen, if only for PR purposes. But it’s perhaps more likely that America will practice vaccine diplomacy and use the stockpile to reestablish its global leadership.

The United States has backed away from the world. This isn’t a Clinton thing or a W Bush thing or an Obama thing or a Trump thing or a Biden thing, but instead a United States thing. The American people lost interest in playing a constructive role in the world three decades ago, and America’s political leadership has molded itself around that fact. Trump may have been instinctually and publicly hostile to all things international, but Biden is only different in tone. Biden’s Buy-American program is actually more anti-globalization than Trump’s America-First rhetoric as it is an express violation of most of America’s international trade commitments. TeamBiden says it wants to reestablish America’s global leadership…but it plans to do so without any troops or money. Sorry, but that’s not how it works.

Which makes the possibilities for vaccine diplomacy wildly interesting. The United States has no responsibility to provide COVID vaccines to the world. It can — it will — distribute them, but it will want something in return.

Even if you disagree with some of the analysis here, it will be interesting to watch where America’s stockpile ends up. Given Biden’s rhetoric of “listening to the science” when it comes to the pandemic, I hope that at least some of that supply goes to places that need it most to make certain the pandemic doesn’t sputter on for years, generating potentially dangerous new variants, even if it’s politically disadvantageous.

Update: Countries now scrambling for COVID-19 vaccines may soon have surpluses to donate by Jon Cohen and Kai Kupferschmidt for Science magazine:

Like three dozen other countries, the United States contracted with multiple vaccine companies for several times the number of doses needed to cover its population. No one knew at the time which, if any, of the candidate vaccines would work or when they might prove safe and effective. But by now, most of the prepurchased vaccines appear to offer solid protection — which means many countries will receive far more vaccine than they need. The excess doses the United States alone may have by July would vaccinate at least 200 million people.

A chart in the article notes that the US has procured enough vaccine to cover almost 1.5 billion people after fully vaccinating its entire population.

A Concerto Is a Conversation

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2021

In this lovely short film, composer and pianist Kris Bowers talks to his grandfather, Horace Bowers, about his life in the Jim Crow South and how he found a new life in California as part of the Great Migration. Horace’s move across the country set in motion events that culminated in Kris premiering a concerto he wrote with the LA Philharmonic. You can read more about Horace in this 2019 profile.

Yet, in a sign of the times, Horace encountered discrimination while building his business. At the time, mainstream financial institutions rarely gave loans to Blacks and Bank of America had already denied him. His fortunes changed after he hired a White young man as a presser.

“I gave him a job and after two days, he asked me to tell the bank that he had been working for me for 30 days. He said that he needed a loan because he had just gotten divorced and was broke and wanted to borrow money to go back to Texas,” said Horace.

“Even though I was with Bank of America, they had turned me down for a loan and I did not think he could get one. But, a few days later, his loan was approved. I wondered why, but I immediately thought of the color of my skin.”

Armed with this knowledge, Horace devised another route. He visited a different branch, picked up the loan papers, completed the forms and mailed them in.

“A few days later, my loan was approved and from then on, nobody saw us. I did mostly everything by mail,” he said.

Learning from the Five Pandemic Mistakes We Keep Making

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2021

Zeynep Tufekci has written an important piece for The Atlantic on the mistakes that the media, public health officials, and the public keep making during the pandemic and how we can learn from them. A big one for me is how scientists & other public health officials and agencies communicate their knowledge to the public and how the media interprets and amplifies those messages.

Thus, on January 14, 2020, the WHO stated that there was “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.” It should have said, “There is increasing likelihood that human-to-human transmission is taking place, but we haven’t yet proven this, because we have no access to Wuhan, China.” (Cases were already popping up around the world at that point.) Acting as if there was human-to-human transmission during the early weeks of the pandemic would have been wise and preventive.

Later that spring, WHO officials stated that there was “currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection,” producing many articles laden with panic and despair. Instead, it should have said: “We expect the immune system to function against this virus, and to provide some immunity for some period of time, but it is still hard to know specifics because it is so early.”

Similarly, since the vaccines were announced, too many statements have emphasized that we don’t yet know if vaccines prevent transmission. Instead, public-health authorities should have said that we have many reasons to expect, and increasing amounts of data to suggest, that vaccines will blunt infectiousness, but that we’re waiting for additional data to be more precise about it. That’s been unfortunate, because while many, many things have gone wrong during this pandemic, the vaccines are one thing that has gone very, very right.

This pair of statements she highlights — “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission” and “There is increasing likelihood that human-to-human transmission is taking place, but we haven’t yet proven this, because we have no access to Wuhan, China” — are both factually true but the second statement is so much more helpful, useful, and far less likely to be misinterpreted by people who aren’t scientists that making the first statement is almost negligent.

Why Are Covid-19 Cases Declining So Quickly in the US?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2021

Over the past week or two, I’ve read a number of articles and threads about why Covid-19 cases are falling so rapidly in the US. The explanations have all been somewhat unsatisfying to me. Cases have indeed dropped off quite quickly and it happened pretty uniformly all over the country. Look at the mini state graphs on the NY Times Covid page — they all look about the same. Hospitalizations and positivity rates have dropped too, so while the number of daily tests has fallen too, this appears to be a real drop and not just an artifact of a lack of testing. Which is great news! Imagine a February and March that looked like December — a disaster compounded.

So what’s going on here? For The Atlantic, Derek Thompson lists four reasons for the decline in cases and hospitalizations that mirror the arguments I’ve seen elsewhere: “social distancing, seasonality, seroprevalence, and shots”.

The vaccine explanation is the weakest one for me: not enough people outside of healthcare workers had gotten them early enough to start bending that curve sharply downward in early January. But as Thompson notes, it could be having more of an effect on hospitalizations because the folks getting shots (and therefore immunity against severe infection) are those most likely to end up in hospitals due to infection. And obviously, vaccines are going to become the dominant factor in falling case numbers as more and more people get jabbed.

I’m also skeptical of the seasonality argument, but (again, as Thompson notes) there’s a lot we don’t know about how temperature, sunlight, humidity, and this specific coronavirus interact. Obviously Covid-19 is a seasonal thing and that’s definitely a contributing factor here, but that sharp of a drop in early January? I don’t know if it’s the primary driver here. Also, the seasonal flu typically peaks in February in the US.

The seroprevalence argument is an interesting one. Here’s Johns Hopkins infectious disease epidemiologist David Dowdy in a great Twitter thread about the US case decline:

I think the most logical explanation is one proposed initially by @mgmgomes1 and others — namely that we are seeing the effects of population immunity with heterogeneous mixing + strong behavioral effects. Take a(n overly) simple example. Assume 60% of a population has zero respiratory contacts, while the other 40% lives life as normal. If 75% of that high-mixing group has immunity (e.g., 30% population seroprevalence), you could easily see herd effects.

Basically, a large percentage of the folks at the greatest risk of getting Covid-19 in the US (i.e. folks who aren’t able or willing to keep from seeing other people and/or take proper precautions) have gotten it, resulting in a sort of localized “herd immunity” among those folks. After the massive holiday surge in cases (more on that in a sec), this hypothesis suggests, the virus started running out of people to infect and rates dropped quickly. This is the first explanation I read that really made sense to me.

Thompson leads off his piece with the behavioral explanation: “Maybe Americans finally got the hang of this mask and social-distancing thing.” I do not buy that people who previously weren’t doing so before suddenly started wearing masks (or better masks), keeping distant, spending less time indoors with others, and staying home from work started doing so in numbers large enough to cause such a sharp downturn. But you can’t consider the decline without also looking at how cases got so high in the first place. Here’s Steven Johnson on Twitter, zooming out a few months:

[It’s] not so much that people got the hang of social distancing, but rather that the holiday season compelled people to relax social distancing for in-person family gatherings. So the current decline is mostly reversion to where we were in Oct-Nov.

Yes, this. Without these holidays, we may have seen much more of a winter plateau than a spike. So here’s what seems plausible to me. As the cold weather made the coronavirus more effective at infection, people gathered for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s — each subsequent holiday building on the previous one — and it pushed cases much higher than they would have been without those major gatherings. After two months of massive infection rates, the virus burned itself out among the high-mixing group and everyone else retreated back into their homes and pods to hunker down, resulting in the steep decline we’re seeing.

Obviously, careful scientific study will be necessary to tease out how significant each of these (and other!) causes were to the holiday spike and subsequent decline. But for now, the way forward is continuing to social distance, wear (better) masks, limit close contacts, and get people vaccinated — before B.1.1.7 and the other variants hit.

The American Health Care System Cares Not for Your Health

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 16, 2021

So, I got a link to this video from a reader and didn’t know anything about it going in, aside from the title (“Chris Finds Out If He Has HIV”) and the reader’s comment (“American health care system”). Here’s the deal — radiologist Dr. Chris Nicholas was accidentally exposed to HIV at work and this video documents a twin journey: 1) he learns way more about HIV/AIDS than he did in medical school while trying to understand what the exposure means for his health, and b) the absolutely maddening battle that he, an actual doctor and very knowledgable & capable patient, has with the absurd “system” of American health care that works to bury people in circuitous phone calls, gotta-be-perfect paperwork, and pass-the-buck bureaucracy to avoid providing necessary medical care. The phone call with the pharmacist at the 27:05 mark would be the height of absurdist humor if it weren’t so infuriating.

If an actual health care professional had to work this hard to get what he needed, what are the chances that someone without his level of knowledge, time, and resources is going to be able to? This whole extractive, regressive system needs to fucking go. (thx, matt)