Monday, March 15, 2021

Spreading Ignorance

An acquaintance told me he’s not going to get vaccinated because, in his words, it will alter his DNA. I hadn’t heard that one, but it doesn’t matter. I told him I’m sorry if it ends our friendship, but I won’t be around someone who refuses to get vaccinated.

I’m not afraid of catching Covid-19 from him; I’m refusing to indulge ignorance and risk spreading panic and junk science.

Meanwhile:

Vaccination in the United States is on the verge of big changes with manufacturers pledging larger supplies of the existing two-dose coronavirus vaccines and one single-dose vaccine recently approved.

The larger supply that should arrive by April is raising hopes of more normal life returning by summer.

In the meantime, vaccine seekers continue to overrun signup websites and phone lines as states have expanded eligibility to more age groups and people with medical conditions that put them at greater risk from covid-19.

We could be a lot further along if certain people weren’t undermining the basic common sense you learned in kindergarten.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Happy Friday

What a difference a year makes, just in prime-time presidential addresses: going from flop-sweating Trump (“Holy shit now what”) to Joe Biden and his cautiously hopeful homily about dealing with the pandemic: things are looking up, but we still have to be vigilant.  Apparently it got through because the Republicans and their Wormtongues over at Fox News are trashing their shorts about how the $1.9 trillion will destroy the beautiful world crafted by grifters and felons… and then horn in on the credit when it works.

Now comes the part where President Biden and his team goes out and sells it to the nation.  That shouldn’t be too hard since the legislation has very wide bipartisan support.  The only dissent is from the gang that still won’t acknowledge that he won the election, but that begs the question of why any reasonable person should be expected to deal with them.  They’re grousing about “unity” when they didn’t want it?  Seriously?

Speaking of unity:

Thursday, March 11, 2021

One Year Later

On March 11, 2020, I posted about the end of the Democratic nomination race with Joe Biden’s Super Tuesday win.

No, Joe Biden wasn’t my first choice. He wasn’t even my second choice. But I’m not going to let my hurt fee-fees over losing Mayor Pete and Elizabeth Warren keep me from voting strategically next week to keep the magical transformation of the Democrats once in disarray into a solid and strong march to, as my grandparents once said, getting That Man out of the White House.

That was also the day the WHO declared Covid-19 to be a pandemic. We were already taking measures to prevent its spread, and we were thinking that it would last four to six weeks, but certainly it would all be over by the end of April. June? It would be distant memory.

Little did we know. More than 500,000 lives lost. A decimated economy. Years of recovery, not unlike after World War II, and it will most likely mean a change in the way we live our lives from now on.

Remember what it was like a year ago. Think of where we are now.  Try not to imagine what it would be like if Joe Biden lost.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Slowly But Surely

We are making progress against the pandemic.

Federal health officials released guidance Monday that gives fully vaccinated Americans more freedom to socialize and engage in routine daily activities, providing a pandemic-weary nation a first glimpse of what a new normal may look like in the months ahead.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who are two weeks past their final shot may visit indoors with unvaccinated members of a single household at low risk of severe disease, without wearing masks or distancing. That would free many vaccinated grandparents who live near their unvaccinated children and grandchildren to visit them for the first time in a year. The guidelines continue to discourage visits involving long-distance travel, however.

The CDC also said fully vaccinated people can gather indoors with those who are also fully vaccinated. And they do not need to quarantine, or be tested after exposure to the coronavirus, as long as they have no symptoms, the agency said.

Peter Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, applauded the advice but said it has taken too long for the CDC to tell an exhausted public when their masks can come off.

“The sooner we move to telling people if you’re fully vaccinated you don’t have to wear masks, that will be an incentive for people to get vaccinated,” Hotez said.

For those who have made it through the rocky vaccine rollout, the five pages of guidelines offer a road map of sorts to resuming aspects of daily life that have been on hold for more than a year. They come as states have begun reopening and as government and public health officials are racing to vaccinate people as fast as possible to outpace highly transmissible versions of the virus spreading in nearly every state.

After a slow start, the pace of inoculations is accelerating, with 60 million people in the United States having received one shot and more than 31 million people fully vaccinated as of Monday, or about 9 percent of the population, according to the CDC. On Saturday, 2.9 million doses were administered, a record, while about 2.2 million people on average are getting vaccinated daily. President Biden has vowed to have enough supply for every adult who wants a shot by late May, raising hopes of a return to normal life.

The country is “starting to turn a corner,” Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser for the coronavirus response, said in a briefing Monday, with the guidance highlighting “what a world looks like where we move beyond covid-19.”

It doesn’t mean that we can all strip off our masks and cram into bars and gyms, but now my sister can visit my mom at her assisted living facility, and so can her granddaughter and grandson. Hopefully by June we will have returned to some level of normality.

But it might be a very good idea to continue to follow common-sense measures to avoid infection even after the emergency has passed. For those of us who have been fortunate to avoid being infected but followed the CDC guidelines all along, when was the last time you had a cold? I usually get at least one a year, but I’ve now gone about 14 months without one. Post hoc ergo propter hoc? Maybe, but when you get down to it, basic hygiene that you learned in kindergarten is one sure way to speed up the end of the plague.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Sunday Reading

It’s a Sign of Hope — Maya Kosoff in the Washington Post defending vaccine selfies.

When I’ve opened my Instagram feed in recent weeks, I’m not seeing the typical visual trademarks I’ve come to associate with the pandemic, such as loaves of home-baked sourdough bread or small groups of socially distanced and masked people outside at a birthday party. Instead, my feed has lit up with pictures of people getting the coronavirus vaccine. In one post, a woman wearing a T-shirt with a bandage on her left arm appears to be smiling under her KN95 mask outside a pharmacy in California. In another, a man celebrates by posting a picture of himself sitting in his car, an “I got vaccinated!” sticker clearly visible on the lapel of his pea coat.

The pictures are so ordinary, but they feel so extraordinary. For most of the past year, even the briefest glance at my social media feeds has been a study in either pessimism or denial: Here the despair at how bad things have gotten, there the desperate attempt to prove that we’re living our best lives despite everything. But vaccine selfies seems to represent something else, something more like hope. They’re an admission that our lives have been as messy as the home-cut hairstyles we inevitably reveal in them. And yet they’re also a sign that we just might be able to get things together again. After a year of misery, suffering and disaster mismanagement from every level of government, it makes sense that some people may be happy to see the end is in sight, and to celebrate by marking the moment with a picture.

Of course, it’s easy to roll your eyes at the very idea of the vaccine selfie — and the formal selfie stations at some vaccine sites, in particular, are already causing backlash. Critics argue that posting a vaccine selfie when vaccines are still so hard to come by is unnecessarily boastful, making those who can’t get their hands on the vaccine resentful and highlighting inequities as people with better access to health care have an easier time getting vaccinated.

But people should not be dissuaded by the naysayers. In fact, vaccine selfies and clinic-provided selfie stations are great. From a public health perspective, in particular, they may help get more shots into arms, bringing an end to the way of life we’ve adapted to over the past year to stay safe from the coronavirus. Yes, we’re still early in the vaccine rollout, and the way vaccines have been distributed thus far has indeed been inequitable. But by posting vaccine selfies, people are normalizing vaccination and good public health practices. Vaccine selfies, like “I voted!” stickers before them, give people the ability to amplify their civic actions.

The basic criticism of selfies tends to stem from a generally sexist impulse — or, at least, from older generations making fun of narcissistic younger people who supposedly care too much about their appearance. And even the most earnest criticism of vaccine selfies seems tinged with the idea that people posting them are doing it out of some desire to preen and primp, or that the impulse to post is borne out of selfishness.

But the reality is that after a year of pandemic living, most people taking vaccine selfies don’t even look that good. Our hair is badly untrimmed, our eyebrows, overgrown, could use waxing, beards are looking haggard, and we’re all in need of some sunlight. We’re all rough around the edges, at least by pre-pandemic standards. Sure, some people may still be bragging that they got to the head of the line, but for a lot of us the real goal of a vaccine selfie is, instead, to show our enthusiasm for the thing we’re participating in with everyone else. The images we’re posting of ourselves are evidence that selfies can sometimes be selfless, but even when they’re about showing off, they may be in a position to do some good.

In their banality, vaccine selfies also embody the growing sense that people are just getting vaccinated in the middle of their everyday lives, in pursuit of making all of our lives ordinary again. This may be one of the reasons that vaccine selfies can increase confidence in vaccines. If social pressure works to increase vaccination uptake, then selfies are a good way to subtly sway people who may be on the fence to get the vaccine shots. And if it happens to create a space for people to feel comfortable promoting public health and finally ending a pandemic, that’s better for everyone.

Anti-vaccine activists have aggressively spread all kinds of misinformation about the coronavirus vaccine online, ranging from unproved claims to factually untrue statements. Social media platforms have taken steps to combat this — on Instagram, for example, if you share any post with the word “vaccine” or “covid,” Instagram automatically detects it and adds a notification to your post linking to websites for organizations such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But vaccine skeptics who already inherently distrust national or international institutions probably will not remain unmoved by this information. Vaccine selfies, on the other hand, provide proof that friends, family members and acquaintances have safely taken the vaccine, even if that proof comes solely in the fact that they go back to posting about literally anything other than the pandemic in the hours and days immediately after.

By turning the vaccine from a faceless, scary thing into something dozens of people you know have received, vaccine selfies can open a dialogue and help normalize vaccines as part of everyday life. The coronavirus vaccines are still new: In January, nearly a third of American adults (31 percent) said they were planning to “wait and see” how it works for other people, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, and two-thirds of that group said that they could be persuaded to get vaccinated if they see that the vaccine is highly effective in preventing illness. Revisiting that question in February, KFF found that the share who wanted to wait and see had declined to 22 percent, even as the percentage who either had received or planned to soon receive the vaccine had increased from 47 percent to 55 percent. It would be silly, of course, to attribute this change to vaccine selfies alone, but they certainly can’t be hurting the positive trend.

Last week after receiving the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in Brooklyn, I walked out of the clinic and onto the sidewalk away from others filtering into the vaccine clinic. I opened my camera app and held up my phone in selfie pose, my newly vaccinated arm exposed in the “cold shoulder” shirt I had found in the back of my closet, dated in a fashion sense but perfect for the occasion. I reflexively grinned under my mask and tapped the shutter button. Satisfied with the result, I tweeted out my own vaccine selfie and was met with a widely congratulatory response, and even some responses from others telling me they’d gotten the shot, too. I could have taken the subway home but I walked the 35 minutes instead, once again reacquainting myself with the strange feeling of hope I had been missing.

Balto’s Sinister Plot to Save Americans — Jiji Lee in The New Yorker.

In 1925, a Siberian husky named Balto was part of a dog-sled team that raced across Alaska to deliver a serum to combat a diphtheria epidemic in Nome. These were some of the protestations to his evil plot to save Alaska’s most vulnerable residents, many of whom were children.

“First, a deadly diphtheria outbreak shuts down our shops, and now we’re being forced to take a life-saving serum? This dog is trying to take away our freedom!”

“How come a dog is allowed to deliver a serum in the middle of a dangerous winter snowstorm, during a grave health crisis in which children are dying, but I’m not allowed to get an indoor haircut? Man, I miss those haircuts—my barber’s rough, calloused hands around my head, a rusty blade fashioned out of an old ice skate lacerating my scalp. I really miss that. Why can’t I get that?”

“The Siberian husky is a trustworthy, hardworking, and highly intelligent breed. That’s why I believe that Balto is a secret agent of the government, tasked with injecting us with poison that will be used to control our minds. This seems like a much more credible theory than any science-based one.”

“The scientists who developed this serum are quacks! I’d feel a lot safer if the serum were produced by someone I know and could trust, like that salesman who goes door to door and sells miracle elixirs for bald men.”

“I read a flyer in the bathroom stall of a saloon that said the serum is actually made with dog genes, and that it’s going to turn all of us into dogs. I know what’s best for me and my children, and it’s insuring that we stay human.”

“I heard that Balto is actually Bill Gates in a dog costume. That’s all you need to know about that.”

“Diphtheria is being blown way out of proportion. Besides, there are so many other ways that people can die—getting attacked by a Kodiak bear; being stampeded to death by a herd of moose; falling into a crevasse; basically anytime you leave your house in Alaska. If I don’t need a vaccine to prevent a bear attack, then I don’t need a vaccine against diphtheria, the Kodiak bear of diseases. I think my argument there is pretty solid.”

“This is part of a vast and sinister plot to force Americans to see dogs as man’s best friend.”

“Actually, it’s Togo, not Balto, who’s the lead sled dog in the serum run. Sorry, I’m just a stickler for the facts.”

“Balto should prove that the serum is safe by getting strapped to a chair and being injected with it in the middle of the town square. I’m much more likely to trust modern medicine when it has a medieval-execution vibe.”

“There’s just something about the name Balto that I don’t trust. Is he foreign?”

Doonesbury — Ah, history…

Friday, March 5, 2021

Happy Friday

I’ve now had my second shot of the vaccine — much thanks to the good people at Jackson South Hospital in Kendall, Florida — but I’m not taking off my mask until the CDC says it’s okay.  And I sure as hell ain’t gonna listen to the grifter in Tallahassee who sells out the citizens who need it the most to the ones who give him the most.

The Senate is beginning debate on the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill after Sen. Ron Clownshoes Johnson of Wisconsin demanded that the bill be read out loud in its entirety.  Apparently he’s not mastered the skills most kids learn in Grade 1.  When the Senate voted to move ahead with the debate, not a single Republican voted to do so, requiring Vice President Harris to cast the deciding 51-50 vote.  Thanks for the oppo research, Mitch.

The Capitol was not invaded by hordes of lunatics yesterday to demand the seating of their cheese-colored leader.  They were too busy digging through their mom’s basement to find their old Dr. Seuss books because they heard they had “racy” contents.  Actually, they have “racist” images, but hey… racy / racist…

And some intrepid reporter wanted to know if the Biden White House should be giving credit to the Trumps for getting the ball rolling on getting all those vaccines out to America.  Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s reply was perfect:

“I don’t think anyone deserves credit when half a million people in the country have died of this pandemic”

And finally, a visitor to my backyard.  “Egrets… I’ve had a few…”

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

A Huge Mistake

Just when things were looking up…

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said on Tuesday that he was ending his statewide mask mandate, effective March 10, and that all businesses in the state could then operate with no capacity limits.

“I just announced Texas is OPEN 100%” he tweeted on Tuesday afternoon. “EVERYTHING.”

Mr. Abbott took the action after federal health officials warned governors not to ease restrictions yet because progress across the country in reducing coronavirus cases appears to have stalled in the last week.

“To be clear, Covid has not, like, suddenly disappeared,” Mr. Abbott said. “Covid still exists in Texas and the United States and across the globe.”

Even so, he said, “state mandates are no longer needed” because advanced treatments are now available for people with Covid-19, the state is able to test large numbers of people for the virus each day and 5.7 million vaccine shots have already been given to Texans.

Speaking to reporters at a Chamber of Commerce event in Lubbock on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Abbott, a Republican, said that most of the mandates issued during the peak of the pandemic in the state would be lifted; he did not specify which mandates would remain. He said top elected officials in each county could still impose certain restrictions locally if hospitals in their region became dangerously full, but could not jail anyone for violating them.

“People and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate,” he said.

Texas is among the worst states in vaccination rates, and especially in the poor and minority communities. But to someone with presidential fever dreams and a desperate need to find something else to talk about other than the way the state totally fucked up the electrical grid with their “FREEDUM!” vulture-culture off-the-grid system that was totally unprepared for a cold snap despite being warned ten years before after the exact same thing happened, he needed something to make his political donors and sycophants happy. That’s the only reason I can think of for doing this. But as a friend of mine who lives in Texas said, “It’s a huge mistake and people are gonna die. But since they’re poor and most likely Democratic voters, he doesn’t care.”

It’s not like they haven’t tried this before to get in the good graces of Trump and the folks who think good public hygiene is an assault on their rights and fee-fees.

The timing of Abbott’s announcement is hard to parse. It’s been known for months that the vaccines will soon be widely available, meaning the frustration at containment measures like business limitations and masks will soon ebb as we achieve herd immunity through effective inoculations.

This is one reason Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Monday that states should be cautious about scaling back containment measures. Another was the spread of more contagious variants, three of which have already been confirmed in Houston, Texas’s largest city.

“At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” Walensky said. “These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress.”

It’s clearly not the case that Texas has achieved sufficient immunity to disregard these concerns. The state has done one of the worst jobs in the country of vaccinating its residents, though that was negatively affected by the recent winter storm. That’s the asterisk to the Biden announcement, of course: Vaccine ability doesn’t mean uniform ability to quickly distribute it.

Abbott is instead appealing to the ability of Texans to take necessary precautions on their own, an optimism that recent history suggests is not warranted. Abbott announced a stay-at-home order in late March, moving quickly to lift it once Donald Trump’s administration began advocating for broad reopenings. By summer, Texas had become an epicenter of new case spikes nationally. Abbott implemented a mask mandate on July 2, when the state was seeing about 6,300 new cases a day. Over the next few weeks, as existing infections became symptomatic, new case totals topped 10,000. By early September, though, they’d fallen again.

In early October, Abbott began scaling back restrictions on restaurants and bars. Nationally, a third wave of cases was just beginning, and Texas ended up seeing more than 23,000 new cases a day and, at the worst moment, more than 336 new deaths each day.

Even with the millions of doses of the vaccines that are coming, a spike in Texas means that instead of getting them to places where they are needed, we’re going to be spending time, money, lives, and shots in a place that could have avoided a new spike in the first place.

I fully expect the idiot governor of Florida to follow the lead.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Sunday Reading

Reason for Hope? — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker on turning the corner on Covid-19.

Optimism is one of the things that the coronavirus pandemic has made it hard to hold on to, or even to measure. Going through the data can have a seesawing effect on a person’s state of mind. Last week, Johnson & Johnson announced that, in trials, its COVID-19 vaccine had an efficacy rate of more than sixty-six per cent in preventing moderate to severe disease, and was eighty-five per cent effective at preventing severe to critical cases—and that no one who got the vaccine was hospitalized or died because of covid-19. On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine-advisory committee voted, unanimously, to recommend that it become the third vaccine to be given an emergency-use authorization in the United States. It could be deployed as soon as this week.

Should one’s mood be lowered by the knowledge that the two vaccines that were previously approved, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, have higher efficacy rates—around ninety-five per cent? (Not really; the J. & J. numbers are still very good.) Alternatively, should one’s mood get an upswing from the knowledge that, unlike with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, only one J. & J. shot is required, and that the vaccine can be stored in a normal refrigerator? (Definitely.) Is there a sign that vaccinations, along with the end of the holiday season and a growing willingness to wear masks, are, finally, altering the trajectory of the pandemic? (Yes: since the beginning of the year, the average daily number of new cases in the United States has fallen by three-quarters; worldwide, the number is half of what it was.) Thankfully, the ups seem to be beating the downs.

Yet joy can be hard to come by, because of the weight of what the country is still going through. The average daily number of deaths is about two thousand—a sharp drop from mid-January, when it was well above three thousand, but quadruple what it was last July. And, as February ended, there seemed to be something of a wavering in the progress—perhaps because extreme weather caused disruptions or, more ominously, because of the spread of what appear to be more infectious variants.

The biggest brake on optimism concerns those variants: the British, the Brazilian, and the South African. The J. & J. vaccine held up well in large-scale trials in South Africa. There is evidence that other vaccines will not work quite as well against that variant or, apparently, against the Brazilian one, though vaccine makers are working on boosters to address that issue. The vaccines do appear to be effective against the quickly spreading British variant. But the fear is that variants may yet outpace vaccinations. The race is still on: a new variant with worrisome mutations seems to be gaining ground in New York City.

Two White House commemorations last week embodied the lurch between pain and progress. The first, on Monday evening, was held on the South Portico, to mark half a million recorded U.S. COVID-19 deaths. Before calling for a moment of silence, President Biden urged Americans not to become “numb to sorrow.” Just three days later, Biden, with Vice-President Kamala Harris and Dr. Anthony Fauci, watched four frontline workers get their first shots at an event billed as “50 Million COVID Vaccinations.” The “50 Million,” as Biden made clear, referred only to the number of doses administered since he was inaugurated. The total is approaching seventy million doses, with twenty million people fully vaccinated. Biden offered a stream of banter about how the shot doesn’t really hurt, then cautioned, “This is not a victory lap.” But, he added, “we’re getting close.”

It is hard to cheer unabashedly when the distribution of vaccines has been such a mess. Donald Trump had no real plan, and left matters such as eligibility to the states. The Biden Administration has been far more involved, but the system remains fragmented. Just because you are eligible to get a vaccine in New York, it doesn’t mean that you are eligible in Massachusetts or Georgia. A contentious issue is whether prioritizing K-12 teachers should be a requirement for reopening schools; they are eligible for vaccines in about thirty states, and only in certain counties in some others. If you are eligible, you still often need a lot of spare time and technical access to secure an appointment. Racial and class inequities abound, along with a certain arbitrariness. Yet, looking only at the raw numbers, people in the U.S. are being vaccinated at almost twice the rate of those in Germany. (And both the U.S. and Germany are in a better position, in terms of supplies, than much of the developing world.)

One measure of how tricky it can be to think about the pandemic’s next chapter is the discussion around “vaccine passports.” The idea is that a person’s vaccine status—perhaps documented by an app—could open doors that would otherwise be closed. But which doors? Showing proof of vaccination before travelling to another country is a familiar practice. Difficulties arise over access to jobs and whether vaccinated people should be encouraged to act as if COVID-19 is no longer a factor—to go to big indoor weddings, crowded theatres, busy restaurants—when vaccines are not universally available and vaccinated people may still spread the disease, albeit to a lesser extent.

Conversely, some worry that downplaying what vaccines can do might further people’s reluctance to get one. (Vaccine hesitancy is a concern; a third of the members of the military who have been offered a vaccine have turned it down.) In that sense, the vaccines highlight, rather than eliminate, a central dilemma of this brutal but unevenly experienced pandemic: how to balance rational risk-taking with community obligations and realism about what’s still ahead. It is reasonable, for example, to expect vaccinated people who gather at home with vaccinated friends and relatives to continue wearing masks in public settings.

The winter wave is ending, and there is every chance, with luck and vigilance, that we won’t soon see its like again, even if the coronavirus and its descendants linger. Recently, Fauci told CNN both that he thought life might return to its usual patterns by the end of this year and that Americans might still be wearing masks in 2022. As he put it, “It really depends on what you mean by normality.” One can, in the course of a long pandemic, begin to get used to too many intolerable things. But it would be disastrous to grow numb to hope.

Doonesbury — Qualified for the job.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Happy Friday

A real shot in the arm.

The happiest place in medicine right now is a basketball arena in New Mexico. Or maybe it’s the parking lot of a baseball stadium in Los Angeles, or a Six Flags in Maryland, or a shopping mall in South Dakota.

The happiest place in medicine is anywhere there is vaccine, and the happiest people in medicine are the ones plunging it into the arms of strangers.

“It’s a joy to all of us,” says Akosua “Nana” Poku, a Kaiser Permanente nurse vaccinating people in Northern Virginia.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had an experience in my career that has felt so promising and so fulfilling,” says Christina O’Connell, a clinic director at the University of New Mexico.

“There’s so many tears” — of joy, not sadness — “that it’s almost normal at this point,” says Justin Ellis, CVS pharmacist in Laveen, Ariz.

For health-care workers, the opportunity to administer the vaccine has become its own reward: Giving hope to others has given them hope, too. In some clinics, so many nurses have volunteered for vaccine duty that they can’t accommodate them all.

Many of those same health-care workers spent last year sticking swabs up the noses of people who thought they might have the coronavirus. The work was risky. The patients were scared. There was never relief, just limbo. The arrival of The Shot has transformed the grim pop-up clinics of the pandemic into gratitude factories — reassembly lines where Americans could begin to put back together their busted psyches.

“I will never forget the face of the first person I vaccinated,” says Ebram Botros, a CVS pharmacy manager in Whitehall, Ohio. It was an 80-year-old man who said that he hadn’t seen his children or grandchildren since March.

Botros’s pharmacy is in a diverse community outside Columbus. As an African American who immigrated to the United States from Egypt, Botros feels a special responsibility to reassure Black patients who may be ­vaccine-averse from a historical legacy of medical abuse. One 89-year-old Black woman told Botros she had never gotten a shot before in her life.

“I explained to her: ‘This is very important. It’s painless, and it’s going to help you have your life back to normal,’ ” he says. Her grandson later reached out to Botros to thank him personally — and told him that the woman called all of her friends and urged them to get their shots, too.

The FDA is reviewing the data in advance to approving the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine, and the rate of infection is going down. And then there’s Her Majesty:

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth has a message for people opposed to vaccines or hesitant about the shots: One is not amused.

Her Majesty spoke out for the first time about getting a “jab,” as she called it. In a video call with British health officials leading the vaccination rollout effort, the monarch said that getting the vaccine was “very quick” and “didn’t hurt at all.”

“Once you’ve had the vaccine you have a feeling of, you know, you’re protected, which is I think very important,” she said.

She also urged people to think about others. “It is obviously difficult for people if they’ve never had a vaccine … but they ought to think about other people rather than themselves.”

The video call was released to the media on Thursday evening and featured on many of the front pages of British newspapers Friday.

Relaxation Therapy:  A pelican in the cove at the Deering Estate in Palmetto Bay.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Elegy

President Biden on the loss of 500,000 Americans.

Charles P. Pierce:

A half-million dead.

Holy mother of god, a half-million dead.

The Washington Post designed some helpful visual aids for us to try to grasp the enormity of the butcher’s bill of this pandemic. One helpful calculation is that it would take a nearly 100-mile caravan of buses to carry that many of our fellow citizens, a line of buses on top of which the president could walk all the way from the White House back to his home state of Delaware. But the most signifying one to me is the calculation that, had there been a half-million American casualties during the Vietnam War, the Vietnam Memorial on the National Mall would be a wall 87-feet high. It would require doubling the size of Arlington National Cemetery in order to bury that many dead.

The fact that the 1918 flu pandemic still has a bigger body count is cold comfort. It’s the 21st goddamn century. The flu hit almost 60 years before the first coronavirus was discovered, 30 years before the founding of the Centers for Disease Control, and six years before Johan Hultin, the medical archaeologist who found the flu virus in lung tissue from a remote mass grave in Alaska, was born. Science marched on, as science will, provided we all agree that it should. When we don’t, we look up after a year and a half-million people aren’t here anymore. It’s unsettling. That butcher’s bill is powerful enough to knock everything we think we know askew. In The Republic of Suffering, her great book about the United States convulsed in civil war, historian Drew Gilpin Faust describes how the carnage of that era changed even the American concept of death itself.

Death’s significance for the Civil War generation arose as well from its violation of prevailing assumptions about life’s proper end—about who should die, when and where, and under what circumstances.

Mass mourning of this sort is something for which the country has lost its talent. Our wars are smaller now, and farther away. Mass death usually comes now from nature—Katrina, Maria, tsunamis in the South Seas—or from sudden isolated acts of slaughter, like that perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh or Mohammad Atta. Prolonged mass death, and prolonged mass mourning, runs contrary to the accelerated pace of our times. Taken together, they require the kind of deceleration that comes from contemplation and reflection, two other things for which the country has lost its talent.

It did not have to be this way. We were smart enough at the beginning to face the pandemic with everything we’d learned since the last one. We were smart enough at the beginning to differentiate between what we wanted to believe and what actually was. We were smart enough at the beginning to understand exactly what we needed to do. We just decided not to do it, and now a half-million of us are dead. This is a profound failure of every aspect of American society, as profound a societal failure as the Great Famine in Ireland.

It has not been an act of mass slaughter. It was an act of enforced surrender in which every public institution was complicit. It has not been a genocide, but something else. Years ago, General Thomas Meagher, who rose in rebellion in Ireland during the Famine and ended up in America, once said:

The sword of famine is less sparing than the bayonet of the soldier.

What we have seen over the past year is the slow unfolding of an unnecessary capitulation to ignorance that we thought was long dead and buried, like all those bodies in the Arctic that finally gave up the virus that caused the last great pandemic.

A half-million dead.

Holy mother of god.

Monday, February 22, 2021

500,000

That number is roughly the population of Atlanta, or a good swath of Miami-Dade County, where I live.  Half a million.  More than all the American soldiers lost in World War I, World War II, and Vietnam.  And that is the number of lives lost to a virus in less than one year since the first death was recorded in the U.S., on February 29, 2020.

It has changed our world forever.  We all know someone who either had it and survived, or we all know someone who lost someone from it.  We have changed our everyday habits: we stay home, we eat in, we find new ways of shopping, we learn to work, parent and adult from home, and we cope with depression and frustration in perhaps constructive ways — one hopes — and adjust, adapt, and try to go on.

To those of us who were — and remain — touched or hit by the loss of a loved one, we find ways to cope with the inevitable grief.  In my case, I wrote: 25 plays since last February.  For others that I know, it was everything from binge-watching TV, making bread, rediscovering old books and crafts, and making connections and amends where necessary with those we lost touch with or moved away from.  The fact that it happened in a presidential election year exacerbated some differences — stress and loss makes it hard to reconcile even without social distancing and quarantining — but it also gave us time for action and determination to, as the Serenity Prayer says, change the things we can.

There is hope.  The infection rate is going down, vaccinations are increasing, competency is replacing bullying and bloviation, and human nature — the good side — looks for an end, however distant.  We know our lives are vulnerable; a pandemic is not anomaly but a Darwinian force of nature.  We have seen them before and we will see them again.  It is up to us to deal with it as we can, and comparing this to a previous pandemic in living memory, we have made amazing strides in medicine and science, with or without the hindrance of political ambition and quackery.

The New York Times posted a graphic on their front page with a tiny dot (.) representing each life lost.  It started small, but by the time it got to the end, the page was nothing but ink.  One of those dots was my dad.  Two weeks ago I got my first dose of the vaccine.  I want to think that if Dad couldn’t get it, I could in his name and make it through this for him and all the other people I know and care about.  I think that’s what we all should do, and hope and work to make sure that we don’t lose another 500,000 and still have a life worth living and remembering.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Sunday Reading

The Lone Star State — Bryan Washington reports from Houston on the perils of a state going it alone.  From The New Yorker.


Out in Houston on Sunday morning, at the precipice of a statewide freeze in Texas and blackouts throughout the city, I passed two different women, each handling several cartfuls of groceries, who, speaking into their phones, noted that they “may have gone overboard.” I’d popped into Lee’s Sandwiches for a few gallons of coffee, and then into H Mart for other odds and ends. As the morning progressed, the traffic across Bellaire Boulevard worsened from a slight crawl to an impasse. Folks were stocking up in a way that’s become commonplace over the past year in the city, although the debacle to come had few precedents.

The storm that hit the state on Sunday left more than four million Texas residents without electricity, and many without water. The city of Galveston lost much of its power on Monday morning, and as of Wednesday afternoon it had yet to be restored. The city of Abilene lost both power and water and was given no sense of when either would return. On Tuesday evening, Houston’s Clear Lake area was issued a boil-water notice. Photos of cul-de-sacs blanketed in snow proliferated on social feeds, with residents “skiing” on highways and folks sledding down hills of snow in baskets—somewhat pleasant at the beginning of the week, until the power stayed out. Now parts of Dallas are so cold that water bottles are freezing next to people’s bedsides and appliances are heavy with icicles. These are some of the lowest temperatures that the state has seen in nearly thirty years.

Faced with an untenable surge in demand, power providers tried to signal that they had a plan (“rolling blackouts”), but then segued to a blackout of information itself, until Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, stated, early Monday morning, that the outages were statewide. Officials avoided providing timelines as they issued recommendations on how to conserve energy and stay warm. Residents measured the temperatures in their homes, covering windows with blankets and wrapping pipes and wedging towels into the spaces beneath doors to retain heat in individual rooms. The city’s unhoused population was sheltered in hubs throughout the area (if they could reach them), and some of those places eventually lost power, too. Health-care workers scrambled to distribute the COVID-19 vaccines that they had on hand before they went bad in the outage. Local community organizations like Austin Mutual Aid and Mutual Aid Houston began to circulate resources and guidelines across their communities.

Houston, on a good day, is not a city overflowing with spacious third places. The city’s residents were faced with several bad options: stay at home and freeze, or chance the already uncertain roads and flee to friends or relatives who’d managed to retain their power by chance or by means of a spare generator—although the latter option involved congregating amid the spectre of COVID-19. The elderly, the very young, and the otherwise vulnerable were left in an especially nightmarish scenario. After the city’s businesses were asked to turn off their lights to conserve energy, much of downtown continued to shine with lights from skyscrapers and high-rise offices (many of which only powered down when they were publicly called out for it). As of Wednesday morning, at least twelve weather-related deaths had been reported across the Houston area.

Whereas much of the country is powered by regional energy systems—which are able to pull and pool resources in times of duress—Texas’s power is largely under the control of ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages nearly ninety per cent of the state’s electricity load. The state’s independent network of utilities was devised with the goal of avoiding federal regulation; by not crossing state lines, Texas’s power grid could sidestep national utility guidelines—and energy companies could profit under the guise of individualism and “self-reliance.” State leaders, sacrificing long-term, communal safety for immediate profit, have shaken their heads at the idea of reform or collaboration and said, But we don’t need it. Then it got very cold, very fast, and the system (particularly, it seems, the parts that rely on natural gas) proved vulnerable—and, sure enough, the onus fell on the individual. ERCOT has stated that it has no idea when the power situation will resume any semblance of regularity. The state’s governor and myriad other elected officials have been quick to pass the blame.

At home on Monday, my boyfriend and I spent our time insulating the apartment and entertaining the dog. When we did venture outside—on two slipping and skittering walks across the neighborhood, and then a pitch-dark drive to pick up more water—we were met with barren roads. That night, we cordoned ourselves in the living room, arranging candles and ring lights collected from our yearlong Zoom hell, and ate a dinner of Lunar New Year leftovers, including braised pork with eggs and kimchi (a reminder that, as ghoulish as things were, they could be worse). Not long after midnight, our power returned, then went in and out in fits and starts into the next morning.

On Tuesday, we made it a point to set out for gas, and along the way we stopped by a Randalls. Folks wandered the dark aisles by the glow of their smartphone flashlights. The frozen-food section was cordoned off with masking tape, and meat displays were covered with cardboard, retaining whatever cold they could. The gas stations nearby were deserted, so we continued to drive until we ended up at another open grocery store, a Fiesta beside the highway. The electricity was working there, and everything was in stock. A woman stood beside the bakery, doling out loaves by the order. A butcher hacked at piles of beef behind a counter, and the fishmonger handed out numbers to folks assembled in line. A dude manning the front door apologized that customers couldn’t all be let in simultaneously; they’d had power since eight that morning, he said. On the drive back, we passed several car accidents as we continued searching for gas. Parking lots were full of folks driving in loops and warming themselves, as others congregated in their cars with their children and their pets. We waited in line for an hour across three stations before we found one beside NRG Stadium that, eventually, provided a full tank. But we’d only just barely left the parking lot before it became clear that this gas station had run dry, too.

A shared characteristic of Houstonians, one could argue, is a tendency to fall prey to disaster unprepared—but only exactly once. Whether facing the ravages of climate change, the state, or some other man-made calamity, the city’s residents learn very harsh lessons, and we tend not to make the same mistakes again. But it’s one of the great shames that this city—and this country, and the individuals who govern it—requires its residents to weather these things at all. The collapse of ERCOT is one of the many signs that Texas has failed, and continues to fail, to adapt its infrastructure to meet the inevitability of climate change. In a new year already absurdly filled with crisis—an insurrection one month, bungled vaccine distribution the next, in the midst of a pandemic that has ravaged the nation in ways almost beyond comprehensibility—yet another disaster doesn’t feel entirely out of place. But the exacerbation of one emergency doesn’t eliminate the likelihood of another—and we can be sure that this storm, like every other once-in-a-generation weather event that Houstonians have experienced in the past few years, will not be the last. Like all of our other travails, it will require an expansion of the imagination, and our leaders’ inability to rise to the task won’t eliminate the necessity of doing so.

When we arrived back at our place, with gas in hand, the power was out again—but we still had running water. The Internet had begun to black out. Our cell service had grown spotty, and most businesses in the city had begun to power down indefinitely. Walking the dog before the sun set, we ran into a handful of neighbors: teens huddled and vaping in the garage, folks extracting symphonies of portable chargers from their parked cars. The parents of a toddler who’s always attacking my garden—all of the plants are now likely dying or dead, anyway—passed us, and we stood, shivering, at a distance from one another, masked and in four layers of clothing. We waved and noted that the year was off to a wild start. We asked how everyone was doing and agreed that we were fine, considering, for now. But we were, frankly, just a handful of the luckier ones.

Shottenfreude — Gene Weingarten on getting frontsies on the Covid-19 vaccination.

There are very few advantages to being old. You are more experienced, but not necessarily any wiser than you were at 30, and you have no short-term memory. For example, I will not remember the beginning of this sentence without going back to read it. You are cranky. If you are male your prostate gland is the size of a weather balloon, and if you are female you are very disconcertingly aware of gravity. My point is, getting old sucks, except for one thing.

I just got the coronavirus vaccine because of some weird national system that seems to give preference to people who are already half-dead. I don’t mean to be morbid or ungrateful, but at 69, statistically speaking, the vaccine will probably allow me to exist only through the first Kamala Harris administration. If they gave it to an infant, we are talking about 80 years. How does this make sense? It’s like one of those nonsensical ethical conundrums popular in thumb-sucking liberal-arts college philosophy classes: If given a choice, do you save the mother of 12 children, or the single doctor who is on the verge of curing cancer? YOU SAVE THE DOCTOR, MORON. The mom is an irresponsible idiot, anyway. Who has 12 children?

However. I am glad I got the shot. It was not easy. My girlfriend and I were doing a crossword puzzle online when I got an email alert that 1,500 shots were instantly available in the District of Columbia. Without any regard for my self-respect, she elbowed me off the computer — she is younger than I am and way faster at the keyboard — and completed the questionnaire requesting a shot without once consulting me, as though she were filling out a veterinary form for a dog. Exactly 40 seconds after hitting “Enter,” and learning I had an appointment, I got another email saying all spots were filled.

This is not a sane system, obviously. It filled me with joy, but also guilt. I was jonesing for the shot — like a lot of people, I had vaccine envy. It is not admirable. The Germans probably have a word for it. Call it shottennfreude.

A friend of mine, a pharmacist in a hospital, got the vaccine just four days after it became available, because she was, in essence, a first responder, a heroic person, a good person and extremely deserving of front-of-the-line placement, and I hated her, which filled me with self-loathing.

As a Jewish guy, I feel guilt all the time, even for things no sane person would feel guilty about, such as having nipples that I selfishly do not use for infant nutritional sustenance. Bogarting one of the scarce doses of the vaccine in a store filled with young people, who had to go about their business as yet unprotected, made me uneasy. The only guy older than me was getting the shot too. He was in his mid-70s, frail-looking and suicidal. I know that because he was talking quite openly about it with the guy who drove him there, who was the pastor of his church. I know this is not funny, but I am telling you this for two reasons: The first is, it was an act of extraordinary pastoral grace that brought tears to my eyes. As we sat together in the waiting room I was moved enough to interject. “Hang in there,” I said. “We only get one shot at life.”

The second was that as the guy left, and right before I was to get vaccinated, he and I shared a moment. Just a meeting of the eyes. The eyes said, SCORE. I’m pretty sure he learned something about the sanctity of life. I did.

The shot made me a little sick for a couple of days, and I still have to go back for a follow-up later in the month, and that fills me with a particular dread, because my job now is to stay healthy for another six weeks until full immunity kicks in. Huge pressure. Anxiety. I am afraid of choking, like a basketball player who’s made the first of two free throws but still needs to sink the second for the win.

Doonesbury — Tweetdom.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Happy Friday

One down, one to go.

The House Managers wrapped it up yesterday. Charlie Pierce.

Any congressional session in 2021 that ends with someone quoting Tom Paine about why tyranny is like hell because it is not easily conquered is bound to grab my attention. So, it was a startler when Rep. Jamie Raskin wrapped up the impeachment managers’ case for conviction of the former president* by citing that particular passage in reference to the former president*’s incitement of the insurrection of January 6. It also functioned as a warning that, conviction or no, the actual insurrection is as alive and contagious in the country as the pandemic is. After all, recent polling indicates that a majority of Republicans still believe that El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago was cheated out of his “very great landslide” victory. That’s not going away, and there’s no apparent appetite among Republicans to do away from it. And, in the end, Raskin hung one last anchor around all their necks.

Tom Paine wasn’t an American, but he came to help us in our great revolutionary struggle against the kings, and queens, and the tyrants. In 1776, in the crisis, he wrote these beautiful words, it was a very tough time for the country, people didn’t know which way things were going to go. Were we going to win, against all hope? Because for most of the rest of human history, it had been the kings and queens and tyrants and nobles lording it over the common people. Could political self-government work in America, was the question.

And Paine wrote this pamphlet called “The Crisis,” and he said these beautiful words…He said, “These are the times that men and women’s souls. The summer soldier and sunshine patriot will shrink at this moment from the service of their cause and their country, but everyone who stands with us now will win the love and favor and affection of every man and every woman for all time. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered, but we have this saving consolation: the more difficult the struggle, the more glorious in the end will be our victory.

Good luck in your deliberations.

What he meant was, good luck living with your consciences after you vote to acquit this guy. You’re betraying everything this country has claimed to believe about itself all the way back to its founding. And you’re doing it on behalf of someone who gladly would’ve welcomed a bloodbath if it kept him in office. As far as summer soldiers go, you guys have established a permanent beachhead in Cancun.

There is no contesting the facts of the case brought by the House managers. What happened at the Capitol was anything except spontaneous. It was the logical, foreseeable end of a campaign to delegitimize any election result that didn’t include the incumbent’s winning re-election. And the incumbent embarked on that campaign full in the knowledge that chaos was his best weapon and only chance, and he pursued the campaign whether it got his own vice president strung up or not. Thursday’s wrap-up presentation leaned strongly into demonstrating that the former president* welcomed the violence, and was completely uninterested in acting to defend the Capitol no matter how many frantic phone calls came in from senators who were hiding under their desks at the time. As manager Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado argued:

He reacted exactly the way someone would react if they were delighted, and exactly unlike how a person would react if they were angry how their followers were acting. Again, ask yourself how many lives would have been saved? How much pain and trauma would have been avoided if he had reacted in a way the President of the United States is supposed to act?

Senators, the evidence is clear. We showed you statements, videos, affidavits that prove President Trump incited an insurrection — an insurrection that he alone had the power to stop. And the fact that he didn’t stop it, the fact that he incited a lawless attack and abdicated his duty to defend us from it, the fact that he actually further inflamed the mob, further inflamed that mob, attacking his vice president while assassins were pursuing him in this Capitol, more than requires conviction and disqualification.

On Friday, the former president*’s legal team will go through the motions of rebutting the massive amount of evidence presented by the managers. They won’t even try that hard. They don’t have to. The summer soldiers have their back.

Monday, February 8, 2021

All Shine And No Substance

Via the Washington Post:

In a wide-ranging interview with CBS News, President Biden expressed disappointment with how his predecessor had handled the coronavirus pandemic, specifically the number of vaccines that were available to inoculate the population. “The circumstances of how the [previous] administration handled covid was even more dire than we thought,” he said in a segment aired Sunday afternoon.

Biden admitted it would be “difficult” to vaccinate much of the population by the summer and said he had ordered vaccine makers to ramp up production and had the assurances of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that all its stadiums could be used as mass vaccination sites.

In 1961, JFK said that when he got into office, he was shocked to find out that things were really as bad as they had said they were when he was running for president.

That said, I find it very plausible to believe that anything could be as rotten as they’re finding they are; in fact, I think they’ll find that rot runs far deeper than than what appears on the surface.

It reminds me of a monologue from “Inherit the Wind” (1960) with Spencer Tracy and Fredric March.

That’s what Trump and his minions were selling, and that’s what all of his followers swallowed: that the only way to save the country was to buy Golden Dancer. A lot of us knew it was all shine and no substance. And we still need to hold those charlatans to account for the damage they caused.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Happy Friday

Eleven Republicans, including three from South Florida, voted to strip the Q-Anon nutter of her committee assignments.  So that’s something.

Johnson & Johnson is applying for emergency authorization from the FDA to release their single-shot vaccine.

And after pulling an all-nighter, the Senate passed the budget bill for the $1.9 billion coronavirus relief bill.

Meanwhile, the ibis crowd stopped by for lunch.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Long Division

Regardless of the outcome of the elections today in Georgia, the Republicans are setting their dumpsters on fire that will last long after Trump.

Trump has created a divide in his party as fundamental and impassioned as any during his four years as president, with lawmakers forced to choose between certifying the results of an election decided by their constituents or appeasing the president in an all-but-certain-to-fail crusade to keep him in power by subverting the vote.

As Republican lawmakers took sides ahead of Wednesday’s joint session of Congress to certify the electoral college results, some on Monday voiced rare criticism of Trump for his attempt to pressure Georgia elections officials to change vote totals there during a Saturday phone call, a recording of which was published by The Washington Post.

Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican, said the call was “deeply troubling” and urged all Americans to listen to the hour-long conversation, while Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) condemned it as “a new low in this whole futile and sorry episode.” Even one of Trump’s most loyal defenders, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), said it was “not a helpful call.”

Trump signaled he had little patience for defections by members of what he dubbed the “Surrender Caucus.” After Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) announced that he was not joining the band of GOP lawmakers objecting to the electoral college results, Trump attacked Cotton on Twitter and warned that voters would “NEVER FORGET!”

The sycophancy of the Trumpkins (hat tip to George Will) will be the line in the sandbox for the next two election cycles.

On a conference call last Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told his caucus that, in his 36 Senate years, he has twice cast votes to take the nation to war and once to remove a president, but that the vote he will cast this Wednesday to certify Joe Biden’s electoral college victory will be the most important of his career. McConnell (R-Ky.) understands the recklessness of congressional Republicans who are fueling the doubts of a large majority of Republicans about the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

The day before McConnell’s somber statement, Missouri’s freshman Republican senator, Josh Hawley, announced that on Wednesday, 14 days before Biden will be inaugurated, he will challenge the validity of Biden’s election. Hawley’s conscience regarding electoral proprieties compels him to stroke this erogenous zone of the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominating electorate.

Hawley’s stance quickly elicited panicky emulation from Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, another 2024 aspirant. Cruz led 10 other senators and senators-elect in a statement that presents their pandering to what terrifies them (their Trumpkin voters) as a judicious determination to assess the “unprecedented allegations” of voting improprieties, “allegations” exceeding “any in our lifetimes.”

So, allegations in sufficient quantity, although of uniformly risible quality, validate senatorial grandstanding that is designed to deepen today’s widespread delusions and resentments. While Hawley et al. were presenting their last-ditch devotion to President Trump as devotion to electoral integrity, Trump was heard on tape browbeating noncompliant Georgia election officials to “find” thousands of votes for him. Awkward.

[…]

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.) obliquely but scaldingly said of Hawley: “Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.” America’s three-party system — Democrats, Hawley-Cruz Republicans, and McConnell-Sasse Republicans — will continue to take shape on Wednesday. Watch how many of these Republican senators who might be seeking reelection in 2022 have the spine to side with the adults against Hawley-Cruz et al. and the Grassy Knollers among their constituents: John Boozman, Richard Burr, Mike Crapo, Charles E. Grassley, John Hoeven, Mike Lee, Jerry Moran, Lisa Murkowski, Rand Paul, Rob Portman, Marco Rubio, Tim Scott, Richard C. Shelby, John Thune, Todd C. Young. By aligning with Cruz, four — Ron Johnson, John Neely Kennedy, James Lankford and Kelly Loeffler — have reserved their seats at the children’s table.

Hawley, Cruz and company have perhaps rescued Biden from becoming the first president in 32 years to begin his presidency without his party controlling both houses of Congress. On Tuesday, Georgians will decide control of the Senate. While they have been watching Republican attempts to delegitimize Biden’s election (two recounts have confirmed that Georgians favor Biden), Republicans were telling them: a) elections in the world’s oldest constitutional democracy, and especially in Georgia, are rigged, but b) the nation’s fate depends on their turning out for Tuesday’s (presumptively) sham run-off Senate elections, lest c) Democrats take control of the Senate and behave badly.

This would all be hilarious and lavished with schadenfreude were it not for the fact that 2,800 people a day are being hospitalized with Covid-19, the distribution of the vaccine by the people “in charge” is on the national scale of Trump throwing paper towels in Puerto Rico, the economy is still struggling to deal with the collapse brought on by the pandemic, and Iran is firing up its centrifuges to enrich more uranium because they can.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Looking Back/Looking Forward

I’ve been wondering how I would do this post for a long time.  I even debated doing it at all, sure that everything I predicted for this year would be out the window and over the fence because once I write it, I don’t look at it.  So, let’s open the time capsule and see what’s inside.

Trump will survive impeachment.  The fix is in.  Revelations about his corruption will keep on coming, and yet the Republicans will cower with him.  It will be his big campaign rallying point.

That was an easy one.

I have no idea who the Democratic Party will nominate for president, and neither do you, but whoever it is will beat Trump in November despite the best efforts of the Kremlin.  I hope it is by such a margin that even Fox News will call it a blowout.  Trump will scream and carry on about it being rigged, but by this time in 2020, he’ll be doing everything he can to trash the place on the way out the door with pardons and lame-duck appointments of Nazi sympathizers and pedophiles.  (If I’m wrong on this and Trump is reelected, I’m moving to Montserrat.  It’s safer to live on an island with an active volcano.)

Wow, I’m impressed how I nailed that one.

Obamacare will survive in the Supreme Court but by a 5-4 ruling.

They haven’t ruled on the latest attempt to kill it, but it sounds like it will survive based on the weakness of the case brought by Texas.

There will be more restrictions placed on reproductive rights, but Roe v. Wade will not be struck down.

Still with us. I give it even odds with the new court in the future.

The Democrats will take back the Senate by one seat and all that bottled-up legislation will finally get through in time for the House, still under Nancy Pelosi, to pass them all again and get them signed by the new president.

Close but no cigar. We’ll know the outcome of this one next week.

The economic bubble will burst, the trade deals with China and Europe will screw over the American consumer, and it’s going to look like one of those 19,000 piece domino videos.  Trump and Fox will blame the Democrats for the monster deficit and carry on about how we need to cut more taxes and destroy Social Security and Medicare to save them.

And it did, thanks to Covid-19. More on that later.

Even with the Democrats taking over in 2020, they won’t be in office until January 2021, so I’ll save predictions for what they’ll come up with in terms of health care, gun safety, and climate change until this time next year, assuming my house in the suburbs of Miami at 10 feet above sea level is still on dry land.

See below.

As for me, my playwriting and productions thereof will continue.  I’m planning on my 29th trip to the Inge Festival in May and hope to be invited back to Alaska in June.  As I’m writing this, the novel that I started twenty-five years ago tomorrow is on the glide path to land by the time I go back to work next week.  I can predict that it will never be published because I never meant it to be.

This was a productive year for me as a playwright: 23 new plays written since this time last year: 4 full length, 1 monologue, 2 one-acts, 1 one-minute, and 15 ten-minutes. I compiled 2 anthologies. Four of them were produced via pixels. Covid-19 postponed Inge and Valdez to 2021, and plans are in the works to return with the vaccine swimming in my bloodstream. I signed with Smith Scripts to publish and license seven plays and two anthologies. And I did finish “Bobby Cramer” on January 10, 2020.

As for hopes for the new year, I hope for continued good health and fortune for my friends and family.  I can’t ask for more than that.

I remain in good health, so far. Regular readers know that my father died on May 25 from Covid-19. My mom, aka Faithful Correspondent, is in assisted living and spending a lot of time doing a lot a reading. She passes on her best wishes to her faithful readers.

Now on to my fearless predictions for 2021.

  • Trump will not go quietly; he may even announce his run for 2024 as they give him the bum’s rush, literally or figuratively, as Joe Biden is being sworn in.  But by March, if not sooner, he’ll be old news and as much a distant memory as “Pink Lady and Jeff.” (Look it up.)
  • The Republicans will do as much as they can to throw squirrels in the wood-chipper for President Biden like they did with President Obama, but I have a feeling it won’t happen.  For one thing, Joe Biden isn’t Barack Obama, and second, this country is so fucking tired of noise and fury and discombobulation that the GOP will find little patience for the MAGA noise.
  • Every executive order signed by Trump will be rescinded by President Biden.
  • Relations with Cuba, put on ice by Trump, will resume its thaw under Biden, and los historicos in Miami can lump it.
  • The pandemic will be under control by June — just in time for my trip to Alaska — and the masks and restrictions will slowly and cautiously be going away by Labor Day.  The final casualty count, though, will be over 500,000 deaths.  I wish I could say there will be a reckoning for those who could have prevented it, but I doubt it.
  • Racial and social justice will continue to make strides forward, and it is to be hoped that with an administration that is not actively opposed to it and supporting racism, overt or otherwise, we will be further along than we are now.
  • The economy will slowly recover as the pandemic gets under control and people emerge from isolation.  The Republicans will suddenly remember that they hate deficits, something they never seem to worry about when they’re in the White House.
  • Obamacare will survive in the Supreme Court because the case brought by Texas is flawed.  Even the conservatives on the court seem skeptical during oral arguments in November.
  • Foreign relations will improve now that the bully has been sent packing.  Suddenly France, Germany, and the EU will be more willing to work with us, and although my expertise in foreign affairs is limited, I think we’ll be better off with China and Japan than we are now.  Russia will still try to mess with us, but at least they won’t have an ally in the White House.
  • We will still have soldiers in harm’s way overseas a year from today.
  • On a personal level, I will strive to keep up my writing.  I have made many connections during these uncertain times, and they will grow.
  • As for hopes for the new year, I hope for continued good health and fortune for my friends and family.  I can’t ask for more than that.

I am glad 2020 is over.  But in reality, the date on the calendar doesn’t matter; it’s up to all of us to make this year as good or as bad as we can.  Unpredictable things will continue to happen: a year ago, “coronavirus” was a crossword puzzle clue, “wear a mask” was a Halloween suggestion, social distancing was for introverts, and Zoom was a brand of hot cereal.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring.  I just hope we’re all here to find out.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Finally Something

But not enough.

Senate leadership announced a bipartisan deal on an approximately $900 billion economic relief package late Sunday afternoon that would deliver emergency aid to a faltering economy and a nation besieged by surging coronavirus cases.

After months of contentious negotiations and seemingly intractable partisan gridlock, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) took to the Senate floor to say that a deal had been finalized and could be quickly approved.

The emerging stimulus package was expected to direct hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to jobless Americans, ailing businesses and other critical economic needs that have grown as the pandemic ravages the country and batters the economy.

“More help is on the way. Moments ago, in consultation with our committees, the four leaders of the Senate and House finalized an agreement. It would be another major rescue package for the American people,” McConnell said. “As our citizens continue battling this coronavirus pandemic this holiday season, they will not be fighting alone.”

It’s good for eleven weeks, which means it will expire in the first months of the Biden administration. By then all of the Republicans will, as they always do when Democrats are in the White House, get their tits in an uproar about the budget deficit and demand that any more relief for the nation comes with massive tax cuts, including demolishing Social Security, Medicare, and anything else that helps people who aren’t rich white folks.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Happy Friday

Scrolling through memories and trying to put the times in perspective, it was ten years ago this week that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed.

The Moderna vaccine will soon be available, basically doubling the number of doses, and hopefully will be used in places where they are urgently needed, including the place where my mom lives.

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) has been nominated by Joe Biden to be his Secretary of the Interior, the first Native American to serve in a presidential cabinet.  (Some nervous pundits are fretting about whittling away at the already narrow majority the Democrats have in the House, but the district is a safe seat; at least it was when I lived there.)

I am off for two weeks from my part-time jobs at the charter schools.  I work hourly, but I also have some work I need to do from home for year-end.

And a token of the season…

Thursday, December 17, 2020

DeSantis Is Killing It In Florida

Literally.

When Ron DeSantis ran for governor of Florida in 2018, he made a politically savvy decision: He would be the most pro-President Trump candidate possible. He popped up on Fox News Channel repeatedly, understanding that it would be an effective way to get Trump’s attention. After he earned Trump’s endorsement in the Republican primary — and then won his party’s nomination — his campaign ran an ad touting how loyal he was to the president’s vision. At one point in the spot, he helped his young daughter build a wall with her blocks.

After narrowly winning the general election, he remained loyal to Trump. After the coronavirus emerged in the United States, he echoed Trump’s insistences that economic activity should not be constrained to slow the virus’s spread.

At one point in late May, DeSantis stood in the driveway of the White House after meeting with Trump, attacking members of the media for criticizing his decision not to limit business activity.

“You’ve got a lot of people in your profession who waxed poetically for weeks and weeks about how Florida was going to be just like New York,” DeSantis said. “‘Wait two weeks, Florida is going to be next. Just like Italy, wait two weeks.’ … We’re eight weeks away from that and it hasn’t happened.”

“We’ve succeeded and I think that people just don’t want to recognize it because it challenges their narrative, it challenges their assumption,” he later added, “so they’ve got to try and find a boogeyman.”

At the National Review, Rich Lowry echoed DeSantis’s rhetoric, asking where the Florida governor should go to get his apology.

Lowry should have waited a few weeks. On the day DeSantis spoke at the White House, Florida was seeing 724 new coronavirus cases a day on average. Three weeks later, the average was more than 1,200. Three weeks after that, more than 7,100, 10 times the figure as when DeSantis was taking his victory lap. At the worst point over the summer, Florida had nearly 12,000 new infections a day and 185 new covid-19 deaths.

[…]

A White House report recommending that Florida curtail the availability of indoor dining and other activity to slow the spread of the virus was reportedly muffled by DeSantis’s administration. On Tuesday, he appeared at an event to encourage restaurants to remain open, claiming — falsely — that restaurants aren’t a significant driver of new cases. (He also declined to refer to President-elect Joe Biden as president-elect.)

Last week, Jones’s home was raided by state police who seized computers she was using to create a standalone data tracker. She is accused of illegally accessing state computer and messaging systems; she claims the state sought to silence her.

In the end, Trump would almost certainly have won Florida no matter what the coronavirus death data showed. His victory was powered heavily by a shift among Hispanic voters in Miami-Dade County, where a 290,000-vote loss in 2016 became an 85,000-vote loss in 2020, as his statewide win margin grew to 260,000 votes. But with Trump leaving office and DeSantis sticking around for at least another two years, the question remains: Did his administration intentionally misrepresent coronavirus data for political purposes?

In other words: Did DeSantis’s loyalty to Trump and favored position as a keep-the-economy-open poster child manifest in less-dire death totals?

In a word: Yes.

Carl Hiaasen in The Miami Herald:

From the beginning, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ handling of the COVID-19 crisis has been a course of secrecy, cold-blooded deception and negligence.

Now comes the raid by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents on the home of Rebekah Jones, the ex-state health data analyst who started her own COVID dashboard after complaining that the DeSantis administration was twisting statistics to underplay the severity of the pandemic.

The governor initially said he didn’t know about the investigation or raid. On Friday, he admitted he did, fumed about the term “raid,” and then huffed out of a press conference. Look for him soon on Fox News.

Seizing Jones’ computer — ostensibly to investigate a “hacking” incident — has all the appearance of clumsy retribution for embarrassing DeSantis. So spongy was the state’s search warrant that it prompted the resignation of former prosecutor Ron Filipowski from the 12th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission, to which DeSantis had recently reappointed him.

Filipowski, a Marine veteran and lifelong Republican, said that DeSantis has been “reckless and irresponsible” in dealing with the pandemic, and that Floridians “are not being told the truth about COVID.”

A recent investigative series in the Sun-Sentinel provided sickening details about the depths to which DeSantis sunk to please President Trump, his super-spreader idol.

In late September, for instance, the Florida Department of Health — DeSantis’ pliant Ministry of Propaganda — told county officials to stop making public statements about COVID-19 until after the Nov. 3 election.

News releases or media posts must not mention the virus, the order stated. It came from Alberto Moscoso, communications chief of the state health department. He left his job Nov. 6.

The motive for muzzling local health departments was obvious. Florida being a key state for Trump, DeSantis didn’t want voters to be reminded that COVID-19 was on a deadly surge.

On Sept. 25, DeSantis himself ordered a full reopening of bars and restaurants, and sought to stop local governments from enforcing mask mandates. Between Sept. 30 and Election Day, at least 2,526 Floridians died of COVID-related causes.

That number, which came from the state, is probably higher. Real experts believe the state’s death toll has already passed 20,000. Many of those victims could have avoided getting sick, but we have a governor who has shunned medical warnings in favor of “blue sky messaging.”

DeSantis’ own spokesman has disparaged the use of masks and tweeted that the coronavirus is “less deadly than the flu.” That yammering stooge, Fred Piccolo Jr., still has his job, which is all you need to know about DeSantis’ true priorities.

From the pandemic’s early days, his administration hid key information about the spread of the virus in nursing homes, prisons, hospitals and even public schools. Only the threat of lawsuits by family members, news organizations and patient advocacy groups has pried loose the data.

The governor habitually edits COVID statistics to paint the cheeriest possible picture. His latest spin is that most newly infected patients are younger, healthier and asymptomatic, which curiously fails to explain why hospital beds and ICUs are filling up with coronavirus patients.

Who in Florida can forget DeSantis’ smug victory sit-down with Trump at the White House? That was more than seven months and 18,000 deaths ago, but the governor’s arms are probably still sore from patting himself on the back.

Later he toured the state with Trump’s pandemic guru, Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist and Stanford University Fellow who doesn’t like masks and preaches for a fully reopened economy.

Seeking infectious-disease advice from a guy who reads X-rays for a living is like hiring a dentist to do your colonoscopy — it’s not exactly in his wheelhouse. The Stanford Faculty Senate “strongly condemned” Atlas’s position as “contrary to medical science,” and he recently resigned from the White House.

Mercifully he has not resurfaced at DeSantis’ side, but there’s still time.

These days — when he’s not harassing the whistleblower who caught him fudging the COVID statistics — the governor is following Trump’s cue and focusing exclusively on the coming vaccines.

Like the President, DeSantis had little use for virus scientists until now, when they’re poised to save his political future.

Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins University reports that new COVID-19 cases are doubling every 78 days in Florida . As of this writing, more than 4,500 persons are hospitalized here with the illness, nearly twice as many as a month ago.

True, lots of people who once scoffed at the idea of masks are wearing them now, but lots of people are dead who might never have been infected if their friends and loved ones had been more careful.

Or if we’d had leadership that sent the right message from the first day, instead of spinning upbeat story lines while trying to gag local health officials who knew what was coming.

Heartsick families, packed hospitals, crushing unemployment — but in the DeSantis version of reality, nothing but blue skies.