Links 9/30/20

Links for you. Science:

How to fix public health weaknesses before the next pandemic hits (wrote about one part of this here)
Black Microbiologists Push for Visibility Amid a Pandemic
Friends of the White Whale Society Presents, You’re Gonna Want to Sit Down for this one (never seen a family of albino squirrels)
The photo used on the BBC’s story about Boris Johnson’s pledge to increase the area of the UK’s “protected” land illustrates our bizarre notions of protection. Anywhere else on Earth, we would recognise this scene, in our temperate rainforest band, as an ecological disaster zone.
How a glitchy computer system skewed Texas’ coronavirus data and hampered its pandemic response


Dealing With Rona
Redfield voices alarm over influence of Trump’s new coronavirus task force adviser. CDC Director Robert Redfield took aim at Covid-19 task force member Scott Atlas, telling colleague in an overheard call that “everything he says is false.”
Chicago skyline and lakefront by painter/printmaker Richard Florsheim (1916-1979)
This will hurt you more than it hurts me
Sharpie Accounting
RBG’s Big Mistake
Democrats have no plan: Trump is bulldozing democracy — and nobody’s ready to stop him
Progressives Wrestle With How to Address Allegations of Mistreatment in San Francisco Race
Scenes from a Supreme Court Focus Group
Absent aid, few US cities will be able to avoid austerity
Clarence Thomas should recuse himself if the Supreme Court has to decide the election
Turns Out President Business Deals Couldn’t Manage a Lemonade Stand
CDC’s credibility is eroded by internal blunders and external attacks as coronavirus vaccine campaigns loom
The ‘defund the police’ debate is being warped by a false choice
Trump’s Tax Returns Have Exposed Him as a Massive Failure Who Thrived in the Age of Plutocracy
Revealed: Trump campaign strategy to deter millions of Black Americans from voting in 2016 (would be curious to see what category I was placed in)
There Are Fundamental Questions Amy Coney Barrett Needs to Answer. It is not “anti-Catholic” in any way to wonder if her religious affiliation is part of the basis through which the judge decides cases in secular law (especially when she explicitly has said judges should recuse themselves from murder cases because they violate Catholic teaching)
A Tale Of Two Schools: COVID-19 Testing On Illinois Campuses
Trump’s long-hidden tax returns make him look like a terrible businessman, or a cheat. Probably both.

Posted in Lotsa Links | 2 Comments

My HAWT TAEK on Last Night’s Debate

As Eddie Pepitone has said previously about Trump, “We’ve been fucked before. But not like this. This is not subtle.” When the president concludes by asking right wing paramilitaries to disrupt voting and intimidate voters, it makes everything else seem trivial. Anyway, here goes nothing:

  1. The context for the debate is that it’s like a basketball game where you’re down by eight points with three minutes to go in the fourth quarter. You can still win, but you can’t trade baskets–or turnovers. That’s what Trump did last night. He needed to close the gap, and I don’t think he did that.
  2. Trump’s being an asshole–his natural state of being–stepped all over some of the points he was trying to make. He did have some decent criticisms of Biden’s record (see below), but he stomped all over them by being an asshole.
  3. Related to the previous point, Trump’s laziness also hurt him. His “take out the cows” line was clearly a zinger that he utterly mangled. He did that several times last night.
  4. Laziness part II: his line about insulin prices better appear in an attack ad.
  5. Remember, last night was the Fox News debate. It doesn’t get more friendly for Trump, and moderators will be on their guard against his dominance displays.
  6. The problem with criticizing Biden is that the economy is collapsing and the pandemic is raging. Three-and-a-half years in, blaming the other guy for your mistakes isn’t a strong move. He’s not running in an open campaign, he’s trying to defend what is largely indefensible.
  7. Biden wasn’t particularly strong. His campaign still doesn’t have a clear answer about trade policy (and given Biden’s support for NAFTA might never get one…). But that was overshadowed by Trump’s assholery.
  8. Speaking of which, I know two (yes, small sample size) ‘anti-anti-Trump curious’ voters who were very pleased when Biden told him to shut up (they also were not happy with the Proud Boys luv either). About fifty percent of the country, if not more, has been waiting for over three years for someone to say that to Trump. Don’t underestimate how much that helps Biden.
  9. Lost in all of this was policy. Last night was the first time since 2008 global warming was mentioned.
  10. I think Biden should give Trump one more chance–and make it clear Biden is giving him the chance–to debate. If he walks away now, Trump claims victory.

Like I said, the headline should be, though it won’t because our political press corps is incapable of dealing with this moment, that the president called on his supporters to disrupt voting.

What a low moment for the Republic–and that was due to one person on the stage last night.

Posted in Resistance Rebellion And Death, We're Really Fucked | Leave a comment

Links 9/29/20

Links for you. Science:

Brigham and Women’s COVID-19 cluster illustrates challenges in controlling infection
Here’s How the Pandemic Finally Ends
At the Brigham, ‘battle-weary’ staff may have allowed virus to slip in
COVID-19 is political, so scientists should be too. I ran for Congress because it needs more scientists. But that’s just one of many ways we can have more influence on our government.
A pair of Octopus cyanea on a date among the dunes


This is an election between Donald Trump and democracy.
There Is Only One Way Out of This Crisis: Expand the Court
Did Xi Just Save the World
Democrats Can’t Take Any Option Off the Table (even Joan Walsh…)
Revenge of the Money Launderers. The “FinCen files” story reveals: getting caught doesn’t stop banks from taking dirty money. It may even encourage them
Federal Judge Ousts Trump’s Bureau Of Land Management Chief
White House Staffers Worried About Trump Refusing To Step Down, Says Former Aide
‘I feel sorry for Americans’: A baffled world watches the US
The pandemic has devastated downtown D.C. Some fear the damage is permanent.
Davis Square’s character is being challenged. Can it survive?
Africa has defied the covid-19 nightmare scenarios. We shouldn’t be surprised.
To combat hunger, neighbors are stocking community fridges on Boston’s streets
Democratic senator to party: ‘A little message discipline wouldn’t kill us’
There Is No Invisible Referee
We Don’t Know Our Potential
Gambling With Your Health
Long-Concealed Records Show Trump’s Chronic Losses and Years of Tax Avoidance
Why Ginsburg Didn’t Retire
This is not a drill. The Reichstag is burning.
‘Everyone sees the train wreck coming’: Trump reveals his November endgame
Charting an Empire: A Timeline of Trump’s Finances
Some covid-19 rule-breakers could be narcissists, experts say. Here’s how to approach them.
No Place to Be: Cities have spent three decades criminalizing homelessness. Last year, Austin bucked the trend—and sparked a firestorm that still hasn’t gone out.
Prognosis unknown: Hospitals have figured out how to care for patients in a Covid world — just not how to pay for it all

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

When Certain Religions Are No Longer Primus Inter Pares

The nomination of conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett, who is Catholic, has, once again, moved religious conflict into the political arena (let’s be clear, this is, in part, a cynical move by a very cynical administration to peel off Catholic support for Biden, who himself is Catholic). A column by Elizabeth Bruenig (who is Catholic) gets close to but not all the way there as to what this is about (boldface mine):

Rather than regenerating a long-vanquished prejudice, Judge Barrett’s nomination has merely renewed attention to a fundamental conflict, centuries underway, between Catholicism and the American ethos.

The United States is unusual among nations: We are a country founded along the contours of a philosophy. That philosophy, liberalism, is the logic that underlies our founding documents and our national ethos of individualism, self-reliance, liberty, equality and tolerance. Whether we live up to those values is another matter; they are our reason for being, and the principles that bind us together.

But liberalism, like any storied philosophy, has its difficulties and points of contention. While liberal societies seek to build legal and cultural climates of toleration for expression and religion (among other things), liberal theorists have long recognized that it’s risky to tolerate notions and movements that could undermine liberal democracy itself….

Roman Catholicism does not readily distinguish between public and private moral obligations [many religions don’t actually]…

Even the most modern and liberal-friendly popes have noted without special fanfare that the teachings of the church pertain to the decisions Catholics make about politics…

Generally, contemporary American Catholics aren’t particularly beholden to the church; as I wrote recently, the logic of partisanship has replaced the moral primacy of the faith. That means that, for most Catholics, their religious beliefs never clash with their civic interests in a disruptive way. When they do, the solution is typically some kind of exemption from particular legal or civic obligations…

Catholic institutions have asked for exemptions to various laws, citing the First Amendment. In Lockean terms, they have argued that business putatively conducted in the civil sphere actually belongs to the religious one, and thus ought not be subject to the rules of civil government. They are staking out and reclaiming jurisdictional territory from the state, in other words, and each victory adds ground to the church’s domain.

From the vantage point of a religious minority (Jewish) whose minority status is never in doubt, I’m not sure Bruenig gets it right. To me, it looks like conservative Christianity, both its Catholic and Protestant wings*, which from the late 1970s to around 2015 (I’ll return to that date) was defined as ‘religion’, is becoming a minority religion. It is no longer the default setting for ‘religion’ or ‘faith.’ It is no longer primus inter pares (first among equals).

A small, politically uncharged (hopefully) example is Jews who take time off for the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are about as important as Christmas). In some parts of the country, this isn’t a problem: there are enough Jews that this is seen as normal occurrence. In some places, schools even close (Westchester County, NY used to do this; don’t know if they still do). But in some other places, non-Jews aren’t always so accommodating. “Do you really have to take the entire**** day off?” (yes, we do. And we had this conversation last year. And the year before that…).*** In those places, the reverence for ‘faith’ doesn’t extend to Jews or Jewish observance. Jewish holidays aren’t federal holidays, unlike Christmas. Judaism obviously isn’t the default setting for ‘faith.’

Of course, conservative Christianity, from the late 1970s to around 2015, was never the dominant dogma among self-described Christians. But in national life, ‘religious’ became synonymous with conservative Christian. One enoromous advantage of being primus inter pares–and it is an unnoticed advantage until it is lost–is the ability to argue from authority. One can simply say that policy X is a violation of (your) religious beliefs–that is, generic ‘faith’–and shut down debate. Religious minorities can’t do this: we have to argue in universal, non-religious terms.

For example, one of the 613 commandments for Jews is to not oppress the worker. But were I to argue that overturning labor protections is a violation of my religious beliefs and thus should be opposed, I would not be taken seriously; as a Jew, I have to make a universal, secular case. Primus inter pares religions have a much lower bar in that regard**.

The irony facing conservative Christians is that, as they have gained political power and the ability to include their sectarian dogma in public life, they have lost legitimacy as the default religion. The reason I define the heyday of conservative Christianity as the late 1970s to around 2015 has to do with ‘their’ president, Donald Trump. While religions in the U.S. might intrude into the public sphere, this is usually seen as a continuation of the private sphere, as an extension of personal religious behavior. But Trump makes conservative Christianity look cynical: how can you intrude into other people’s private sphere, when your champion is horrible in that regard? It’s hard, in the face of this hypocrisy, to maintain the mantle of generic ‘religion’ and ‘faith’ while unabashedly supporting someone who is so counterethical to many people’s conception of morality and religiosity.

So conservative Christianity–which numerically, if not politically or culturally, has always been a minority religion–is now losing its primus inter pares status, even as it gains in political power. Yes, it does have tremendous political power: the majority of the Supreme Court are conservative Christians, and the Republican Party, which holds the White House and Senate (for now), is dominated by them.

But what is shocking to conservative Christians is that they are losing a privileged cultural status they have held for decades, one that has had significant secular, political advantages (along with psychological ones). This terrifies them.

Welcome to the minority. We other minorities will keep a seat warm for you.

*Which sometimes disagree with each other.

**One thing the ‘woke left’ often overlooks when referring to ‘white men’ is how conspicuously absent, to religious minorities, the word Christian is in that formulation.

***And, of course, we’re using our vacation time for the High Holidays, which is fine, but Christmas is a federal holiday, despite the supposed War on Christmas.

****Back when most Reform Jews only celebrated one day of Rosh Hashanah, not two (this has changed in the last few decades), non-Reform Jews often had to convince them to stay out of work for two days, so non-Reform Jews wouldn’t be pressured to show up to work on the second day.

Posted in Conservatives, Jewish Stuff | 2 Comments

Links 9/28/20

Links for you. Science:

SARS-CoV-2 Seroprevalence among Healthcare, First Response, and Public Safety Personnel, Detroit Metropolitan Area, Michigan, USA, May–June 2020
Fourth large-scale COVID-19 vaccine trial begins in the United States. Trial evaluating investigational Janssen COVID-19 vaccine.
Nothing Eats Viruses, Right? Meet Some Hungry Protists. New genetic evidence builds the case that single-celled marine microbes might chow down on viruses.
Brainiacs, not birdbrains: Crows possess higher intelligence long thought a primarily human attribute
Saliva or Nasopharyngeal Swab Specimens for Detection of SARS-CoV-2


Philadelphia election official warns mail-in ballot technicality could invalidate 100,000 votes (sigh)
“The Democratic Party Opened the Way for Trump.” Critics of U.S. President Donald Trump claim he has brought ruin to the United States. For Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, that charge is too easy. He argues that liberal hubris has also played a significant role in the decay of American society.
The Democrats’ Supreme Court Hail Mary. This is the progressive case for court packing in a nutshell: “If your wallet is stolen, you don’t forgo efforts to recover it just because it might be stolen again.
‘Ready to Deliver:’ Read the Post Office’s Mandatory Pep Talk About Election Mail. According to the leaked speech, the USPS says it will undo nearly all of Louis DeJoy’s most controversial policies and make election mail its “number one priority.”
Say it plainly: The president is a psychopath
Alaska mining executive resigns a day after being caught on tape boasting of his ties to GOP politicians
The Political Donations of NBA Owners Are Not So Progressive (for most rich people, it’s transactional)
Meet the Ward 2 DC Council candidates in the November 2020 election
Why Trump’s Promise to Save Manufacturing Was One He Never Intended to Keep
QAnon’s Inexorable Spread Beyond the U.S. The bizarre, pro-Trump cult known as QAnon has been gaining followers in the United States for months. Now, the conspiracy theory has begun spreading to Germany. It’s followers believe that the coronavirus is a weapon of the elite in their quest to enslave the world.
The DOJ’s Claims of Discarded Ballots Are Yet Another Storm Cloud Forming Over the 2020 Election. I suspect this isn’t anywhere near as strange as it’s going to get.
Seven months into the pandemic, Trump’s testing plan enters its second wave of failure
Bernie Sanders Says Americans Must Prepare To Stand Up For Democracy
Why is the Trump campaign sending rent checks to a mysterious Long Island PO box?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Failure of Democratic Politics. The Supreme Court justice was both an icon and a symbol of modern liberalism’s flawed approach to accruing power.
William Barr: The Carl Schmitt of Our Time
Is Gary Farmer’s Abject Fear Of Winning Going To Cost Biden The State Of Florida?
He Was At The Heart Of Two Of The Biggest Dirty Money Scandals In History. These Are His Secrets.
The Trumpcare Scam
Amy Coney Barrett Is an Extremist—Just Not the Kind You Think

Posted in Lotsa Links | 1 Comment

The State of COVID-19 in D.C.: Some Improvement, but Still Not There

After last week’s backsliding, the prevalence in D.C. has dropped by roughly an equal amount as last week’s increase. The city as a whole, and all Wards except for Ward 5, have dropped below the German rollback threshold of 50 new cases per 100,000 per week (0.05% in the second column below):

Ward one week prevalence one week % pos two week prevalence two week % pos
1 0.040% 1.0% 0.083% 1.1%
2 0.027% 0.6% 0.074% 0.8%
3 0.020% 0.6% 0.063% 1.0%
4 0.047% 1.7% 0.107% 2.1%
5 0.077% 2.6% 0.159% 2.8%
6 0.033% 0.8% 0.073% 0.9%
7 0.033% 1.8% 0.082% 2.1%
8 0.037% 1.6% 0.078% 1.6%
D.C. total 0.041% 1.1% 0.092% 1.3%

Wards 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7 all had substantial decreases in the number of cases, and the percent positive rate decreased for those wards, so this doesn’t appear to be an artifact of testing. The not-so-good news is that the prevalence is still too high for things like returning most children to schools (a one-week prevalence of 0.007%, column 2, and a two-week prevalence of 0.014%, column 4, would be equal to a daily new case rate of 1 per 100,000 people). Here’s why:

Low prevalence is not foolproof–it is absolutely not a vaccine, but it does keep infections low enough, such that we can mount an effective test and trace response, as well as survive the occasional bouts of stupid behavior.

To put an infection rate of 1/100,000 in the context of schools, we can look at D.C.’s public schools (DCPS). In its entirely, DCPS staff, students, and teachers number close to 55,000 (note that this doesn’t include the charter school system which is about 90% the size of DCPS). To keep the math simple, we’ll round to 50,000 DCPSers, which is about seven percent of D.C.’s total population. So, if D.C. has 50 cases per week, and seven percent of those cases affect someone in DCPS, we would expect two cases per week, give or take.

Two key points here. First, we will never not have COVID-19 cases in DCPS, even at a really low prevalence; without a vaccine or a very rapid, on-site testing scheme, a COVID-free school system isn’t happening. Second, we can manage a few cases per week in the schools. Most students and schools wouldn’t be have to be sent home or closed. We could ‘flood the zone’ with testing and tracing to find related cases in and out of the school system. But seven to ten times that amount, which is where D.C. is right now in terms of prevalence, and we’re quite strained in our ability to test and trace (remember DCPS is only seven percent of the city; D.C. also needs to deal with 93% of people not in the DCPS system). Likewise, at the current prevalence, it’s possible one or more schools get hit hard, requiring shutting down the entire school. And of course, all of this assumes that there wouldn’t be some spread within schools, so these are probably low-end estimates of the weekly number of cases if schools were open.

(Since D.C.’s charter school system is about the same size as DCPS, we can double this number if/when they return).

Thankfully, we’re not seven to ten times higher now, we’re ‘only’ about six times higher than 1/100,000 daily positives. But cases will happen, and I don’t think, based on the data DC Health is releasing, we have the capacity to run most of these cases down with contact tracing.

So there has been some improvement, but even the ‘best’ wards (in terms of COVID-19 prevalence) aren’t there yet. As I routinely remind readers, we are four to six weeks away from returning to normal-ish, but we intentionally remain four to six weeks away from safely returning to normal-ish because we’re unwilling to do what it takes to make that happen.

Anger is still the appropriate emotion.

Posted in COVID-19, DC | 1 Comment

Links 9/27/20

Links for you. Science:

COVID-19 can affect the heart
What Is Math? A teenager asked that age-old question on TikTok, creating a viral backlash, and then, a thoughtful scientific debate
Virus Cases Surged in Young Adults. The Elderly Were Hit Next. (report here)
Whole-genome sequencing to track SARS-CoV-2 transmission in nosocomial outbreaks
COVID-19 Contact Tracing in Two Counties — North Carolina, June–July 2020 (“Despite aggressive efforts by health departments, many COVID-19 patients do not report contacts, and many contacts cannot be reached.”)


Group of ‘armed citizens’ confronts health workers conducting random COVID-19 testing (not helping)
After James Scurlock is killed in Omaha, witnesses claim investigation ignored signs of shooter’s allegedly racist past
Gale Sayers, electrifying Hall of Fame running back for Chicago Bears, dies at 77
Meet The New Generation of D.C. Statehood Advocates
Politics is an American industry
Capitulating to the right won’t end the judicial wars
Kamala Harris Has A Vibrant Online Fan Club. But It Also Has A Toxic Side. (lol: ““I know that there’s this narrative that particularly people who support Bernie, and some Warren supporters as well, have tried to put out there that the KHive is toxic,” Evans said, adding that he himself has witnessed very little toxic behavior. “Any online stan group is going to ― at its most extreme end ― have some people who are bad actors. I’m sure the KHive is not immune to that.””)
JPMorgan Is Set to Pay $1 Billion in Record Spoofing Penalty
If You Can Grocery Shop in Person, You Can Vote in Person. Experts now say the health risk of casting an in-person ballot is relatively low. Will Democrats tell their voters that? (I think advice is going have to be state- and polling place-specific; my usual place wouldn’t be very safe–and the wait times are far longer than I spend in the supermarket)
Dr. Birx Has Discovered That Administration* Lackey Is a Short-Term Position
The President Has Announced His Intention to Stage a Coup. And he has made whoever he nominates to the Supreme Court an accomplice in that effort.
Democrats worry Feinstein can’t handle Supreme Court battle. Colleagues fear the oldest senator may struggle to lead Democrats on the Judiciary Committee. (wasn’t very sharp when she was younger)
Do These Republican Senators Think Their Grandchildren Will Be Proud of Them? Grandpapa, I tell all my friends you aided and abetted the rise of American autocracy.
‘One of The Low Points in American History’: Dan Rather Goes Long on Our Defining Moment. In a wide-ranging interview, the legendary reporter gives a clinic on journalism, its intersection with politics, civil rights, and the future of American culture.
Trump’s former Coast Guard chief endorses Biden, cites ‘insurgency’ on the Constitution
How fascism ascends: 2020 election may be the crisis of democracy that opens the door to a coup
Justice in Breonna Taylor’s death fell victim to ‘law-and-order’ politics
In secret recording, trainer for Unlock Michigan advises on unlawful tactics
Louis Pasteur Elementary, Detroit, MI
How to Debate Someone Who Lies: Truth sandwiches, ridicule and other tactics for Joe Biden when he faces President Trump.

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Observed at the corner of 16th and P Streets NW, Dupont Circle, D.C.:

Vote large

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Links 9/26/20

Links for you. Science:

The Coronavirus Is Mutating, and That’s Fine (So Far). SARS-CoV-2 has been slowly changing in small ways, without getting more dangerous.
Fauci on Trump’s Vaccine Boasts: No One’s Seen the Data
The Road Ahead: Charting the coronavirus pandemic over the next 12 months — and beyond
Dr. Fauci, finally fed up with Sen. Rand Paul’s bullsh#t, schools him during hearing
Engineers outwitted by sea sponge


Allegations of racism have marked Trump’s presidency and become key issue as election nears (there is no bottom to reach)
How Court Packing Can Protect the Election—and Democracy (excellent, but will gormless professional Democrats do this?)
Failsons All The Way Down
Colleges knew the risks but they reopened anyway. Here’s how they got it all wrong
This guy sells a lot of 202 T-shirts. Here’s what he thinks about D.C.’s new area code.
COVID-19: US reaches ‘unfathomable’ 200,000 death toll (anger is the appropriate emotion)
Judith Butler on the culture wars, JK Rowling and living in “anti-intellectual times”
The Ugly History of Single-Family Zoning Resurfaces
Entrenched racist culture at heart of Portsmouth’s police department, officers and former chief say (wrote about Portsmouth here)
Matt Taibbi is a cancel culture hypocrite. Here’s what Matt hopes you don’t remember: When the cancel mob came for him, he was the “upper class Twitter Robespierre” ratting on his colleagues.
Misery on Main Street: COVID-19 takes a grim toll on America’s small businesses
End the Poisonous Process of Picking Supreme Court Justices (after we pack the courts; also see here)
Mental health experts: Biden far exceeds Trump in psychiatric fitness
Well What Are You Going To Do About It
Here’s an Advanced Course in Ratf*cking to Collapse Representative Democracy
Not So Fast On That Trump EC Coup
Robert Bork Makes For a Terrible Martyr
Street brawlers as strategy: Far-right invasions of liberal urban areas prove adaptable, successful
It’s Not Right, But You Might Have to Vote in Person
5 Takeaways From This Year’s Democratic Primaries. With some important exceptions, the Democratic Party’s left wing is rising.
Patriot Coalition: Leaked Messages Show Far-Right Group’s Plans for Portland Violence
Email Bickering Ticks Up As Endorsements Roll In for the At-Large Race

Posted in Lotsa Links | 1 Comment

In Case You Missed It…

…a week of Mad Biologist posts:


The State of COVID-19 in D.C.: Getting ;Worse

The Courts Really Do Matter: Lochner. And ;Ginsburg.

The Meatsack Candidacy and Theories of the ;Election

Symbolic Victories and Substantial ;Defeats

D.C.’s Prevalence Estimates Are Pretty ;Accurate

Posted in Weekly Roundup | Leave a comment