March 13, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 PM


Posted by orrinj at 9:41 PM


Trump Caught Google Off Guard With a Bogus Coronavirus Site Announcement (Brian Barrett, 3/13/20, Wired)

President Donald Trump announced Friday that the US government's coronavirus testing apparatus, which has lagged badly behind other developed nations, would soon get an assist from Google. The search and advertising giant will create a website, Trump said, that would help Americans figure out if they need a test for the virus, and if so where they can find one.

The only problem: There is no nationwide site like the one Trump described. And Google had no idea the president was going to mention one.

A source at Google tells WIRED that company leadership was surprised that Trump announced anything about the initiative at the press conference. What he did say was also almost entirely wrong. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


I ran the White House pandemic office. Trump closed it. (Beth Cameron , March 13, 2020, Washington Post)

When President Trump took office in 2017, the White House's National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense survived the transition intact. Its mission was the same as when I was asked to lead the office, established after the Ebola epidemic of 2014: to do everything possible within the vast powers and resources of the U.S. government to prepare for the next disease outbreak and prevent it from becoming an epidemic or pandemic.

One year later, I was mystified when the White House dissolved the office, leaving the country less prepared for pandemics like covid-19.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Trump just gave the worst speech of his presidency (Matthew Walther, March 13, 2020. The Week)

On Friday afternoon, Donald Trump gave the worst speech of his political career.

He appeared at the podium in the Rose Garden half an hour late. He looked and sounded exhausted. He stumbled over the word "coronavirus" in his very first sentence and seemed to struggle at a number of points throughout his address. His wonted improvisations and other departures from the script did not suggest his usual ease. He sounded very much like what one suspects he is: a tired and confused senior citizen. [...]

Agreeing to take questions following his prepared remarks was almost certainly a mistake. In the coming days and weeks and months, Trump will have virtually unlimited opportunities to attack the legacy of the Obama administration. This was not the occasion for it. In so many other contexts, Trump's disdain for the press is defensible and even amusing. Friday it made him seem petty. And it is never a good idea for a president in the face of a crisis to tell the country that he takes "no responsibility" for anything (in this case, delays in virus testing). Taking responsibility is what the office is all about.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM

AND, UNLIKE 2016...:

Biden's strength in Arizona spells trouble for Trump (Jennifer Rubin , March 13, 2020, Washington Post)

Likewise, the Univision/Arizona State University poll shows Biden's favorable/unfavorable rating (48 percent to 41 percent) far rosier than Trump's (46 percent to 54 percent). Biden beats Trump by eight percentage points in a head-to-head match-up, while Sanders leads by five points. By a 63 percent to 16 percent margin, voters are less likely to vote for someone identified as a socialist. (56 percent to 24 percent if a "democratic socialist"). Against Sanders, Biden leads by a huge margin of 51 percent to 34 percent.

Part of Trump's problem certainly is his stance on immigration. In Arizona 73 percent of voters favor a path to citizenship for the "dreamers," while 55 percent oppose a wall on the southern border. By a 52 percent to 48 percent margin, voters in Arizona think Trump should have been impeached and removed. Some 59 percent say Trump's policies have not benefited them personally at all or only a little bit. Noteworthy: 52 percent say they will not vote for Trump under any circumstances.

...Senator McSally has done herself so much damage defending him, she'll drag him down, rather than propping him up the way the GOP ticket did then.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


"I don't take responsibility at all": Trump continues downplaying coronavirus threat (German Lopez, Mar 13, 2020, Vox)

Asked about whether he takes any blame for the botched testing process, Trump said, "I don't take responsibility at all."

He's exactly the leader you'd expect his movement to produce.

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


What Happened to Jordan Peterson?: A philosopher, a medical crisis, and a mystery (LINDSAY BEYERSTEIN, March 10, 2020, New Republic)

The Canadian psychology professor Jordan Peterson has been described as "the most influential public intellectual in the Western world." He is an exponent of the Jungian concept of the hero's journey, in which an ordinary person heeds a call to adventure and goes out into the world to struggle and suffer, only to return with heightened self-knowledge. (He has described himself, without apparent irony, as being "raised and toughened in the frigid wastelands of Northern Alberta.") His stern ethos of self-help and bootstrapping has made him a darling of the so-called intellectual dark web, and a gateway drug for countless budding right-wingers who have stumbled upon one of his lectures on YouTube.

So it was something of a surprise to learn, in early February, that Peterson had spent eight days in a medically induced coma at an unnamed clinic in Russia. Peterson's daughter Mikhaila, a 28-year-old food blogger, posted a brief but dramatic video claiming that she and her father had traveled to Russia in early January seeking an unorthodox treatment for his physical dependence on the drug clonazepam. Dependency goes against the core tenets of Peterson's philosophical brand: stoicism, self-reliance, the power of the will over circumstance and environment. "No one gets away with anything, ever, so take responsibility for your own life," he admonished in his bestselling self-help book 12 Rules for Life. 

According to Mikhaila, he nearly died several times during his medical ordeal. After weeks in intensive care, he was unable to speak or write and was taking anti-seizure medicine.

The news was met with bafflement by doctors and laypeople alike. What was Peterson doing in a drug-induced coma in Russia? Based on interviews with medical professionals and a close reading of various statements that Mikhaila and Peterson himself have made on podcasts and social media, it is clear that Peterson ended up in Russia after an extended battle to wean himself off clonazepam. And it seems likely that Peterson, a self-proclaimed man of science, succumbed to the lure of a quack treatment--with devastating consequences.  

Sola scriptura.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


Let's leave philosophers to puzzle over the reality of numbers: Numbers may be abstract concepts, but the figures in our bank accounts and the digits on our clocks are real enough for most of us (Michael Barany, 7 March 2020, The Spectator)

The reality (or lack thereof) of numbers is the kind of problem some philosophers consider overwhelmingly important, but it's of no consequence to just about everyone else. It does not make a wink of difference to your life whether the figures in your bank account or the digits on your clock are, in a philosophical sense, really real, so long as they work as expected. The mathematician Paolo Zellini's book, now translated by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre from the 2016 Italian original, does not exactly elevate the number-reality problem to a matter of concern to non-philosophers, and certainly does not explain the problem in a way that will make it tractable to them. But Zellini does offer a creative shift in perspective that challenges certain philosophers and philosophy-minded mathematicians to see the problem differently.

Where one might expect numbers to get their reality from the things they enumerate -- canonically, two apples come before the number two -- Zellini argues that this gets the story backward. Rather, the most philosophically significant examples of enumeration from ancient to modern times used numbers to give reality to the things they enumerated. He reaches this conclusion by setting to one side the bulk of historical enumeration and focusing on philosophical texts about divine and natural existence. Sure enough, in these texts numbers appear to be the source of reality, often by way of a divine agency or inspiration: hence the titular 'mathematics of the Gods'.

The book's second intervention, about the 'algorithms of men', connects 19th- and early 20th-century debates about how to define what numbers really are to subsequent developments in the theory of computing and computability. Zellini links the book's two themes by identifying a trans-historical through-line of interest in how numbers scale and grow through sacred and secular calculations. Such transformations structure questions about what exactly remains stable or immutable, as a basis of understanding what is real.

The reality of numbers, Zellini argues, comes not from their abstract definition but from what he calls their calculability. Seen this way, not all numbers are alike, nor are they equally real. Principles of algorithmic efficiency place hard limits on what can be calculated and with what precision. 

It's why the Anglosphere honors intelligence and scorns intellect. If your idea doesn't work it hasn't much value.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


The story behind "flatten the curve," the defining chart of the coronavirus: Clear. Approachable. Actionable. Perfect. (MARK WILSON, 3/13/20, Co.Exist)

 The idea is simple: Taking steps like washing your hands or staying home if you're sick can slow down new cases of illness, so that the finite resources of our healthcare system can handle a more steady flow of sick patients rather than a sudden deluge.

With roots that trace as far back as a 2007 paper published by the CDC, the core scheme of Flatten the Curve is an idea that's been repeatedly remixed by health experts to reach its final, clearest form, proposed by New Zealand epidemiologist Siouxsie Wiles and drawn by illustrator Toby Morris. It's a cartoon gif that appears to be a silly webcomic, but instead, it toggles between two potential futures for our healthcare system.

In the first, a man dismissively says "whatever, it's just like a cold or flu," and above him, we see a large spike in the number of coronavirus cases, peaking well above a dotted line conveying healthcare capacity. Then it toggles to another perspective, a woman washing her hands saying, "don't panic but be careful," and we see the number of cases smoothed to a long, low hill that doesn't overwhelm our hospital system.

Since first being shared on March 8, the gif has made 4.5 million impressions on Twitter and been shared across broadcast media. And after being translated into Czech, Italian, Spanish, and Welsh by volunteers, a coder developed an automated system to translate the comic into any language.

"This is my favorite dataviz about the coronavirus," Mauro Martino, founder of the Visual AI Lab at IBM research, tells us over email. "The message is altruistic: we must help sick people who need to be hospitalized."

"It's just this perfect [example of] what you want with design. You want something that's so engaging that people can really get the concept," says Wiles of the image. But she's also the first to clarify, "I guess I can take almost no credit."

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Data Sharing and Open Source Software Help Combat Covid-19: Scientists are rapidly analyzing genetic samples from infected patients and sharing the data. But to move too fast is to risk making mistakes. (Klint Finley, 3/12/20, Wired)

On February 27, a teenager in the Seattle area was diagnosed with Covid-19. Shortly after, researchers at the Seattle Flu Study shared genomic data about his strain of the virus with other researchers on an "open science" site. Armed with that data, researchers involved with a second open science project determined that the teenager's strain was a direct descendent of a strain of Covid-19 found in an unrelated patient in the Seattle area on January 20. The discovery was a key link in concluding that the virus had been spreading in the Seattle area for weeks.

The way researchers connected those dots highlights the role of open science projects in tracking the evolution of Covid-19 and other diseases. Sharing data and working collaboratively across the web, scientists are quickly analyzing genetic samples, helping to shape the public response. But the rush to interpret the data also creates new risks.

Viruses like Covid-19 spread by making copies of themselves. Each time they replicate, there's a chance that an error will be made, making the latest copy slightly different from the previous one. Emma Hodcroft, a postdoctoral quantitative genetics researcher at the University of Basel in Switzerland, likens these errors, known as mutations, to typos in the virus's DNA.

Most of these mutations are trivial, and don't change how the virus affects the body. But scientists can use mutations to track the spread of a virus. If two people in different places are infected with a version of the virus with particular mutations, it's a safe bet those two cases are related, even if the two people never met each other.

In the case of the Seattle area teenager, genetic data about his strain of Covid-19 was uploaded to Gisaid, a platform for sharing genomic data. Then researchers at Nextstrain made the connection with the earlier patient.

Nextstrain is an open source application that tracks the evolution of viruses and bacteria, including Covid-19, Ebola, and lesser-known outbreaks such as Enterovirus D68 using data sourced largely from Gisaid. Hodcroft and other researchers involved with the project analyze the data shared on Gisaid for mutations and visualize the results. That's how the team was able to spot the connection between the two Covid-19 cases in Washington.

Open source everything.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Trump reportedly rejected aggressive coronavirus testing in hopes it would help his re-election (The Week, 3/13/20)

There are a lot of reasons why the U.S. lags other countries in testing for the new coronavirus -- defective early tests by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the decision not to adopt an effective German test adopted by the World Health Organization -- but Politico's Dan Diamond told Fresh Air's Terry Gross on Thursday that politics also seems to have played a role, along with mismanagement and infighting between, for example, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Seema Verma, the Medicare chief.

In January, Azar "did push past resistance from the president's political aides to warn the president the new coronavirus could be a major problem," Diamond said, but he "has not always given the president the worst-case scenario of what could happen. My understanding is [Trump] did not push to do aggressive additional testing in recent weeks, and that's partly because more testing might have led to more cases being discovered of coronavirus outbreak, and the president had made clear -- the lower the numbers on coronavirus, the better for the president, the better for his potential re-election this fall."

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Why Trump fears Biden (Windsor Mann, March 13, 2020, The Week)

President Trump is as scared of running against Joe Biden as he is of running. The question is, why? One reason he fears Biden is because Biden is like him. He's old, gets confused, mispronounces words, forgets things, and makes gaffes. But attacking him for these things invites the obvious response: "He sounds a lot like you!"

Indeed, Trump can't attack Biden without attacking himself. Biden's weaknesses magnify Trump's, which are far worse. There's nothing that Biden does that Trump doesn't do worse. Biden has been touchy with women; Trump has been criminal with women. Biden has hair plugs; Trump has something worse. Biden said Barack Obama was "articulate." Trump said Obama was Kenyan.

Trump hasn't addressed any of these yet. Instead, he is focusing on Biden's mental acuity. "Sleepy Joe," Trump said last week, "he doesn't even know where he is or what he's doing or what office he's running for. Honestly, I don't think he knows what office he's running for."

In typical narcissistic fashion, Trump is projecting his flaws onto his opponent. He did this in 2016 when he attacked Hillary Clinton for running a fraudulent charity and risking state secrets. When Clinton said Trump was Vladimir Putin's "puppet" in a debate, Trump shot back, "You're the puppet!" Which was unconvincing. By parroting Clinton's accusation, he effectively confirmed it. Trump's team learned a valuable lesson from that: Always accuse your opponent of that which you are guilty -- and do it before he or she accuses you. With Biden, Trump is shouting "You're the puppet!" preemptively.

The problem is, Americans were predisposed to think the worst of Hillary, but like Uncle Joe.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM



The latest survey from Yahoo! News and YouGov found that 53 percent of polled U.S. adults did not have faith in the president to tell the truth about the threat of the new coronavirus, while a third of those polled said they trusted the commander-in-chief.

A further 14 percent of the 1,635 U.S. adults polled said they were "not sure" whether they trusted Trump on the matter.

Half of the rest are buying cures from Alex Jones.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Dartmouth College tells students to stay away (NORA DOYLE-BURR, 3/12/20, Valley News)

HANOVER -- In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dartmouth College is telling its 4,400 undergraduates not to return to campus housing until at least May 1 and to plan for the possibility that they may not return to campus at all during the spring term. Students instead are expected to take courses remotely.

The directive came as the college's winter term is ending and students are leaving for a two-week spring break. Many colleges and universities around the country announced they are clearing out campuses to slow the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease first identified late last year in Wuhan, China.

Faculty and staff, including union employees, "will be paid as usual," according to the email. Additionally, graduate students will continue to receive stipends and are not required to leave campus, and there will be some exceptions for undergraduate students to remain on campus for "medical, visa status, and other reasons."

Suddenly, the cost of a college degree is plummeting...