Quick hits (part I)

1) With the end of Game of Thrones being a year ago, Wired re-pushed this piece on two approaches to storytelling and how GoT got all messed up in it’s final season:

It all comes down to how stories are crafted, and for that, we need to start with two different types of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters create a detailed outline before they commit a word to the page. Pantsers prefer to discover the story as they write it—flying by the seat of their pants, so to speak. Both approaches have their advantages. Since plotters know the story in advance, it’s easier to create tight narratives with satisfying conclusions. But that amount of predestination can sometimes make characters feel like cogs in service of the story. Pantsers have an easier time writing characters that live and breathe. They generate the plot by dropping a person with desires and needs into a dramatic situation and documenting the results. But with the characters in charge, pantsers risk a meandering or poorly paced structure, and they can struggle to tie everything together.

To be clear, the advantages of each are not guarantees. And plotters can write memorable characters, while pantsers can write thrilling sequences. The differences usually smooth themselves out over successive drafts anyway. Where the effect can be pronounced is in an ongoing television or book series, since the beginning of the story gets released and digested by the public while the rest is still being written…

Still, the approach to storytelling changed in the third act, and an audience can feel that happening. We fell in love with one kind of show, but that’s not the show that’s ending. No amount of spectacle or fan service is satisfying if we don’t buy how the characters got there. Treating the journey as equally important to the destination is how you get conclusions that feel earned, and it’s how characters stay alive after they’ve met their fates.

Endings invite us to consider the story as a whole; where it started, where it went, and where it left us. And we can feel the gaps as this one comes to a close.

2) Damn I love this headline of the latest Thomas Edsall, “When the Mask You’re Wearing ‘Tastes Like Socialism’”

The chart — documenting findings from two Pew surveys, one conducted April 7-12, the other April 29-May 5 — shows that in a matter of three weeks, Republican voters shifted from a modest majority (51-48) concerned that the restrictions would be lifted too quickly, to a similarly modest majority (53-47) concerned that the restrictions will not be lifted quickly enough. Democrats, on the contrary, went from a decisive majority who feared (81-18) that restrictions would be lifted too quickly to an even stronger concern (87-13).

3) Some malls will probably never re-open.  A good look at how it’s not really just the internet that’s been killing malls.

4) I saw an ad for “plant-based butter” the other day and thought, “ummm, margarine?”  Basically, yes, and fancy marketing, but a little more complicated.

5) Thanks to JW for sharing how professors are thinking about trying to stop cheating in an on-line only world  Fortunately for me, my course material is readily adaptable for take-home exams as that’s how I’ve been doing most of my finals for years.  Having the book/notes in front of you will not let you actually understand how polarization of media bias really work in 75 minutes.

6) When reading Emily Oster’s great piece on Covid this week, I came across something she wrote last year on parenting.  Was so glad to finally see an honest take on infant sleeping (pretty sure I wrote a post years and years ago complaining about our non-sensical binary approach to safe sleeping– found it!):

In the U.S., for example, official safe-sleep guidelines decree that parents not sleep in the same bed with their babies (commonly called co-sleeping), out of concern about higher rates of sudden infant death syndrome and suffocation. The policy message against co-sleeping is very clear, and very dire; when my daughter was born there was a brief controversy around a set of anti-co-sleeping advertisements, which equated bed sharing with allowing your infant to sleep next to a kitchen knife.

When I wrote my recent book, Cribsheet, I spent a lot of time with the data on co-sleeping. And I ultimately came to agree with the official guideline, in the sense that I believe the evidence shows a higher risk of infant mortality when parents share their bed with their infant. But the story’s not as simple as Big Baby would have you believe.

Co-sleeping is especially dangerous when accompanied by parental smoking, heavy drinking, or pillows and fluffy covers on the bed. In a safe sleep environment there is still a risk, but it is fairly small compared with other risks people take regularly (such as driving their children in a car). Seeing these risks for what they are, some parents might decide that co-sleeping (as safely as possible) is what works for their family.

The typical argument against framing risk in this way goes like so: Assuming there is a risk, even a very small one, we should tell people to avoid it. By informing parents that the risk is small, we normalize this behavior, making it seem okay. The same argument applies to the formula-mixing example at the start of this piece: Sure, the risk of bacteria is small, but it’s not zero, so why not tell parents to just boil the water?

But some infants simply will not sleep on their own. Despite parental best efforts at swaddling, white noise, rocking, tiptoeing out of the room, etc., some three-week-old babies will always wake up within a few minutes of being put down alone. In this situation, what’s a parent to do? Remember that Big Baby also tells parents that sleep is incredibly important for the developing brain (which it is). And consider that if baby’s not sleeping, Mom and Dad aren’t sleeping, and if Mom and Dad aren’t sleeping, they’re probably stressed—and perhaps clumsy with that boiling water.

It is easy to say, “Do the safest thing, it’s only a few months, it ends,” but where do people get the resources to survive these few months? When parents set out to do everything by the book, too often they ultimately muddle through, making choices at random. They co-sleep by accident: They try to stay awake and end up snoozing with the baby on a sofa (much more dangerous). Or  parents try to split the night between them and then both drive to work the next day exhausted.

If parents understood that the risks of co-sleeping (in a safe sleep environment) are small, more of them might do it—just like if they understood that the risks of using room-temperature water for formula are small, they might do it. The simple fact that resources are limited means the alternative might be worse.

7a) Just found out a whole book that takes down all the “appeal to nature” fallacies we rely upon.  But… but… chemicals!!

7b) Meanwhile, I’ve got a neighbor-friend who’s been telling me all about his crazy cleans/detox.  I just nod and don’t say anything negative and then discuss science with my boys as we continue along with our walk afterwards.

8) Paul Waldman on “Obamagate” and “unmasking” and horrible journalism:

So the fact that Obama administration officials saw intelligence reports saying the Russian ambassador was talking to an American about sensitive matters regarding the relationship between the two countries and asked “Who is this American who’s negotiating with the Russians?” (it turned out to be Flynn) can be characterized not as what those officials absolutely should have done, but as the heart of a sinister conspiracy.

The people who are feeding this lunacy—Trump himself, Republican politicians, media figures—all understand this perfectly well. But their project is built on the assumption that their target audience, the great mass of conservative voters, is ignorant and easily misled. They have seldom been given cause to think otherwise.

So they scream “Obamagate!” and give the topic wall-to-wall coverage on Fox News, in the hope that the end result will be that while most people won’t have much of a grasp on the details, they’ll remember that Obama and Biden tried to frame Trump and victimized his aides, just as all they grasped in 2016 was that Hillary Clinton was a corrupt schemer. As former Trump adviser Steve Bannon once said, the strategy is to “flood the zone with shit,” to pour so much misinformation into the media that the truth loses any importance.

Here’s the dilemma we in the media often find ourselves in: Trump will make some fantastical claim, and because he’s the president, everyone reports it. Some of the most important news outlets reflexively do so in an even-handed way that gives automatic credence to the charge. One could imagine the headline: “Trump Says Obama Killed Kobe Bryant With Ebola; Former President Denies.” With Trump’s charge immediately amplified by the conservative media, legitimate news organizations feel they have no choice but to spend time debunking the claim, the result being that the story is given even wider circulation. Most Americans just hear that there was something about Obama killing Kobe Bryant.

Unfortunately, except under the most extraordinary of circumstances, there is never a story that is widely understood in all its nuance by the public as a whole. The best we can hope for is that despite its limited capacity for attention and understanding, the public winds up reaching an accurate conclusion despite the attempts to mislead it.

But it often doesn’t work out that way, and Republicans are very practiced at engineering the opposite result. Experience has taught them that the variables that would matter in a more rational world—Is there any evidence for the charge they’re making? Is it relevant to the question of who should be president? Does it actually reveal something about the Democrat in question?—don’t actually matter at all.

9) Interesting piece on how right-wingers pushed “believe all women” instead of “believe women” as a feminist trap.  Also, probably don’t believe Tara Reade.

10) NYT piece about children seeing grandparents and if you are keeping a safe enough quarantine before doing so.  I really don’t like that the expert advice here mentions a variety of super-low risk encounters like “delivery driver” and potentially jogging to close to another person.

So as a first step, think about human contacts, big and small, by every member of the household. How many times did someone go to a store? Did you meet up with a friend for a walk? When you jog, how close are you to other runners? At the park, did your children run up to another child before you could stop them? Is a teenage boyfriend dropping by the house? Do you always wear a mask? Do your children?

“If you’re a family and you have some leakage in your quarantine protocol — if you had to go to the grocery store, for instance, delivery people came over, other people entered your house — any time you have a break in that protective bubble I would be extremely cautious,” said Dr. Soe-Lin.

11) An interesting argument that the key to safe re-opening is not social distancing, but isolation of those diagnosed with Covid.

12) A pretty compelling argument that traveling in airplanes does not actually spread a lot of disease.

You don’t get sick on airplanes any more than anywhere else. Really, you don’t.

If you think this is preposterous or even dangerous to suggest during a pandemic, consider this fact: The ventilation system requirements for airplanes meet the levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for use with covid-19 patients in airborne infection isolation rooms.

Before we go any further, let’s make one thing clear: Airplanes are certainly vectors of disease, efficiently transporting infectious people around countries and the globe. This is obviously critical in terms of outbreak control for covid-19. But the fact that airplanes help spread disease across geographies does not mean that you are necessarily at risk during flight. There are fairly simple things you can do, if you do need to travel, to reduce the odds of getting sick.

Billions of people travel by plane every year, yet there have only been a handful of documented disease outbreaks attributable to airplanes in the past 40 years. If planes made you sick, we would expect to see millions of people sick every year attributable to flights. We haven’t seen it because it’s just not happening.

Consider one study that examined a passenger with tuberculosis on an airplane. It found that the median risk of infection to the other 169 passengers on the airplane was between 1 in 10,000 to 1 in a million. Wearing a mask, as some airlines now require, reduced the incidence of infection another 10-fold.

There’s a reason the risks are low. The required aircraft systems do a really good job of controlling airborne bacteria and viruses.

To get technical, airplanes deliver 10 to 12 air changes per hour. In a hospital isolation room, the minimum target is six air changes per hour for existing facilities and 12 air changes per hour for new. Airplanes also use the same air filter — a HEPA filter — recommended by the CDC for isolation rooms with recirculated air. Such filters capture 99.97 percent of airborne particles.

13) The Mount St Helens eruption was definitely one of the more memorable events of my childhood (I was 8).  Enjoying reading about it 40 years later, “Forty Years Later, Lessons for the Pandemic From Mount St. Helens: The tensions we now face between science, politics and economics also arose before the country’s most destructive volcanic eruption.”

14) Good stuff from Radley Balko, “The last days of a covid-19 prisoner”

It isn’t clear why Charles Hobbs was arrested in January. More than 20 years ago, a judge gave him five years probation for a crime that required him to register as a sex offender in one of the most restrictive counties in the country. He had no criminal record prior to that, and until January, his only subsequent arrests were for failing to register in 2007 and 2014. An attorney for his family says those arrests occurred when Hobbs temporarily moved in with a girlfriend and failed to notify the county where she lived.

When the coronavirus pandemic began to sweep the country, a judge ordered him released from jail and placed in home confinement, given his multiple underlying conditions of congenital heart failure, kidney failure and hypertension. But for reasons that also aren’t clear, that never happened. Last month, he caught the virus, and his condition deteriorated until a fellow prisoner found him unconscious. He was revived and transferred to another cell with other prisoners who had tested positive for covid-19. He got sicker and ultimately died alone in a Miami hospital on May 2.

15) Good stuff from Jonathan Safran Foer.  Truly hard to disagree, “The End of Meat Is Here: If you care about the working poor, about racial justice, and about climate change, you have to stop eating animals.”

16) In a very similar vein, Wired goes all in (and you know I’m with them!) on a plant-based meat future, “Let’s Rebuild the Broken Meat Industry—Without Animals: Covid-19 has laid bare many flaws of industrialized animal agriculture. Plant- and cell-based alternatives offer a more resilient solution.”

17) You know the real shame of it is that the horrible, horrible people who make-up rape allegations for personal gain do so much damage to the vast majority of rape victims who are actual victims.  Also sucks that it completely ruin an innocent person’s life.

19) You can’t just “re-open” an economy in an active pandemic.  Politico, “Reopening reality check: Georgia’s jobs aren’t flooding back”

20) Great stuff from the Henry Blodgett and David Plotz newsletter, which I’m now quite the fan of (always been of fan of Plotz).  “‘Reopening’ won’t fix the economy. Beating the virus will.”  It’s full of charts and links that all come down to this all-important fact:

Reopening is an important and meaningful step. But even when everything is open, our economy won’t recover until people feel safe resuming their normal lives.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Quick hits (part I)

  1. Mika says:

    #6 “But some infants simply will not sleep on their own.” Hear! Hear! For one year I tried to accomplish this but our daughter didn’t think it was a good idea. 🙂 Then she got a flu and we took her to our bed and she slept like a baby…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: