What to make of “postpoining” the election?

Yesterday, this was pretty much all the twitterati could talk about.  Today, it’s hardly a blip (fortunately, because most all Republicans responded mostly appropriately).  It makes me think Dahlia Lithwick’s take is the best I have read on it:

I reside in perfect, permanent equipoise between all three buckets. Yes, Trump’s inane election belches are terrifying as presidential statements about presidential power, even if he cannot legally do what he claims. Yes, it is impossible to hold in our heads every serious presidential failure that demands our attention. (The U.S. death count from COVID passed 150,000 yesterday.) And yes, Trump is, whether strategically, malevolently or haplessly, fomenting massive distrust in the possibility of a free, fair, and safe November election, which will make it easier for him to claim, by any number of arguments, that the election results were fraudulent. Efforts to make sense of the president’s tweets inevitably result in arguments about what is real and what is a distraction from what is real. It’s a perfectly natural response to chaos, but it doesn’t actually help beat back the chaos.

The singular beauty of weaponized chaos muppetry is that one can do all of those bad things at the same time.And the singular purpose of weaponized chaos muppetry is to immediately foment discord among anyone who actually cares about, say, the cratering economy, and the COVID death count, and the Republican failure to protect unemployment benefits, and the integrity of the election, and the continued functioning of imperiled institutions, and about which of those things is the real thing and which is the shiny object. When Steve Bannon reportedly talked in 2018 about how the enemy was the media and how you deal with the media by “flood[ing] the zone with shit,” this is what he was tilting at: If you can just kick up infinite dust storms comprised of infinite particles, each of which may or may not be true or salient or important, you can rapidly get to the point at which everything simultaneously matters too much and nothing seems to matter at all. As Sean Illing at Vox wrote after the impeachment, while the traditional role of propaganda was to flood the airwaves with a coherent narrative, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s contribution to the propaganda field was to use the media to “engineer a fog of disinformation, producing just enough distrust to ensure that the public can never mobilize around a coherent narrative.” The purpose is to sow precisely the kind of dissent that fully paralyzes efforts to organize around any of these crises. And if the sheer exhaustion that comes from fighting all the side battles and screaming about distractions within a fragmented and polarized (and very profitable) media ecosystem brings about a numbness and inability to consume any more of it, well, that too is scored a win.

And, while I’m at it, here’s a few of the best tweets I’ve seen on Trump and the election:


The day it became about the air

So, in my morning scan of the news, etc., I was excited to see an Op-Ed by none other than aerosologist supreme, Linsey Marr in the NYT.  Great stuff, of course:

This confirms the results of a study from late May (not peer-reviewed) in which Covid-19 patients were found to release SARS-CoV-2 simply by exhaling — without coughing or even talking. The authors of that study said the finding implied that airborne transmission “plays a major role” in spreading the virus.

Accepting these conclusions wouldn’t much change what is currently being recommended as best behavior. The strongest protection against SARS-CoV-2, whether the virus is mostly contained in droplets or in aerosols, essentially remains the same: Keep your distance and wear masks.

Rather, the recent findings are an important reminder to also be vigilant about opening windows and improving airflow indoors. And they are further evidence that the quality of masks and their fit matter, too…

Here is another common misconception: To the (limited) extent that the role of aerosols had been recognized so far, they were usually mentioned as lingering in the air, suspended, and wafting away — a long-distance threat.

So what does this all mean exactly, practically?

Can you walk into an empty room and contract the virus if an infected person, now gone, was there before you? Perhaps, but probably only if the room is small and stuffy.

Can the virus waft up and down buildings via air ducts or pipes? Maybe, though that hasn’t been established.

More likely, the research suggests, aerosols matter in extremely mundane scenarios…

I agree that long-range transmission by aerosols probably is not significant, but I believe that, taken together, much of the evidence gathered to date suggests that close-range transmission by aerosols is significant — possibly very significant, and certainly more significant than direct droplet spray.

The practical implications are plain:

  • Social distancing really is important. It keeps us out of the most concentrated parts of other people’s respiratory plumes. So stay away from one another by one or two meters at least — though farther is safer.

  • Avoid crowds. The more people around you, the more likely someone among them will be infected. Especially avoid crowds indoors, where aerosols can accumulate.

  • Ventilation counts. Open windows and doors. Adjust dampers in air-conditioning and heating systems. Upgrade the filters in those systems. Add portable air cleaners, or install germicidal ultraviolet technologies to remove or kill virus particles in the air.

It’s not clear just how much this coronavirus is transmitted by aerosols as opposed to droplets or via contact with contaminated surfaces. Then again, we still don’t know the answer to that question even for the flu, which has been studied for decades.

But by now we do know this much: Aerosols matter in the transmission of Covid-19 — and probably even more so than we have yet been able to prove.

So, the good news is this doesn’t really change the basic 3C’s guidance that many have been preaching for a long time now.  Avoid other people indoors without a mask as much as you can.  But, we can add to this, definitely pay attention to the quality of ventilation in any indoor space that contains more than a handful of people for more than a handful of minutes.

As soon as I finishted reading that this morning, lo and behold, Zeynep Tufekci had posted an even more thorough piece covering much of the same ground in the Atlantic (unlike Marr, not limited by the NYT’s Op-Ed word counts, she was able to really cover a lot of stuff, and rely on Marr extensively, as well as other experts).  But, the end result is the same…pay attention to ventilation, damnit

Under an aerosol regime, we would have different rules for the indoors and the outdoors (especially since, in addition to the diluting power of air, sunlight quickly deactivates viruses.) We would mandate masks indoors regardless of distancing, but not necessarily outdoors. Marr told me that she wears her mask outdoors only if she’s interacting with people, if she’s in a crowd, or if she cannot maintain distance. Yet, in the United States, many locales are mandating masks indoors and outdoors under the same rules, forcing even the solitary person walking her dog to mask up. And there are places, such as Chicago, where beaches are closed because officials fear crowds, but indoor restaurants and gyms remain open with mild restrictions…

As another example, you may have seen the many televised indoor events where the audience members are sitting politely distanced and masked, listening to the speaker, who is the only unmasked person in the room. Jimenez, the aerosol expert, pointed out to me that this is completely backwards, because the person who needs to be masked the most is the speaker, not the listeners. If a single mask were available in the room, we’d put it on the speaker. This is especially important because cloth masks, while excellent at blocking droplets (especially before they evaporate and become smaller, thus more likely to be able to float), aren’t as effective at keeping tinier aerosol particles out of the wearer’s mouth and nose once they are floating around the room (though they do seem to help). We want to see the speaker’s mouth, one might say, but that is a problem we can approach creatively—face shields that wrap around the head and seal around the neck, masks with transparent portions that can still filter, etc.—once we stop ignoring the problem. In fact, designing a high-filtration but transparent mask or face shield might be an important solution in classrooms as well, to help keep teachers safe.

Once we pay attention to airflow, many other risks look different…

There are two key mitigation strategies for countering poor ventilation and virus-laden aerosols indoors: We can dilute viral particles’ presence by exchanging air in the room with air from outside (and thus lowering the dose, which matters for the possibility and the severity of infection) or we can remove viral particles from the air with filters.

Consider schools, perhaps the most fraught topic for millions. Classrooms are places of a lot of talking; children are not going to be perfect at social distancing; and the more people in a room, the more opportunities for aerosols to accumulate if the ventilation is poor. Most of these ventilation issues are addressable, sometimes by free or inexpensive methods, and sometimes by costly investments in infrastructure that should be a national priority.

Last week, I walked around the public elementary school in my neighborhood while thinking about what we could do if we took aerosol transmission more seriously. It’s a single-story building, all the classrooms have windows, some have doors that open directly to the outside, and many have a cement patio right outside. Teaching could move outdoors, at least some of the time, the way it did during the 1918 pandemic. Moreover, even when indoors or during rainy days, opening the doors and windows would greatly improve air circulation inside, especially if classrooms had fans at the windows that pushed air out.

When windows cannot be opened, classrooms could run portable HEPA filters, which are capable of trapping viruses this small, and which sell for as little as a few hundred dollars. Marr advises schools to measure airflow rates in each classroom, upgrade filters in the HVAC system to MERV 13 or higher (these are air filter grades), and aspire to meet or exceed ASHRAE (the professional society that provides HVAC guidance and standards) standards. Jimenez told me that many building-wide air-conditioning systems have a setting for how much air they take in from outside, and that it is usually minimized to be energy-efficient. During a pandemic, saving lives is more important than saving energy, so schools could, when the setting exists, crank it up to dilute the air (Jimenez persuaded his university to do that).

In her tweet sharing this story, Tufecki, who was super-prescient on masks early in this mess, had a great line:

Ventilation is like masks in March. We’re ignoring even simple but effective steps.

Yep.  Of course, since I’ve been closely following experts like Marr for a few months, now, all the guidelines here are already pretty much what I had internalized, have been going by in my own life, and pretty much telling everybody I know.  But, what’s frustrating, as Tufekci extensively describes, is how much this important advice is being ignored and how much truly foolish policies exist that ignore the importance if indoor vs outdoor air and ventilation.

As I think I mentioned, I’ve been pleased to see how seriously NC State is taking the role of ventilation.  My big concern now is how seriously Wake County public schools will take it for the Special Ed kids (like my son) who will be in the building.  I’m it’s remotely allowed (I’m good with gray areas) I think I’ll be buying one of those air purifiers for my son’s classroom.  My wife says to wait, but if this really is like masks in March, there may well be a run on them.  Though, it would be good news to see us taking air quality seriously.

Right-wing media is killing us

Very much related to the previous post, we’ve got a real problem that Republicans, in particular, are just not taking the virus seriously enough.  People don’t decide this on their own and they don’t decide it just because Trump doesn’t want to wear a mask.  Rather, those on the right are being systematically mis-led by right-wing media.  And it’s killing people.

David Leonhardt’s newsletter today:

Sinclair Broadcast Group recently published an online interview with a conspiracy theorist who claimed that Dr. Anthony Fauci created the coronavirus using monkey cells. Sinclair — which operates almost 200 television stations — has also run segments downplaying the severity of the virus.
Fox News has repeatedly run segments promoting ideas that scientists consider false or that question the seriousness of the virus.
Breitbart published a video this week in which a group of doctors claimed that masks were unnecessary and that the drug hydroxychloroquine cured the virus. It received 14 million views in six hours on Facebook, my colleague Kevin Roose reports. (President Trump tweeted a link to it.)
Why is the U.S. enduring a far more severe virus outbreak than any other rich country?
There are multiple causes, but one of them is the size and strength of right-wing media organizations that frequently broadcast falsehoods. The result is confusion among many Americans about scientific facts that are widely accepted, across the political spectrum, in other countries.
Canada, Japan and much of Europe have no equivalent to Sinclair — whose local newscasts reach about 40 percent of Americans — or Fox News. Germany and France have widely read blogs that promote conspiracy theories. “But none of them have the reach and the funding of Fox or Sinclair,” Monika Pronczuk, a Times reporter based in Europe, told me.
Fox is particularly important, because it has also influenced President Trump’s response to the virus, which has been slower and less consistent than that of many other world leaders. “Trump repeatedly failed to act to tame the spread, even though that would have helped him politically,” The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has written. The headline on Sargent’s opinion column is: “How Fox News may be destroying Trump’s re-election hopes.”

A healthy fear

Presumably this will be appearing in the Monkey Cage or somewhere similar soon, but for now, Marc Hetherington has shared some really interesting findings from the first two waves of the UNC Covid survey on his FB page.

Pretty interesting stuff.  A concerned Republican is a Republican who takes the virus appropriately seriously and does not let their partisanship (and the horrible elite Republican cues) get in the way.  And note, this was a panel survey, so these are the same respondents.

Next step for the UNC Covid (plus that one guy at NC State) team is try and work on messaging that gets Republicans appropriately concerned about the virus.

The air in schools

As my epidemiological interests have shifted since the conversation has increasingly moved to schools and public places, indoor air quality experts Richard Corsi and Joseph Allen have been indispensible follows on twitter.  Here they team up to explain what we need to do, air quality-wise, if we’re going to let kids in schools.  Obviously, there’s lots of other concerns– especially amount of spread in the larger community– but insofar as many districts are sending kids back in person, period, we should have the best science guiding us on the air the kids are breathing and how that relates to viral transmission:

We have limited time and funds to get students and teachers back to school safely, but we can — and must — do it. Here’s how.

Start with the fact, as 239 scientists recently wrote to the World Health Organization (WHO), that airborne transmission of the novel coronavirus is happening. This is not to be feared; it just requires adding some new strategies to our arsenal in addition to hand-washing, distancing and other measures to keep community spread to a minimum. (Just because we reopen schools doesn’t mean we should reopen elsewhere.)…

A: Air cleaner in every classroom

Portable air cleaners, also known as air purifiers, may be the fastest way to clean the air quickly indoors. A portable air purifier with a HEPA filter that is correctly sized for the room can deliver three air changes per hour of clean air, meaning all of the air in the room is cleaned every 20 minutes.

R: Refresh indoor air

Every effort should be made to determine how much more outdoor air can be brought into schools, but there are limitations. In summer and winter months, the amount of air that can be brought in from outside will be limited by the cooling and heating capacity of existing HVAC systems. While bringing in twice as much as the minimum ventilation standard would be an excellent strategy, there may not be enough time or money to fix all of these school ventilation problems in the next 30 days before kids come back to school. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Schools should also upgrade recirculated air filters to MERV13 or higher. If schools rely on natural ventilation, get those windows open and use simple box fans to pull in outdoor air.

It’s time get creative and re-imagine classrooms. We don’t need to think about ventilation rates if we hold classrooms outdoors. Yes, there will be inclement weather — kids and teachers will have to wear hats and gloves when it gets cold, and papers will occasionally get blown around. But this is still far superior to learning via Zoom. A massive mobilization of tents for schools, maybe by the National Guard, could get us there. Think this is impossible? We’ve done it before, during the tuberculosis epidemic.

And here’s all the key points in one handy graphic:


On a very personal, practical level, my school system is starting almost all on-line, but not the Special Education classes (for the obvious reasons).  So, thanks to these guys I’m going to make sure my son’s classroom has an air filter that exceeds 300 CADR.

If you want to learn even more about this, Allen has a terrific twitter thread where he links to all their efforts via Op-Eds, etc., on educating the public on how to make schools safer.

And here’s the whole Healthy Buildings report for schools which is terrific.

“Hygiene theater” “fomitephobia” and opportunity costs

Sometimes you just read an article and keep saying, yes, omg, yes.  I love the experience of having had some semi-inchoate thoughts and then see somebody put them together just perfectly in an article and you can, say… this!  That was my experience with Derek Thompson’s recent Atlantic piece on how we are foolishly focusing too much on sanitation and not enough on air quality.  We’ve actually had good contact-tracing-based evidence for a while now that Covid-19 spread poorly (though, still at some low level) through surfaces (fomites, in epidemiological parlance).  And lots of evidence that it spreads well in poorly-ventilated indoor air.  So, where have so many institutions focused their efforts?  That’s right, cleaning surfaces.  And there’s a huge opportunity cost there because, all too often this provides “hygiene theater” (oh my do I love that formulation) that does far too little to protect us whereas the organization/business is saying “but, look what I did to make you safe.”  Naturally, Thompson draws the terrific parallel to “security theater” after 9/11 (and which we still live with to an absurd degree).  Anyway…

To some American companies and Florida men, COVID-19 is apparently a war that will be won through antimicrobial blasting, to ensure that pathogens are banished from every square inch of America’s surface area.

But what if this is all just a huge waste of time?

In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines to clarify that while COVID-19 spreads easily among speakers and sneezers in close encounters, touching a surface “isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” Other scientists have reached a more forceful conclusion. “Surface transmission of COVID-19 is not justified at all by the science,” Emanuel Goldman, a microbiology professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told me. He also emphasized the primacy of airborne person-to-person transmission.

There is a historical echo here. After 9/11, physical security became a national obsession, especially in airports, where the Transportation Security Administration patted down the crotches of innumerable grandmothers for possible explosives. My colleague Jim Fallows repeatedly referred to this wasteful bonanza as “security theater.”

COVID-19 has reawakened America’s spirit of misdirected anxiety, inspiring businesses and families to obsess over risk-reduction rituals that make us feel safer but don’t actually do much to reduce risk—even as more dangerous activities are still allowed. This is hygiene theater…

Surface transmission—from touching doorknobs, mail, food-delivery packages, and subways poles—seems quite rare. (Quite rare isn’t the same as impossible: The scientists I spoke with constantly repeated the phrase “people should still wash their hands.”) The difference may be a simple matter of time. In the hours that can elapse between, say, Person 1 coughing on her hand and using it to push open a door and Person 2 touching the same door and rubbing his eye, the virus particles from the initial cough may have sufficiently deteriorated.

The fact that surface areas—or “fomites,” in medical jargon—are less likely to convey the virus might seem counterintuitive to people who have internalized certain notions of grimy germs, or who read many news articles in March about the danger of COVID-19-contaminated food. Backing up those scary stories were several U.S. studies that found that COVID-19 particles could survive on surfaces for many hours and even days.

But in a July article in the medical journal The Lancet, Goldman excoriated those conclusions. All those studies that made COVID-19 seem likely to live for days on metal and paper bags were based on unrealistically strong concentrations of the virus. As he explained to me, as many as 100 people would need to sneeze on the same area of a table to mimic some of their experimental conditions. The studies “stacked the deck to get a result that bears no resemblance to the real world,” Goldman said.

As a thousand internet commenters know by heart, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But with hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of scientists around the world tracing COVID-19’s chains of transmission, the extreme infrequency of evidence may indeed be evidence of extreme infrequency.,,

Hygiene theater can take limited resources away from more important goals. Goldman shared with me an email he had received from a New Jersey teacher after his Lancet article came out. She said her local schools had considered shutting one day each week for “deep cleaning.” At a time when returning to school will require herculean efforts from teachers and extraordinary ingenuity from administrators to keep kids safely distanced, setting aside entire days to clean surfaces would be a pitiful waste of time and scarce local tax revenue…

As long as people wear masks and don’t lick one another, New York’s subway-germ panic seems irrational. In Japan, ridership has returned to normal, and outbreaks traced to its famously crowded public transit system have been so scarce that the Japanese virologist Hitoshi Oshitani concluded, in an email to The Atlantic, that “transmission on the train is not common.” Like airline travelers forced to wait forever in line so that septuagenarians can get a patdown for underwear bombs, New Yorkers are being inconvenienced in the interest of eliminating a vanishingly small risk.

Read the whole thing– it’s great.  I suspect I’m going to be sharing this article a lot.

And while I’m at it, a great comment from (my literal “best man”) and my response:

And, really, this explains so much of life (I’ll refrain from a digression into university assessment of learning outcomes here, among other things).  And, it’s relatively easy to say– look– we wiped down everything.  Much harder to ensure that your indoor air is undergoing frequent changing and has high-quality filtration.  Of course, you’d think masks would be easy, but… America :-(.

How to beat this

What’s killing me is we know how.  Most every other modern nation (and plenty of not-as-modern) has already done so.  It’s not rocket science.  It just takes some real political leadership (ughh, that), clear science communication, and a commitment of the citizens.  Damn– we’re screwed.

But, still, total lockdowns are simply off the table.  And we don’t need them.  European countries locked down hard.  In some cases, even severe limits on being outside to walk your dog, etc.  We know, now, that was overkill.  We don’t have to totally shutdown.  What we do have to do is be consistent and near universal with some key steps.  John Harwood summed up a recent study on twitter:

“If people washed hands regularly, wore masks, and kept social distance from each other, these 3 simple behaviors could stop most all of the Covid-19 pandemic, even w/out vaccine or additional treatments, according to new study in journal PLoS Medicine.”

We can do that!

Andy Slavitt (a must-follow for the Covid-concerned) with a great thread arguing we can absolutely beat this and get back to kind-normal if we just go at it hard for 4-6 weeks (again, ummm, political leadership).  Here’s his proposed “kitchen sink” to throw at it:

I just don’t see us locking down that hard, period. But I’m inclined to think that universal mask wearing could do more of the hard work than many give it credit for (especially the universal wearing of surgical masks, which are widely available now).  But, again, almost surely too late for that because of some bad science communication early and some truly awful messaging from Republican elites for far too long.

So, I actually think a few simple things could do this.  Shut down (and bail out!) any place people gather indoors and don’t wear masks (yes, that means you restaurants and bars).  Shut down any place people gather indoors in large numbers for significant time (sorry, theaters, etc.).  And, mandate (with teeth it) mask wearing any time people are indoors anywhere with people who are not in their household.  If we did all that, I don’t think we’d have to ban transit and interstate travel.

But, the likelihood we’ll have the political leadership to pull this off?  Ummm.  Hopefully we’ll be getting some good news on monoclonal antibodies soon :-).

And, because if you read this far, you are a Covid-interested person and I don’t feel like another tweet, here’s a great thread from Richard Corsi on best approaches for keeping universities safe:

Quick hits (part II)

1) I’ve been meaning to watch “Let the Fire Burn” for a long time, and it was apparently at the top of my Netflix DVD queue.  As a documentary, I was not nearly as impressed as the many recommendations I’ve heard would suggest, but it was pretty amazing to get the (not quite full enough) story of how the city of Philadelphia burned down a whole city block in pursuit of a Black psuedo-cult in 1985.  I definitely remember when this happened when I was 13.

2) N&O Observer says the NC Governor should put teeth in enforcing mask mandates and gym/bar closures.  I heartily agree.

3) Research suggests there are six different “cluster types” of Covid-19.  Headache and loss of smell in all of them.

1- (‘flu-like’ with no fever): Headache, loss of smell, muscle pains, cough, sore throat, chest pain, no fever.

2- (‘flu-like’ with fever): Headache, loss of smell, cough, sore throat, hoarseness, fever, loss of appetite.

3- (gastrointestinal): Headache, loss of smell, loss of appetite, diarrhea, sore throat, chest pain, no cough.

4- (severe level one, fatigue): Headache, loss of smell, cough, fever, hoarseness, chest pain, fatigue.

5- (severe level two, confusion): Headache, loss of smell, loss of appetite, cough, fever, hoarseness, sore throat, chest pain, fatigue, confusion, muscle pain.

6- (severe level three, abdominal and respiratory): Headache, loss of smell, loss of appetite, cough, fever, hoarseness, sore throat, chest pain, fatigue, confusion, muscle pain, shortness of breath, diarrhea, abdominal pain.

4) This is so fascinating, basically, historical/archaeological epidemiology “Viking Age Smallpox Complicates Story of Viral Evolution: An extinct version of the smallpox virus dating to 1,400 years ago prompts speculation about viruses becoming more lethal over time.”

The evolution of the deadliest virus in human history — smallpox — is only partly understood. Like the novel coronavirus and many other disease-causing viruses, smallpox seems to have originated in animals, probably rodents, and spilled over to humans, probably thousands of years ago. In the 20th century alone it killed hundreds of millions of people.

Until now, the earliest confirmed case of smallpox had been found in the mummified remains of a Lithuanian child from the 17th century. On Thursday, an international team of researchers pushed that date back 1,000 years, reporting in the Science journal that they had recovered smallpox DNA from the remains of people in Northern Europe in the Viking Age.

The virus they found is now extinct and has not been found in other, more recent skeletal remains. It is not an ancestor of the modern smallpox virus, but an evolutionary dead end. It has more genes than the modern virus, and scientists have observed that among the many different pox viruses in nature, fewer genes tend to mean a more deadly virus. Putting those facts together caused one prominent smallpox specialist to suggest that the modern virus might have become more deadly as it evolved. Most viruses become less deadly over time…

The differences in the Viking variant are significant enough for the virus to make up a new group, or clade, of Variola. It is not an earlier version of the modern virus. Both modern smallpox and the newly discovered variant descended from a common ancestor, but diverged at least 1,700 years ago. Dr. Jones said: “The Viking viruses were on a different evolutionary path that could not have led to the modern viruses.”…

The genetic details of the Viking virus are what prompted speculation that perhaps the smallpox virus may have become more deadly. Barbara Mühlemann, also a virologist at Cambridge and the first author on the paper, said that the general understanding of pox viruses is that the ones with fewer genes directed at deceiving the immune system of a host are actually more deadly. The reason is not clear, although with viral infections, a very strong immune reaction is often what kills the victim.

“The pattern that we’ve seen in the paper,” she said, “ is that there has been a loss of genes over time” in the modern smallpox virus compared to the Viking virus, which had more active genes than the modern virus. But, she cautioned, she and her colleagues have no direct evidence that the Viking version of the virus was less deadly.

5) Atlantic, “BoJack Horseman’s Diane Problem Is Now an Industry Problem: High-profile white voice actors are relinquishing their roles as characters of color. But the departures have caused divisions among their peers.”  I totally get that Hollywood voice casting has almost surely been unfair to non-white actors for generations.  The solution is not that voice actors should only portray the same race as they are.  We do not need that racial essentialism.  (Also, Alison Brie was brilliant as Diane on Bojack and I’d hate to think about losing her performance).  To say that only a Black person can portray a black animated character is, in the end, no different than saying only white people can play “white” roles (yeah, I know, power differential and all) and that’s no way to go.

6) I found this to be an interesting perspective/frame on cancel culture.  Especially given a recent FB debate in which multiple people argued that to be Republican is to be racist (more thoughts on that coming up this week):

Although I’ve collapsed the debate over cancel culture into the debate over free speech, there’s an important difference to note at the outset.

The debate over cancel culture is not so much about free speech as it is about freer speech — it’s less about carving out space for your deplorable opponents to say anything they like and more about ensuring that enough space is carved out for reasonable views to be voiced without fear of incurring “cancellation.”

In other words, those decrying the existence of a pernicious “cancel culture,” like the Harper’s letter signatories, want to fix the discourse parameters so that speech is let in that they see as intellectually in bounds, whether any of them personally agree with that speech or not. Cancel culture promoters, by contrast, favor a discourse culture in which only progressive-compliant speech is allowed.

The crowd that worries about cancel culture includes free speech advocates of the more traditional kind, the sort who think any prohibition on any speech is cryptotyrannical, but the crowd’s most prominent voices are those who aren’t so much absolutists about free speech as they are contemptuous of attempts to narrow acceptable discourse into more or less what progressives believe.

Think about it in terms of concentric circles.

The largest one is the libertarian framework we call free speech absolutism: everything is in bounds.

The second-largest one is the anti-cancel culture liberals wanting some things out of bounds, but also insisting that their own views, ranging from center-right conservatism to left-liberalism, remain comfortably in bounds.

Finally, there’s the smallest circle, which only allows for progressivism-compatible views. This last circle doesn’t represent the way the discourse at large looks today, but it does capture the way some subcultures within it operate, and it is certainly an image of how the discourse would look if some progressives had their way.

I want to focus on these last two circles and leave the largest one, free speech absolutism, aside.

I’ve recently come across the argument that, as the concentric circles metaphor perhaps suggests, the liberals who sharply criticize cancel culture and the progressives who argue that it’s actually a good accountability measure really only disagree about where to draw the line. The former want to set the discourse limits in one place, the reasoning goes, while the latter merely wish to set the limits in a different place.

This analysis is mistaken.

The reason it’s mistaken is it contains a false equivalence at its core: the idea that both groups fundamentally agree on the discourse principles.

But both groups are not equivalently supportive of the importance of free and open debate. One group favors it whereas the other group rejects it; cancel culture critics approve of it whereas cancel culture promoters see it as a troubling accommodation of harmful and dangerous views.

The metaphor of concentric circles is perhaps misleading here, then, since it suggests that the groups merely differ on where to draw the line. But here’s what the metaphor leaves out. The reason the lines are drawn in different places is precisely because the two groups differ on the very principle in question. The two parties differ on where to draw the line, that is true — but the line-drawing is a consequence of a prior philosophical difference.

What’s the principle that they differ over?

The anti-cancel culture people are supporters of a discourse culture that allows views they strongly disagree with, so long as certain conditions are met. Those conditions tend to be some combination of: the view must be argued in good faith, the view must be supported by reasons, the view must not flagrantly contravene historical and scientific facts, etc.

Their critics, on the other hand, have a radically different view of what the discourse should allow. This group believes that the above conditions are not enough — it is not enough for someone to argue something in good faith, or to support their views with reasons, or to be factual. A discourse participant can tick all these boxes and yet argue for a view that many within this group would find reprehensible.

The first group thinks that those conditions are sufficient for discourse worthiness; the second group thinks they’re necessary but insufficient.

7) And because I’m such an anti-cancel culture guy, that also means I truly believe in engaging with the strongest/smartest voices telling me I’m wrong, in this case Vox’s Zack Beuachamp, whose articles incorporating social science I typically love:

Abstract appeals to “free speech” and “liberal values” obscure the fact that what’s being debated is not anyone’s right to speech, but rather their right to air that speech in specific platforms like the New York Times without fear of social backlash. Yet virtually everyone agrees that certain speakers — neo-Nazis, for example — do not deserve a column in the paper of record.

The real debate here is not about the principle of free speech, but the much grayer question of how we draw its boundaries. What kinds of speech should be morally out of bounds? What sorts of speakers should be excluded from major platforms? When can giving a platform to one kind of person actually make it harder for other people to speak their minds freely? And what kinds of social sanctions, like public shaming or firing, are justified responses to violations of these social norms?

Once we see that these are the issues we’re actually discussing, it becomes clear that “cancel culture” is not the existential threat to free expression it’s made out to be. Questions about the limits of what we should discuss in major publications are important, to be sure — and I do think the anti-cancelers have marshaled some decent arguments for their approach. But debates over speech’s boundaries are the kinds of difficult conversations that every liberal society (maybe even every society) grapples with all the time. Canada criminalizes hate speech, Germany bans Holocaust denial, and the United States permits both — yet no one seriously believes that America is a free society while the other two have somehow collapsed into illiberalism.

The cancel culture conversation is the same debate around free speech’s limits that we’ve been having over offensive speech for decades, playing out in newsrooms and faculty lounges rather than legislatures.

What’s happening now seems novel because we are currently seeing a wave of social justice activism that seeks to redefine how we understand appropriate debate over these topics, sometimes even pushing to consign to the margins views that may have seemed tolerable in the past. These advocates can and have overreached, and should be criticized when they do. But on the whole, their work is aimed not at restricting freedom but at expanding it — making historically marginalized voices feel comfortable enough in the public square to be their authentic selves, to exist honestly and speak their own truths.

This is not a debate over the value of liberalism and free speech. Liberalism requires placing some boundaries on acceptable speech to function; there is a reason out-and-out racists like Richard Spencer weren’t asked to be signatories on the Harper’s letter.

Instead, this is a debate within liberalism over who gets to define the boundaries of speech — and where these boundaries ought to be set if American society is to follow through on its liberal promise.

8) Harry Enten on the race 100 days out:

I know– but keep fighting like Biden is 10 points behind.  And, Biden has to win big.  There can really be little doubt at this point that Trump will do everything in his power to try and steal a close election and end American democracy as we know it.

9) Relatedly, your depressing read, “8 Big Reasons Election Day 2020 Could Be a Disaster”

10) Cool NYT video feature on how federal troops escalated violence in Portland.

Trump University ==> pandemic failure?

Hot damn this report in WP is good, “Spin, deride, attack: How Trump’s handling of Trump University presaged his presidency”

The judge was out to get him, he said. So was that prosecutor in New York, whom he called a dopey loser on a witch hunt. So were his critics, who he said were all liars. Even some of his own underlings had failed him — bad people, it turned out. He said he didn’t know them.

Donald Trump was in trouble.

Now, he was trying to attack his way out, breaking all the unwritten rules about the way a man of his position should behave. The secret to his tactic: “I don’t care” about breaking the rules, Trump said at a news conference. “Why antagonize? Because I don’t care.”

That was 2016. He was talking about a real estate school called Trump University.

Trump University, which shut down in 2011 after multiple investigations and student complaints, was treated as a joke by many of Trump’s political opponents — much as they treated Trump Steaks or Trump Vodka. But to those who knew the school well, it wasn’t a joke.

It was a premonition.

The saga of Trump University showed how far Trump would go to deny, rather than fix, a problem, they said — a tactic they have now seen him reuse as president many times, including now, in the face of a worsening pandemic. For months, President Trump promised something wonderful but extremely unlikely — that the virus would soon disappear.

John Brown, a former Trump University student from New York, said he understands why some people believed him.

“This is how people get sucked [in]. Because they want it,” Brown said. “That’s what happened to me.” He wanted to succeed so badly that he paid $25,000 for a Trump University “mentorship” program, which left him deeply disappointed.

Another former student, Bob Guillo, said he felt a deep frustration at being unable to prevent Trump University’s saga from playing out again on a far larger stage.

“I tried to warn the American people that if Donald Trump was doing this to me, he’s going to do the same thing if he’s ever elected president,” Guillo said, referring to interviews and TV appearances he did during the 2016 election. “Unfortunately, people believed Trump. And they didn’t believe Bob.”

Now, many former students, instructors and lawyers who sued Trump wonder whether, as he faces a worsening pandemic, they see parallels to another chapter of Trump University’s story. Its end.

Eventually, they said, Trump’s attacks could not conceal the huge gap between Trump University’s promises and its results. He began to lash out, attacking his antagonists as conspirators and fools

“It’s something I think about all the time,” said Tristan Snell, who was the lead attorney for the New York state attorney general’s office in a lawsuit against Trump University. Snell said the school “had a fulfillment problem”: It could not deliver on the enriching real estate secrets it promised.

“Maybe that’s a good metaphor for what’s happening in America is that we have a fulfillment problem,” he said. “You’ve sold X and Y and Z and you can’t actually fulfill the order.”

In this case, Snell said, what Trump promised but cannot provide is not real estate secrets. It is something even harder to deliver — victory against a deadly disease.

“The difference this time is the fact that he’s running his game on a virus,” Snell said. “And the virus doesn’t care.”

Quick hits (Part I)

1) Patrick Skinner is back and always worth reading, “We’re police officers. You should know our names. That goes for Portland, too.: Anonymity is for CIA officers (a job I also held), not for federal law enforcement countering protesters in America. It denies local accountability.”

My name is Patrick Skinner, and I’m a local police officer. I love that I can say that. For me, one of the best things about being a local police officer is the openness of the job. On patrol my name is on my uniform; as a detective my name is on my business cards. Either way, it’s always on my tongue: I introduce myself to literally every single neighbor I meet while on duty. By definition and design my work is in public as I work with the public. There is nothing anonymous or unidentifiable in my work. My authority comes from my neighbors, and my ability to do my job comes in part from my neighbors knowing who I am.

My name is Patrick Skinner, and I’m a former CIA operations officer. I love that I can say that now, but at one time I could not say that. Overseas my name sometimes wasn’t even my name; at home my name was my own, but my work was hidden. Either way, the cover story was always on my tongue. My work was clandestine and covert. Even my workplace, my employer, was secret. By definition and design, my work was not in public. There was nothing identifiable or attributable in my work. My authority came from presidential findings and national security laws, and my ability to do my job came in part from my neighbors not knowing who I was.

My name is Patrick Skinner, and I’m a very worried American. I hate that I must say that, but I love that I can. For me, one of the best things about being an American is the freedom and even the obligation to speak out against injustice, and to speak up for those who aren’t being heard. By definition and design, my voice and your voice are public. Our authority comes from the Constitution, and our ability to do our job comes in whole from us knowing who our government is.

2) Fred Kaplan with a strong case for breaking up Homeland Security:

Many lessons and warnings can be drawn from President Trump’s dispatch of heavily armed federal agents to put down protesters in Portland, Oregon, but one of them is that it’s time to bust up the Department of Homeland Security.

The DHS was a sham from the get-go. It was the brainchild of Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who proposed the new department in late 2001, just after the 9/11 attacks, as a way of showing that the Republicans in the White House weren’t the only ones trying to tackle terrorism. President George W. Bush opposed the idea, seeing it as burdening the government with another bureaucratic layer. But then, the 9/11 Commission hearings revealed that al-Qaida succeeded in toppling the World Trade Center in part because the FBI, CIA, and other agencies hadn’t shared intelligence about the hijackers’ movements prior to the attack. Coordination and consolidation were suddenly seen as nostrums to our problems.

So, under pressure, in late 2002, Bush signed Lieberman’s idea into law. DHS wound up subsuming 22 agencies from eight federal departments—with a combined budget of $40 billion and a payroll of 183,000 employees—into one hydra-headed behemoth.

Ironically, the agencies that had mishandled intelligence before 9/11 were not included in this roundup. The CIA and FBI were powerful enough to retain their independence, though they did strengthen or create counterterrorism bureaus and tighten lines of communication. Instead, the components of DHS—FEMA, the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, various immigration and customs bureaus, and a Pentagon agency devoted to cybersecurity, among others—had been performing distinct functions. Piling them into one entity didn’t make fighting terrorism, or performing any other mission, more efficient.

In fact, it made the government less efficient. For instance, before the consolidation, the head of FEMA had been a Cabinet-level official—a member of the National Security Council who attended interagency meetings and enjoyed direct access to the president. Now this official is an undersecretary of DHS. The secretary of DHS can closely follow only a few of the dozen or so issues the department covers. If emergency management is one of the top priorities, then that particularly undersecretary at least has indirect access to the top; if it isn’t, the mission goes largely ignored. This may have been one reason the Bush administration responded so sluggishly to the great natural disaster of 2005, Hurricane Katrina.

Before DHS, the jobs of U.S. Customs and Border Protection—which is supplying most of the men brandishing heavy arms and firing tear gas at the protesters in Portland—were handled by two separate agencies: U.S. Customs Service and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services. These were independent, fairly professional agencies, with clear authority over limited jurisdictions. Now, fused into Customs and Border Protection and shunted into DHS, it’s a large law enforcement agency with a mandate as narrow or as broad as the secretary of homeland security decides. And since the current secretary, Chad Wolf, is an acting secretary, whose nomination has not been submitted to the Senate and who therefore has no accountability to Congress or the public, the CBP’s armed agents can behave as Trump’s goon squad.

3) I’m pretty damn confident on what scientists are going to be able to do with creating a vaccine.  The real concerning part is that we’ll depend upon the federal government for an effective distribution strategy (hundreds of millions of doses ain’t easy!!) and even if this is Biden’s government, it’s going to be absolutely crippled by having been Trump’s for four years:

Even if all of this goes well—the earliest candidates are effective, the trials conclude quickly, the technology works—another huge task lies ahead: When vaccines are approved, 300 million doses will not be available all at once, and a system is needed to distribute limited supplies to the public. This is exactly the sort of challenge that the U.S. government has proved unprepared for in this pandemic.

4) NYT Magazine, “‘White Fragility’ Is Everywhere. But Does Antiracism Training Work?”  I think you know the answer.

5) Jennifer Rubin on the future of the Republican Party:

I wholeheartedly agree with my friend and fellow Never Trumper Bill Kristol when he says the fate of the Republican Party is up in the air. He rightly reminds us that some intellectual humility is in order. As he puts it: “Lost cause or worth trying to save? I don’t know.”

There are actually two questions here. The first: What will happen to the Republican Party? For starters, this assumes (as is increasingly wise) that the Republicans are heading for a big loss. If they do not lose, the Republican Party remains the party of authoritarian, right-wing nationalism, and the country is in deep trouble. But if President Trump does lose, what happens to the party depends on a myriad of factors — the size of the loss, the fate of the Senate majority, the degree to which the party splits with Trump during the final stretch, the attitude of donors who will have wasted collectively hundreds of millions of dollars and — yes — how Democrats govern going forward. It is going to be a long time before that all works itself out.

The second question is normative: What should happen to the Republican Party? As a proud co-founder of the “they deserve to go out of business” faction, I maintain that Republicans’ collective failure to defend the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic, to stand up to a dangerously defective president and to adhere to some semblance of objective truth renders this crop of Republicans undeserving of the public’s trust. Since a party is the sum-total of its elected officials and supporters, Republicans, from my perspective, should be disqualified from holding office until there is a new generation of Republicans untainted by support for Trump and willing to repudiate Trumpism.

I confess to having no specific loyalty to a shell of a party; it is the ideas it propounds and the leaders it offers that determine whether it deserves support. The question then becomes: What kind of party does the country need if the current Republican Party is relegated to the dustbin of history? We need a functional two-party system in which each party offers alternative policy ideas and restrains the other. However, if the Trump era taught us anything, it is that certain core values are required to participate in the political process (e.g., fidelity to the rule of law; devotion to separation of powers; recognition that the United States is defined not by race, gender or religion, but by our creed that “all men are created equal”). To gain admission to the political playing field, a party must buy into the constitutional system and reflect basic human decency. Trumpism has proved utterly unwilling to do that, and its core philosophy — to the extent there is one — is a brand of populism that is antithetical to a pluralistic democracy.

By the same token, the philosophy that ran its course in the GOP (e.g., tax cuts for the wealthy, antagonism toward government, aversion to racial fairness) does not provide a viable alternative to progressivism. There simply is not sufficient support for a party featuring unfettered faith in the free market or denial of systemic racism. It is not morally tenable to feature voter suppression and discouragement as a party strategy.

Without Trumpism or dead-end conservatism, what is left? The task for former or disenchanted Republicans, I would suggest, is defining what political philosophy is appropriate to our times and distinct enough from progressivism to offer a choice. Whatever you call it — conservatism 2.0, moderation, pragmatism, “small-l” liberalism — it must defend democratic institutions, address yawning gaps in wealth and opportunity, integrate into a global economy, tackle systemic problems such as climate change and racism, root out corruption and cronyism, and exercise leadership in a world in which illiberal regimes are increasingly aggressive and confident. There are numerous attempts to forge ideas and an overarching philosophy that might be competitive in the political arena. Out of that maybe a new party or ideological movement will arise.

In the meantime, the existing Republican Party should be defeated, and all Americans should encourage the Democratic Party to govern honorably and advance the best progressive ideas with an appreciation for unintended consequences and the value of free markets. A spirit of innovation and pragmatism, rather than dogma and one-size-fits-all solutions, would serve the country well. I suspect if Democrats do not fall prey to excess or corruption, they will be in power for a good, long while — until an alternative party offers something of value to Americans. Right now, the only thing Republicans offer is a brew of meanness, propaganda, science denial, corruption and racism.

5) For my money, John Williams is the greatest classical/orchestral composer of the 20th century.  Great piece in The New Yorker.

6) I didn’t really love Ian McEwan’s Machines like me (but did like it enough to finish), but I thought it was kind of cool that a solution to the Does P=NP problem was a key to book’s alternative world.

7) This is pretty interesting essay on trying to makes sense of social justice culture:

In 2014 Jason Manning and I first wrote about the rise of a new moral culture. We called it victimhood culture because among those who embrace it, victimhood comes to act as a kind of moral status. While there are right-wing versions of it, most of the activists embracing this new culture are on the Left, and they see themselves as pursuing social justice. This culture, then, which can also be called social justice culture, is a moral framework concerned primarily with documenting and fighting oppression.

This new moral culture differs from prior ones, particularly in dealing with conflict. The honor cultures of many traditional societies valued bravery above all else, and in these societies people needed to stand up for themselves, often by engaging in violence, to demonstrate they weren’t cowards and wouldn’t let others take advantage of them or insult them. A duel over an insult, which seems so strange to most of us, made sense in this context. Surely if someone calls me a liar, we might think, our firing guns at one another doesn’t prove I’m not a liar. But what it does prove is that I’m not willing to let such an insult stand without a fight, that I’m willing to risk death to try avenging it. It may not prove I’m honest, but it does demonstrate my bravery, which may be more consequential.

In the United States and elsewhere, honor culture eventually gave way to dignity culture. It became more important to recognize one’s own and others’ inherent worth, so reputations weren’t so important. People came to believe they should let most insults stand, and that they should rely on the legal system for solving more serious disputes.

Social justice culture is similar to honor culture in that people might be concerned even with small slights and insults (microaggressions) that would be ignored by people in a dignity culture, but it’s similar to dignity culture in that people often appeal to authorities and other third parties rather than handling the slights themselves. The elevation of one virtue over others—from demonstrating bravery in honor cultures, to recognizing the worth of every individual in dignity cultures, and opposing oppression in social justice cultures—occurs along with different ways of conceiving of and responding to transgressions. It is important to note in this context that people immersed in different moral cultures commonly find each other’s behavior offensive or incomprehensible. And just as those in dignity cultures object to the violence of honor cultures as being foolish and cruel, and just as those in honor cultures object to the avoidance of conflict or the appeal to law in dignity cultures as cowardly and weak, those in dignity cultures sometimes see social justice activists as self-absorbed and childish—snowflakes. What they miss is that their behavior makes sense given their assumptions. That doesn’t mean it’s always sincere—people don’t always have pure motives when they express moral outrage and condemn wrongdoing—but it seems it often is, and it’s probably as sincere as that of any other activist group.

8) This “20 questions to ask before sending your kids back to school” from Harvard and Portland State Public Health is great.  2 of my K-12 kids will be fully on-line to start the Fall, but my special education son will be in person.  I’m going to be a damn squeaky wheel on the indoor air quality questions 5-7.

9) EJ Dionne on Trump’s corruption, “The risks of herd immunity to Trump’s corruption”

We could all spend a lot of intellectual energy debating whether President Trump’s failures are due primarily to corruption or incompetence, but it would be a waste of time.

Understanding that his incompetence flows from his corruption should animate the arguments against his reelection and inspire the work journalists do in making sense of the chaotic mess Trump has made of our government.

It won’t be easy. Trump has been involved in so many scandals and says so many reprehensible things that our country has developed a kind of herd immunity to the outrage that just one of his actions would have called forth in any previous administration. We have allowed Trump to fend off one scandal with . . . another scandal.
The key is seeing that Trump’s entirely selfish approach to the presidency has a measurable and material impact on the lives of citizens and on the policies he pursues — to the extent that he is interested in policy at all. He cares above all about his own finances, his ego, his ratings and escaping accountability. Everything else falls by the wayside.

Consider the past couple of days. The New York Times offered a jaw-dropping article that Trump instructed the U.S. ambassador to Britain, Robert Wood Johnson IV, to ask the British government to “help steer the world-famous and lucrative British Open golf tournament to the Trump Turnberry Resort in Scotland.”

This is the sort of corruption that would have made Boss Tweed proud — using our nation’s diplomats as fixers for Trump’s interest. But it also reflects Trump’s indifference to the idea that the State Department serves the national interest. Turning an ambassador into an errand boy for Trump’s money-losing golf course undercuts our envoys’ ability to carry out the work of the nation.
10) Teen Vogue with, “How to Talk to People Who Won’t Wear Face Masks.”  No shaming; “empathetic messaging.”

11) Could our country be any worse with this.  And, yes, failures like this are really on Trump. “‘It’s Like Groundhog Day’: Coronavirus Testing Labs Again Lack Key Supplies: Just weeks after resolving shortages in swabs, researchers are struggling to find the chemicals and plastic pieces they need to carry out coronavirus tests in the lab — leading to long waiting times.”

12) This is a thought-provoking piece on “The Four Quadrants of Conformism

One of the most revealing ways to classify people is by the degree and aggressiveness of their conformism. Imagine a Cartesian coordinate system whose horizontal axis runs from conventional-minded on the left to independent-minded on the right, and whose vertical axis runs from passive at the bottom to aggressive at the top. The resulting four quadrants define four types of people. Starting in the upper left and going counter-clockwise: aggressively conventional-minded, passively conventional-minded, passively independent-minded, and aggressively independent-minded.

I think that you’ll find all four types in most societies, and that which quadrant people fall into depends more on their own personality than the beliefs prevalent in their society. [1]

Young children offer some of the best evidence for both points. Anyone who’s been to primary school has seen the four types, and the fact that school rules are so arbitrary is strong evidence that the quadrant people fall into depends more on them than the rules.

The kids in the upper left quadrant, the aggressively conventional-minded ones, are the tattletales. They believe not only that rules must be obeyed, but that those who disobey them must be punished.

The kids in the lower left quadrant, the passively conventional-minded, are the sheep. They’re careful to obey the rules, but when other kids break them, their impulse is to worry that those kids will be punished, not to ensure that they will.

The kids in the lower right quadrant, the passively independent-minded, are the dreamy ones. They don’t care much about rules and probably aren’t 100% sure what the rules even are.

And the kids in the upper right quadrant, the aggressively independent-minded, are the naughty ones. When they see a rule, their first impulse is to question it. Merely being told what to do makes them inclined to do the opposite…

Since one’s quadrant depends more on one’s personality than the nature of the rules, most people would occupy the same quadrant even if they’d grown up in a quite different society.

Princeton professor Robert George recently wrote:

I sometimes ask students what their position on slavery would have been had they been white and living in the South before abolition. Guess what? They all would have been abolitionists! They all would have bravely spoken out against slavery, and worked tirelessly against it.

He’s too polite to say so, but of course they wouldn’t. And indeed, our default assumption should not merely be that his students would, on average, have behaved the same way people did at the time, but that the ones who are aggressively conventional-minded today would have been aggressively conventional-minded then too. In other words, that they’d not only not have fought against slavery, but that they’d have been among its staunchest defenders.

I’m biased, I admit, but it seems to me that aggressively conventional-minded people are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the trouble in the world, and that a lot of the customs we’ve evolved since the Enlightenment have been designed to protect the rest of us from them. In particular, the retirement of the concept of heresy and its replacement by the principle of freely debating all sorts of different ideas, even ones that are currently considered unacceptable, without any punishment for those who try them out to see if they work. [2]

Why do the independent-minded need to be protected, though? Because they have all the new ideas. To be a successful scientist, for example, it’s not enough just to be right. You have to be right when everyone else is wrong. Conventional-minded people can’t do that. For similar reasons, all successful startup CEOs are not merely independent-minded, but aggressively so. So it’s no coincidence that societies prosper only to the extent that they have customs for keeping the conventional-minded at bay. [3

In the last few years, many of us have noticed that the customs protecting free inquiry have been weakened. Some say we’re overreacting — that they haven’t been weakened very much, or that they’ve been weakened in the service of a greater good. The latter I’ll dispose of immediately. When the conventional-minded get the upper hand, they always say it’s in the service of a greater good. It just happens to be a different, incompatible greater good each time.

For the record, I had a hard time placing myself.  Definitely high on the “aggressive” dimension, but in some ways I’m quite conventional and in others quite independent.  But, always aggressive about it :-).

Wear a mask for you! (Yes, and other people, too)

There’s been lots of good and appropriate messaging on masks as source control to help prevent pre-symptomatic (a huge portion) and asymptomatic Covid spreaders from unknowlingly transmitting the disease to others.  And we’ve been told, unless you are wearing an N95, it’s probably not going to do too much to protect you.  But, increasingly some experts are thinking that, yes, even cloth masks (and definitely surgical masks) can play a vital role in preventing you from getting sick.  Not actually contracting Covid, mind you, but actually make it far more likely you’ll have a case with very mild or no symptoms.  I’ll take that!

This LA Times article sums it up nicely [and for those of you on twitter, I think this thread does even better and describes and links to a lot of the most compelling evidence, culminating in this tweet

https://twitter.com/DrEricDing/status/1286388906636845060 ]

Anyway, back to the Times article:

What’s the point of wearing a cloth face covering if it doesn’t filter out everything?

Cloth face masks still provide a major protective benefit: They filter out a majority of viral particles.

Embrace your floof, Bodie! That STAINMASTER® PetProtect® carpet is made to resist pet hair, so it’s no problem when you shed those beautiful golden locks.

As it turns out, that’s pretty important. Breathing in a small amount of virus may lead to no disease or a more mild infection. But inhaling a huge volume of virus particles can result in serious disease or death.

That’s the argument Dr. Monica Gandhi, UC San Francisco professor of medicine and medical director of the HIV Clinic at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, is making about why — if you do become infected with the virus — masking can still protect you from more severe disease.

“There is this theory that facial masking reduces the [amount of virus you get exposed to] and disease severity,” said Gandhi, who is also director for the Center for AIDS Research at UC San Francisco.

What evidence supports this theory?

The idea that a lower dose of virus means less severe illness is a well-worn idea in medicine.

Even going back to 1938, there was a study showing that by giving mice a higher dose of a deadly virus, the mice were more likely to get severe disease and die, Gandhi said.

The same principle applies to humans. A study published in 2015 gave healthy volunteers varying doses of a flu virus; those who got higher doses got sicker, with more coughing and shortness of breath, Gandhi said.

And another study suggested that the reason the second wave of the 1918-19 flu pandemic was the deadliest in the U.S. was because of the overcrowded conditions in Army camps as World War I wound down. “In 1918, the Army camps [were] characterized by a high number of contacts between people and by a high case-fatality rate, sometimes 5 to 8 times higher than the case-fatality rate among civilian communities,” the study said.

Finally, a study published in May found that surgical mask partitions significantly reduced the transmission of the coronavirus among hamsters. And even if the hamsters protected by the mask partitions acquired the coronavirus, “they were more likely to get very mild disease,” Gandhi said.

What happens if a city dramatically masks up in public?

If Gandhi is right, it may mean that even if there’s a rise in coronavirus infections in a city, the masks may limit the dose of virus people are getting and result in less severe symptoms of illness.

That’s what Gandhi says she suspects is happening in San Francisco, where mask wearing is relatively robust. Further observations are needed, she said.

There’s more evidence that masks can be protective — even when wearers do become infected. She cited an outbreak at a seafood plant in Oregon where employees were given masks, and 95% of those who were infected were asymptomatic.

Gandhi also cited the experience of those aboard a cruise ship that was traveling from Argentina to Antartica in March when the coronavirus infected people on board, as documented in a recent study. Passengers got surgical masks; the crew got N95 masks.

But instead of about 40% of those infected being asymptomatic — which is what would normally be expected — 81% of those testing positive were asymptomatic, and the masks may have helped reduce the severity of disease in people on board, Gandhi said.

So, wear that damn mask!  I must say, I find this very encouraging as I contemplate 75 minutes twice per week in an indoor space (half capacity, all wearing masks) starting in a few weeks.  Even better, I’m going to take my surgical mask up to near N95 efficacy with “Fix the Mask.”  Surgical masks actually filter almost as well, their major issue is fit, but with a little DIY rubber you can pretty much replicate that fit.


This chart depresses me

Great piece in 538 on (mostly growing) partisan divisions on Covid.  Lots of good stuff, but this one really got to me:

Any decent person should damn well be concerned they’ll unknowingly spread Covid to another person.  That’s a huge part of the reason we should all be wearing masks.

So, next question, why are Republicans so much less concerned?  General lack of empathy?  They know it’s all just a hoax to do in Trump?  Or is it simply that they have been, till now, much less likely to actually know people with Covid?

And, Marc Hetherington who’s been leading the great UNC Covid efforts I’ve been lucky to be a part of, gets a few words:

“Some Republicans are much less freaked out by the virus than they were a few months ago,” said Marc Hetherington, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina who is tracking Americans’ perspectives of the coronavirus through a panel survey. “But things are changing so quickly — these new outbreaks could scare them and maybe some of that polarization disappears.”

But, lets end on a positive note.  In a lot of ways, Democrats and Republicans actually aren’t all that different:

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