Republicans’ alternate Covid reality

You know, it’s really okay for Democrats and Republicans to have different opinions and concern levels about Covid.  The disease, thus far, has been far more prevalent in urban areas and far more prevalent (proportionately) among non-white people.  Given the partisan distributions and the fact that we are naturally more concerned about things when they are clearly in our communities and affecting people we know, it’s not unreasonable for Republicans to be less concerned about Covid.

You know what is unreasonable?  Being 100% factually wrong on the reality of Covid that is being reported day-after-day-after-day in accurate media (e.g., the non Fox News, “lamestream” media).  Gallup with some surveys about what people believe about the virus:

Fact: Covid is more lethal than the flu.  You might as well answer that Covid-19 is not caused by a virus.  Or, I don’t know, that climate change is substantially influenced by human activity.


Everything we know tells us that cases are being under-reported, if anything.  There’s no world (except on Fox, I think) where cases are actually over-reported.  That is, of course, unless you are a Republican.

Republicans are living in their own reality on Covid and it’s the wrong one.  Of course, that makes all the more harder to come to the right solutions.  No point taking an umbrella outside if Fox News tells you it’s not raining.  Ugh.

Photo of the day

Wired gallery of cool photos taken from drones:

A polar bear leaps over water on sea ice in Canada north of the Arctic Circle. Florian Ledoux captured this image from a...

A polar bear leaps over water on sea ice in Canada, north of the Arctic Circle. Florian Ledoux captured this image from a drone last August while sailing around Lancaster Sounds and several fjords near Baffin Island. It nabbed him the title of Drone Photographer of the Year.

White people vs. democracy

I’d prefer that interesting social science actually be peer-reviewed before it gets widely disseminated by NBC News website.  But, this is pretty cool research and certainly seems to comport well with what we know.  Anyway, here’s the not-all-that-surprising and plenty disturbing stuff:

A new study, however, suggests that the main threat to our democracy may not be the hardening of political ideology, but rather the hardening of one particular political ideology. Political scientists Steven V. Miller of Clemson and Nicholas T. Davis of Texas A&M have released a working paper titled “White Outgroup Intolerance and Declining Support for American Democracy.” Their study finds a correlation between white American’s intolerance, and support for authoritarian rule. In other words, when intolerant white people fear democracy may benefit marginalized people, they abandon their commitment to democracy.

In other words, when intolerant white people fear democracy may benefit marginalized people, they abandon their commitment to democracy.

Miller and Davis used information from the World Values Survey, a research project organized by a worldwide network of social scientists which polls individuals in numerous countries on a wide range of beliefs and values. Based on surveys from the United States, the authors found that white people who did not want to have immigrants or people of different races living next door to them were more likely to be supportive of authoritarianism. For instance, people who said they did not want to live next door to immigrants or to people of another race were more supportive of the idea of military rule, or of a strongman-type leader who could ignore legislatures and election results.

The World Values Survey data used is from the period 1995 to 2011 — well before Donald Trump’s 2016 run for president. It suggests, though, that Trump’s bigotry and his authoritarianism are not separate problems, but are intertwined. When Trump calls Mexicans “rapists,” and when he praises authoritarian leaders, he is appealing to the same voters…

Trump’s rise is often presented as a major break with the past, and as a repudiation of American values and democratic commitments. But in an email, Miller pointed out that white intolerance has long served as an excuse for, and a spark for, authoritarian measures.

“People are fond of the Framers’ grand vision of liberty and equality for all,” Miller says, “but the beauty of the Federalist papers can’t paper over the real measures of exclusion that were baked into their understanding of a limited franchise.”

Black people, Asians, Native Americans and women were prevented from voting for significant stretches of American history. America’s tradition of democracy (for some) exists alongside a tradition of authoritarianism (for some). The survey data doesn’t show people rejecting American traditions, then, Miller says, so much as it shows “a preference for the sort of white-ethnocentrism that imbued much of the functional form of democracy for the better part of two centuries.”

Donald Trump, man-child

Damn this Tom Nichols essay on American masculinity and Donald Trump is really, really good.  Lots of ideas in here, but I really like the contrast between aging and actually being a “grown up,” an insight I came to myself at a college reunion many years ago.  Well worth reading the whole thing, but here’s my favorite part…

Trump’s lack of masculinity is about maturity. He is not manly because he is not a man. He is a boy.

To be a man is to be an adult, to willingly decide, as St. Paul wrote, to “put away childish things.” There’s a reason that Peter Pan is a story about a boy, and the syndrome named after it is about men. Not everyone grows up as they age. [emphases mine]

It should not be a surprise then, that Trump is a hero to a culture in which so many men are already trapped in perpetual adolescence. And especially for men who feel like life might have passed them by, whose fondest memories are rooted somewhere in their own personal Wonder Years from elementary school until high-school graduation, Trump is a walking permission slip to shrug off the responsibilities of manhood.

The appeal to indulge in such hypocrisy must be enormous. Cheat on your wife? No problem. You can trade her in for a hot foreign model 20 years younger. Is being a father to your children too onerous a burden on your schedule? Let the mothers raise them. Money troubles? Everyone has them; just tell your father to write you another check. Upset that your town or your workplace has become more diverse? Get it off your chest: Rail about women and Mexicans and African Americans at will and dare anyone to contradict you…

In the end, Trump will continue to act like a little boy, and his base, the voters who will stay with him to the end, will excuse him. When a grown man brags about being brave, it is unmanly and distasteful; when a little boy pulls out a cardboard sword and ties a towel around his neck like a cape, it’s endearing. When a rich and powerful old man whines about how unfairly he is being treated, we scowl and judge; when a little boy snuffles in his tears and says that he was bullied—treated worse than Abraham Lincoln, even—we comfort.

Donald Trump is unmanly because he has never chosen to become a man. He has weathered few trials that create an adult of any kind. He is, instead, working-class America’s dysfunctional son, and his supporters, male and female alike, have become the worried parent explaining what a good boy he is to terrorized teachers even while he continues to set fires in the hallway right outside.

I think that working men, the kind raised as I was, know what kind of “man” Trump is. And still, the gratification they get from seeing Trump enrage the rest of the country is enough to earn their indulgence. I doubt, however, that Trump gives them the same consideration. Perhaps Howard Stern, of all people, said it best: “The oddity in all of this is the people Trump despises most, love him the most. The people who are voting for Trump for the most part … He’d be disgusted by them.” The tragedy is that they are not disgusted by him in return.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Damn it just completely sucks how journalistic norms are hijacked, time and time again, for Republican ends.  Margaret Sullivan, “The media is helping Trump turn the bogus ‘Obamagate’ into the 2020 version of Clinton’s emails”

It’s becoming clear that journalists never fully reckoned with the mistakes of 2016 campaign coverage. We know this because they seem poised to repeat them.

As you may recall, the news media — from Fox News to the New York Times and plenty of others across the political spectrum — managed to make the relative molehill of Hillary Clinton’s dicey email practices into a daily obsession, roughly equal to the mountain of Donald Trump’s financial and personal transgressions.

Well, don’t look now but this is happening again before our eyes. Its name this time is “Obamagate.” That’s a moniker that, in President Trump’s outraged tweets, is rendered in all capital letters, but let’s not.

This vaporous, apparently made-up offense, according to Trump, is the political crime of the century — and, heck, last century too, because he claims that it makes the 1970s Watergate scandal look like child’s play.

As best as he’s even attempted to spell out, it supposedly involves a deep-state conspiracy by the former president and his allies to undermine Trump by being informed of the identity of the private citizen having covert and legally questionable discussions with the Russian ambassador — a citizen who turned out to be Trump’s national security adviser designate Michael Flynn.

Despite the fact that this practice is legal and normal, the nonscandal around it is getting plenty of attention.

2) Good God this Trump judges are just the worst and an absolute embarrassment to our legal system and the rule of law.  Mark Joseph Stern and Dahlia Lithwick:

 So it’s deeply troubling to see a burgeoning new trend among conservative jurists during Donald Trump’s presidency: the interjection of purely political hot takes into supposedly impartial judicial opinions. This phenomenon isn’t limited to Trump appointees. Some Trump judges have already mastered this art, but it seems to have caught on among some state judges who appear to be gunning for a promotion to the federal judiciary.

The latest example comes from Michigan, whose court of appeals blocked a ban on vaping products in the state on Thursday. Judge Mark Boonstra—an appointee of former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder—joined the majority opinion striking down the ban. But he tacked on a separate 13-page polemic attacking Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s orders shutting down schools and nonessential businesses while limiting travel within the state. Whitmer has become the target of ire from the president as well as armed protesters who have occupied the state Capitol, forcing the Legislature to shut down due to safety concerns. Boonstra is now pouring gasoline on the fire. His concurrence included an ominous proclamation: “Totalitarianism has no place in America. Has it arrived? Well, that’s a question for another day.” While pretending to take no position on this apparently open question, Boonstra then cited far-right outlets to support his thinly veiled accusation that the governor has perhaps brought “tyranny” to Michigan.

3) Jay Rosen, “The plan is to have no plan”

The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible— by telling the governors they’re in charge without doing what only the federal government can do, by fighting with the press when it shows up to be briefed, by fixing blame for the virus on China or some other foreign element, and by “flooding the zone with shit,” Steve Bannon’s phrase for overwhelming the system with disinformation, distraction, and denial, which boosts what economists call “search costs” for reliable intelligence.

Stated another way, the plan is to default on public problem solving, and then prevent the public from understanding the consequences of that default. To succeed this will require one of the biggest propaganda and freedom of information fights in U.S. history, the execution of which will, I think, consume the president’s re-election campaign. So much has already been made public that the standard script for a White House cover up (worse than the crime…) won’t apply. Instead, everything will ride on the manufacture of confusion. The press won’t be able to “expose” the plot because it will all happen in stark daylight. The facts will be known, and simultaneously they will be inconceivable.

“The plan is to have no plan” is not a strategy, really. Nor would I call it a policy. It has a kind of logic to it, but this is different from saying it has a design— or a designer. Meaning: I do not want to be too conspiratorial about this. To wing it without a plan is merely the best this government can do, given who heads the table. The manufacture of confusion is just the ruins of Trump’s personality meeting the powers of the presidency. There is no genius there, only a damaged human being playing havoc with our lives.

4) For now, NC State is adopting what seems to be the growing university consensus– early start, no breaks, finish by Thanksgiving.  I think the limiting student travel to/from campus during breaks definitely makes sense, but this whole thing being predicated on a late Fall wave seems more than dicey to me.  Trying to predict when waves of the virus may come, more than a few weeks out, seems like a real fool’s errand.

5) And damn does McSweeney’s nail what we’ve been hearing till this week:

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff —

After careful deliberation, we are pleased to report we can finally announce that we plan to re-open campus this fall. But with limitations. Unless we do not. Depending on guidance, which we have not yet received.

Please know that we eventually will all come together as a school community again. Possibly virtually. Probably on land. Maybe some students will be here? Perhaps the RAs can be let in to feed the lab rats?

We plan to follow the strictest recommended guidance from public health officials, except in any case where it might possibly limit our major athletic programs, which will proceed as usual.

We understand you may have concerns about the University’s future, but we will take this time to emphasize that academic terms are merely units of time, and here at the University, we strongly believe in the concept of time.

In this time, more than ever, it is time for strong, decisive action.

We have decided to delay our decision.

It is our decision to delay our decision so we can decide on our decision at a later decided time.

We will make our final decision on campus reopening on a date no later than the day our closest competing universities announce their decisions and no earlier than the day after we cash your fall tuition deposit checks.

The University is here for you in this trying time. If you have any questions not answered by this email, please do not hesitate to re-read this email.

The University

6) Very nice, straightforward piece from Business Insider on assessing your Covid risks.

“The general principle should be: Outside is better than inside; open is better than closed; fewer is better than more people; and stay away from sick people,” Dr. Erich Anderer, a neurosurgeon and founding member of the North Brooklyn Runners group, told Insider.

7) Also, on average, Americans are much more cautious and concerned about risks than one might gather from the media.  Good polling here in the Post:

8) Okay, there’s value in a personal essay from a parent of a young adult who had a very scary case of Covid.  But, put it in context and enough of the fearmongering, “My Son Survived Terrifying Covid-19 Complications: If schools reopen, how many kids won’t?” because all the data so far suggests the answer to her question is… very, very few.

9) If we commit to it, we can totally due the contract tracing that’s so important to controlling Covid outbreaks.  Paterson, NJ shows how it’s done.

10) Derek Thompson with the strategies we should take to be safe inside.

11) Great stuff from Frum, “The System Failed the Test of Trump: The story of recent years is of institutions that were unable to constrain the presidency.”

Have you ever known anyone swindled by a scam? It’s remarkable how determined they remain to defend the swindler, and for how long—and how they try to shift the blame to those who tried to warn them of the swindle. The pain of being seen as a fool hurts more than the loss of money; it’s more important to protect the ego against indignity than to visit justice upon the perpetrator. We human beings so often prefer a lie that affirms us to a truth that challenges us.

Americans are living now through the worst pandemic in a century and the severest economic crisis since the Great Depression. At every turn, President Donald Trump has made the crises worse. Had somebody else been president in December 2019—Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush—fewer Americans would have met untimely deaths; fewer Americans would now be unemployed; fewer businesses would be heading toward bankruptcy.

On the eve of the 2016 election, a Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist opined in The Washington Post: “If Trump wins, he’ll be held more or less in check by the House and Senate, because that’s the way our system of government is set up. Not even Republicans are eager to follow Trump’s lead.”

I cite that column—published under the headline “Calm Down. We’ll Be Fine No Matter Who Wins”—not to single it out, but precisely because it was so un-singular. The keepers of the institutions could imagine Trump testing the system. They could not imagine the system failing the test.

And yet fail it did. The story of the Trump years is a story of institutions that failed. The Department of Justice failed. The inspectors general failed. Congressional oversight failed. The national-security establishment failed. The courts failed. Trump has done things that no previous American president would ever have dared, that no previous president sank low enough even to imagine. Sometimes he was stopped, more often not. But whether stopped or not in any particular case, he has never ceased pressing ahead to do even worse the next time.

The only check remaining is that of the 2020 ballot box. Not Trump alone, but the great political party behind him, is working to ensure that election is as unfree and unfair as possible. In that effort, they have mobilized the active or tacit support of millions of Americans.

12) Good stuff from Pew, “Trust in Medical Scientists Has Grown in U.S., but Mainly Among Democrats”

Chart shows growing partisan differences over trust in medical scientists and scientists since the COVID-19 outbreak

Chart shows wide partisan differences on the role of testing and spread of coronavirus

I don’t even know what to say about a political party that engages in so much rejection of science.  They are surely not rejecting it when they go to the doctor or drink their treated municipal water.

13) Drum asks whether face shields might be better than cloth masks.  Would be great to have some more research on this as they are surely a lot more comfortable over hours of use.

14) Drum also makes the case for a good mask-wearing PSA.  Hell yeah!!  I’m actually quite frustrated by the lack of these.

15) I’ve recently become a huge fan of Bob Wachter.  Gotta love his twitter bio, “Career: What happens when a poli sci major becomes an academic physician.” Here he is on “the science and politics of masks.”

16) This Noah Smith twitter thread is amazing.  It’s a compilation of the best of twitter threads on Covid of the past week (I feltd good that I had already seen so many of these).  So much good stuff.

17) Local “experts” think swimming pools this summer are a bad idea.  But, I think that is under the presumption they will operate as normal (obviously, most places opening up are not operating as normal.  Glad the NPR experts label is a low risk.  I will be going to the pool.


18) I read a great twitter thread on best scientific discoveries of the past decade.  Lots of people mentioned Homo Naledi.  I remembered reading about this a few years ago, but had not really appreciated what an amazing discovery this was.  Now I do.

19) Loved this “micromorts” perspective on Covid risks:

Fortunately, there are tools for assessing risk that can help us put the daily torrent of numbers in perspective. I found the best way to communicate the level of risk was to put it in terms that allowed easier comparison to other, more familiar, risks. One could then talk, for instance, about how dangerous living in a contaminated city was compared to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

The average American endures about one micromort of risk per day, or one in a million chance of dying, from nonnatural causes, such as being electrocuted, dying in a car wreck or being struck by an asteroid (the list is long).

Let’s apply this concept to Covid-19.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York City experienced approximately 24,000 excess deaths from March 15 to May 9, when the pandemic was peaking. That’s 24,000 more deaths than would have normally occurred during the same time period in previous years, without this pandemic. This statistic is considered a more accurate estimate of the overall mortality risk related to Covid-19 than using the reported number of deaths resulting from confirmed cases, since it captures indirect deaths associated with Covid-19 (because of an overwhelmed health care system, for example) as well as the deaths caused by the virus itself.

Converting this to micromort language, an individual living in New York City has experienced roughly 50 additional micromorts of risk per day because of Covid-19. That means you were roughly twice as likely to die as you would have been if you were serving in the U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan throughout 2010, a particularly deadly year.

The quality of data varies from state and state, and continues to be updated. But for comparison, using the C.D.C. data, Michigan had approximately 6,200 excess deaths during this same time period. That is roughly the same risk of dying as driving a motorcycle 44 miles every day (11 micromorts per day). Living in Maryland during this time would be roughly as risky as doing one skydiving jump a day for that duration (7 micromorts per jump).

20) A lot of talk about Vitamin D and Covid.  Good summary the issue at WebMD.  Does seem quite likely that Vitamin D deficiency will be more likely to set you up for a bad case of Covid.  But Vitamin D deficiency is already not great and we’ve not actually done anything about it as a society.  But, maybe fear of Covid could work on that and lead to fewer bad cases at the margins.

21) Really good piece on how we’ve misunderstood what Sweden is actually doing, but I especially liked this part:

But even if Sweden’s policy of allowing businesses to open and people to move out and about is not that different from some policies American states have or will soon implement, there’s been one major difference: the schools. Schools for children up to age 15 have remained open, all the way down to daycares and preschool. “That makes a world of difference,” Trägårdh told me. “It’s a gender issue.”

Sweden has one of the highest rates of female participation in the labor force for rich countries. Forcing young children to stay home would put many mothers in a bind or even knock them out of the workforce entirely.

“Closing down schools works well if you are in a well-to-do, middle-class family that has a house and a garden and can afford to have one person staying at home,” Trägårdh said. “That may not look like a doable proposition if you are a single parent or do not make a lot of money.”

Shutting down daycare and schools could increase risk as well, Angner explained, by leading working parents to turn to their own parents for help. “If you close daycares, then either one parent has to stop working or grandma or grandpa shows up,” he said. But since the elderly are most at risk, it was even more important to keep schools and daycares open.

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.

Contrary to what I see in my grocery store, mask wearing is widely-supported

Really good stuff from HuffPo with a comprehensive poll on mask-wearing.  The good news is that the public is definitely broadly supportive.  Obviously, the “freedom!!” loving jerks on social media and the news get far more than their share of attention, but they are a distrinct minority:

A chart showing results from a HuffPost/YouGov survey on mask-wearing.

I think this above is generally good but most people are simply wrong.  Especially with the more common cloth masks, the science is clear that the greatest benefit is protecting others from you.  Less than a 1/3 of the public seems to get that.  I do wonder how a better understanding of that essential fact would affect all the other opinions.

A chart showing results from a HuffPost/YouGov survey on mask-wearing.

This is good, I think, but I do wonder if there’s not some social desirability bias with people saying they wear masks more than they actually do.  But, if people feel it is socially desirable to wear a mask, then, that’s great!  And, the good news, is that people really do see it as more socially desirable than not by a solid margin.

Also, what’s really cool is the site actually includes an interactive feature where you can build your own crosstabs– definitely worth playing around with.

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