Thursday, April 23, 2020

Will our response to coronavirus be so successful it'll look like an overreaction?

I've been seeing a lot of this argument: "People are going to say we overreacted to the coronavirus, but that will actually mean our reaction was effective — it worked at keeping the number of deaths down."

How many of the people making that point have also said: "People say we overreacted to the September 11 attacks because your risk of dying in a terrorist attack has been very low over the past 20 or so years, but that actually means our reaction was effective — it worked at keeping the risk of terrorism low"?

Monday, April 20, 2020

More things I'm tired of hearing about the coronavirus

🦠 "hoarding" — Whenever I see this word, I read it as: "I think I know better than other people how much of a product they should buy for themselves and their families."

🦠 "Blaming China is racist." — I'm sure many of the people who say this are also adamant that you can make a reasoned criticism of the Israeli government's policies or practices, without being anti-Semitic. And of course that's true. It's also true that you can make a reasoned criticism of the way the Chinese government dealt with the latest viral outbreak originating in that country, without having a racial or ethnic bias.

🦠 "Well, apparently you only care about your STOCKS!!!!!!!!!" — in response to anyone who suggests we should have some balance between protecting the public from this contagious disease, and not continuing to cripple the economy and keep millions of people out of work for too long. Yes, the virus has killed a lot of people. But so has poverty. And many millions of people staying unemployed for a long time is going to lead to more poverty.

(A sequel to this post.)

How the coronavirus (covid-19) is "unique"

A physician who's fully recovered from covid-19 talks about his experience:

The mornings are better, but it sort of teases folks — myself included — into thinking that it's going away. And then, boom! It comes right back. For me, that went on for eight days in a row.

The nights are so bad, because as a physician, I know what can happen. And so I would sit awake, counting the minutes until morning almost, wondering if my breathing was going to get worse and I'd end up on a ventilator. That was the horror of it.…

We don't have a proven treatment and I think that's essential to understand. It points out how spoiled we've become in the world of medicine. We have so many treatments for so many disorders that we just assume that when something pops up, we can handle this.

But the reason we can handle it for other diseases is that we've had time to do randomized trials that we haven't had time to do with COVID.…

I'm a little bit ashamed of myself, because I could have put myself into harm's way in terms of sudden death. That can happen when you use those two particular drugs [hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin] together … and I was not being monitored properly.

The take-home point is I totally get why someone who's that sick would want something, because doing nothing is very, very difficult.

On the other hand, we really do need randomized controlled trials to tell us the truth of what the drug regimen does or does not do, and what its safety profile is. Until we have that, we're really trying to fly an airplane in fog without instruments.…

The infection is not like the flu that hits you all at once. These symptoms sort of gradually creep up on folks, and then it crescendos.…

Read the whole interview here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Bernie Sanders to drop out; Joe Biden is the presumptive nominee

Bernie Sanders will be suspending his second presidential campaign, according to the Washington Post.

Congratulations to Joe Biden on becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee and the only remaining candidate posing a serious challenge to President Trump’s reelection bid. Every other Democratic candidate has dropped out and will be supporting Biden.

Biden wasn’t my first, second, or third choice. But everyone like me who wants to make Trump a one-term president should vote for the Democratic nominee in November 2020.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Peggy Noonan on 3 things we've learned from the coronavirus pandemic

Peggy Noonan writes in a Wall Street Journal piece called "New York Is the Epicenter of the World":

New York

I asked for the dateline in pride for my beloved city. For the third time in 20 years it’s been the epicenter of a world-class crisis—9/11, the 2008 financial crisis and now the 2020 pandemic. No one asks… Why us? We think: Why not us? Of course us. The city of the skyscrapers draws the lightning. There are 8.6 million of us, we are compact, draw all the people of the world, and travel packed close in underground tubes.… The crises are the price we pay for the privilege of living in the most exciting little landmass on the face of the Earth.

What do we know? That we’ll get through it. We’ll learn a lot and it will be hard but we’ll get through, just like all the last times.
While that's an inspiring sentiment and I assume she's right that "we" as an overall collective will get through it, we should always remember that many of the individuals who make up that "we" did not get through it.

Noonan offers two more "thoughts about the meaning and implications of the pandemic." One is about immigration:
Public sentiment will back harder borders and a new path to citizenship for illegal immigrants living here.

Global pandemics do nothing to encourage lax borders. As to illegal immigrants, you have seen who’s delivering the food, stocking the shelves, running the hospital ward, holding your hand when you’re on the ventilator. It is the newest Americans, immigrants, and some are here illegally.

They worked through an epidemic and kept America going. Some in the immigration debate have argued, “They have to demonstrate they deserve citizenship”—they need to pay punitive fines, jump through hoops. “They need to earn it.”

Ladies and gentlemen, look around. They did.

Here is where the debate is going. When it’s over, if you can show in any way you worked through the great pandemic of ’20, you will be given American citizenship. With a note printed on top: “With thanks from a grateful nation.”
Relatedly, here's the latest cover of the New Yorker (here's an interview with the artist, Pascal Campion — clicking on that might limit your New Yorker articles if you don't subscribe):

Noonan's last point:
The hidden gift in this pandemic is that this isn’t the most terrible one, the next one or some other one down the road is. This is the one where we learn how to handle that coming pandemic. We are well into the age of global contagions but this is the first time we fully noticed, stopped short, actually reordered our country to fight it.

This is when we learn what worked, what decision made it better or worse, what stockpiles are needed, what can be warehoused, where research dollars must be targeted....

Knowledge of how to handle a coming, more difficult pandemic is being gained now, by all of us.

This animated graph shows you how fast the coronavirus is overtaking other causes of death

Did you notice that everyone who likened the coronavirus to the flu* (or other causes of death) always left out one thing? They always left out the rate at which the coronavirus was increasing. Watch this animated graph to see how fast Covid-19 has grown over time relative to other causes of death in the US. (This goes up to April 3; I hope it keeps getting updated.)

* I use the past tense because not many people are seriously doing this anymore.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Bill Withers (1938 - 2020) 🎹

Bill Withers, the soul singer/songwriter/pianist, has died. The New York Times reports:

Bill Withers, a onetime Navy aircraft mechanic who after teaching himself to play the guitar wrote some of the most memorable and often-covered songs of the 1970s, including “Lean on Me,” “Use Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” died on Monday in Los Angeles. He was 81.

His death was announced in a statement from his family, which said he died of “heart complications.”

More from the obituary:
Mr. Withers, who had an evocative, gritty R&B voice that could embody loss or hope, was in his 30s when he released his first album, “Just as I Am,” in 1971. It included “Ain’t No Sunshine,” a mournful lament (“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone/And she’s always gone too long/Anytime she goes away”) that cracked the Billboard Top 10. Other hits followed, perhaps none better known than “Lean on Me,” an anthem of friendship and support that hit No. 1 in 1972 and has been repurposed countless times by a wide variety of artists.

There were also “Use Me” (1972), “Lovely Day” (1977) and “Just the Two of Us” (1981), among other hits. But after the 1985 album “Watching You Watching Me,” frustrated with the music business, Mr. Withers stopped recording and performing.

“I wouldn’t know a pop chart from a Pop-Tart,” he told Rolling Stone in 2015, when he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The New York Times on how he got started:
William Harrison Withers Jr. was born on July 4, 1938, in Slab Fork, W.Va. His father worked in the coal mines.

At 17, eager to avoid a coal-mine career himself, Mr. Withers joined the Navy....

He spent nine years in the service, some of it stationed in Guam. He quit the Navy in 1965, while stationed in California, and eventually got a job at an airplane parts factory. A visit to a club to see Lou Rawls perform was a catalyst for changing his life.

“I was making $3 an hour, looking for friendly women, but nobody found me interesting,” he said. “Then Rawls walked in, and all these women are talking to him.”

He bought a cheap guitar at a pawnshop, started learning to play it and writing songs, and eventually recorded a demo. Clarence Avent, a music executive who had just founded an independent label, Sussex, took note and set him up with the keyboardist Booker T. Jones, of Booker T. & the MG’s, to produce an album.

“Bill came right from the factory and showed up in his old brogans and his old clunk of a car with a notebook full of songs,” Mr. Jones told Rolling Stone. “When he saw everyone in the studio, he asked to speak to me privately and said, ‘Booker, who is going to sing these songs?’ I said, ‘You are, Bill.’ He was expecting some other vocalist to show up.”

Roger Ebert wrote this about Still Bill, a 2010 documentary about Withers:
"Still Bill" is about a man who topped the charts, walked away from it all in 1985 and is pleased that he did.

He didn't burn out. He hasn't burned out. He was free of the demons of drink and drugs. He is still happily married to his first and only wife. His grown kids still live at home -- Kori, who would like to follow her dad into music, and Todd, who is a law student. Marcia, his wife, has her MBA from UCLA and has manifestly looked after their finances, as we can guess after a look around their rambling hilltop home in a high-priced area of Los Angeles.…

He had a serious stutter until he was 20. We don't learn why it went away. Maybe music helped. The most emotional scenes in "Still Bill" show him accepting an award from a stutterers' association, and then talking with a roomful of kids who stutter. His advice is calm: He identifies with them, he observes that stuttering can make other people nervous, he says "we have to go just that little bit further to help them feel at ease."

He wipes away some tears in his eyes, and we suspect they have been unshed since childhood. Later he recalls being taunted to "spit it out!" -- as if stuttering were his decision. He says he decided while young to make the most of his opportunities, and did. He studied, joined the Navy, didn't own a guitar until 1970, and achieved his first hit record, "Ain't No Sunshine," in 1971.

Withers wasn't part of mainstream soul music. He used a few instruments -- guitar, bass, drums, piano -- and no driving beat. He depended on his pure baritone and his lyrics. Listen again to "Ain't No Sunshine," and you realize it is a rarity: a hit song that is essentially just a man singing.

Ebert was critical of only one part of the documentary:
Perhaps in an attempt to slip some "meaning" into the film, the documentarians Damani Baker and Alex Vlack arrange a conversation with the scholar Cornel West and Tavis Smiley from PBS. It feels like they're trying to lead Bill into heavy generalizations, but he won't go there. Withers seems as close to everyday Zen as I can imagine. He talks a great deal about his philosophy, to be sure, but it's direct and manifestly true: Make the most of your chances, do the best you can, stop when you're finished, love your family, enjoy life.

At 70, he sings once in the film, at a tribute to him in Brooklyn. And in his home recording studio, he and guitarist and songwriter Raul Midon collaborate on a song in Spanish, which I liked. He still has the voice, the chops and the presence. But he doesn't feel a need to spend days and weeks away from home proving that.... "I'm like pennies in your pocket," he says. "You know they're there, but you don't think about them."

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

One silver lining of this whole coronavirus thing ...

... has been the way it's vindicated all the political opinions you already had and totally destroyed the political opinions of people on the other side from you.