Covid 19

Scientists Seek to Collect Ice Core Samples Before Glaciers and Ice Sheets Melt

Yves here. As Covid-19 stories and Festival of Kamala fade a bit, the latest phase of long-running trends comes back into focus. This piece ties into other reports this week, of the melting of the Greenland ice sheet having hit the point of no return, and then the death of the revered glaciologist “Koni” Steffen.

I have to confess I had no idea how much planning it takes to perform an ice core study.

By Kristen Pope, an Idaho-based freelance writer who frequently covers science and conservation-related topics. Originally published at Yale Climate Connections

Lonnie Thompson of Ohio State on 2019 Huascaran expedition (Photo credit: Todd Johnston)
Scientists are rushing to sample the cores of rapidly melting glaciers and ice sheets, hoping to preserve a rich record of changes in Earth’s atmosphere and biosphere over the eons. Ice cores contain evidence of trace elements, gas bubbles, dust, pollen, even viruses and bacteria that can be traced back in time to yield vivid images of Earth’s history and prehistory for those who learn to read them.

“Just about anything that’s in the atmosphere gets recorded in the ice,” says Lonnie Thompson, glaciologist and paleoclimatologist at Ohio State University. Thompson has led more than 60 expeditions to sample ice cores from glaciers and ice sheets in a career spanning over four decades. Some sites he has drilled – including glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro and in Indonesia – have already melted and vanished. Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center at Ohio State holds thousands of meters of preserved ice cores, safely stored in sub-zero freezers. Studying the ice has already yielded secrets of Earth’s past related to volcanic activity, changing vegetation and even human manufacturing techniques.

Hoping to add to the collection, Thompson and other researchers are racing to obtain and preserve ice core samples from remote and, for now at least, still icy places around the globe. They hope to find clues that can help learn about that past, and scientists can use ice core samples and the data they contain to test and verify climate change models to better predict the future.

They also hope that preserving the cores will provide future scientists with samples that they can analyze with technology that may not even exist yet. Thompson can envision a day when samples he has collected now can allow future scientists to answer questions people have not yet even thought to ask.

As glaciers and ice sheets form and layers of snow accumulate, the ice slowly spreads out, compressing the layers and thinning over time. Those layers tell stories about the past, much like rings on a tree record signs of fires, drought years, and seasons of ample precipitation. Similarly, the dust in ice core samples contains information about volcanic eruptions and gives clues about droughts, pollen records, and crop and vegetation changes. Scientists studying ice core samples can even learn how past plagues changed society and culture. Researchers found that ice samples dating back to the plague of the 1300s contained less leadthan would otherwise be expected, indicating a temporary reduction in smelting and industry during the time.

Thompson and some other scientists believe the COVID-19 pandemic may be observable in future ice core samples. Quarantines and restricted movement led to a reduction in pollution as people stayed home and industry slowed. Sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and other emissions were reduced in many areas, if only temporarily. Future glaciologists may be able to detect lower levels of nitrates and sulfates in ice, providing a unique snapshot in time.

Facing Extreme Challenges

Studying ice cores isn’t for the faint of heart. Researchers must travel to Earth’s most isolated regions to collect samples, from Greenland and Antarctica to the slopes of tropical mountains with rapidly melting glaciers. It is always challenging logistically to get a team of researchers to where the ice is, and ice coring work typically occurs in extreme conditions.

“It’s a truly bizarre and wonderful experience,” said Richard Alley, Penn State glaciologist and geologist. In over 40 years studying ice, Alley has spent a lot of time braving extreme weather in polar regions. He has been rewarded with otherworldly scenes while collecting samples and data.

“The central part of an ice sheet is pretty subtle. There are snow drifts, and then there’s the ice sheet and there’s nothing else – it’s just flat. You go to a place where often the sun never sets – it starts going around in circles – and it’s snow, and then it’s snow, and it’s snow and that’s all it is.”

Working with fragile scientific equipment in the most remote stretches of the globe leads to its own set of challenges. Researchers have to be resilient, flexible, and creative.

“The field is hard,” Alley says. “Drilling a two-mile-long core of ice is hard. Things always are going to go wrong. The people who do the drilling, the science team, and the whole group just show amazing levels of resilience and innovation to try to get these things built.” He notes they return to their homes and laboratories with the data and ice cores they came for, but he says, “it doesn’t always start working the way it was supposed to.”

Alley says samples from his projects are typically shipped to the National Ice Core Laboratory in Lakewood, Colorado. There, researchers carefully slice the cores, providing samples to various teams who perform analyses of everything from dust to isotopes. They also are able to melt a sample from the inner core – a location where it could not have been contaminated by touching anything – and they carefully analyze the stream of meltwater.

Alley’s work mainly focuses on the poles – both the Arctic and Antarctic – and he finds some advantages to those research locations, including often being able to fly directly to the research site via ski-equipped aircraft. However, he also points out the necessity of assessing ice samples in other parts of the world. “The poles are easier in a lot of ways – there’s no meltwater, it’s cold, and you can get really, really nice records,” he says. “But it’s really valuable to be able to get closer to where people are.”

Even with the Best-Laid Plans, Surprises Are Common

While conducting research in largely uninhabited polar regions presents an array of challenges, so too does working in the tropics.

Researchers spend years preparing for an ice core drilling project, and Thompson says it can take four or five years of planning and preparation before it’s time to head to a field location to collect data. During this time, he says, researchers work on putting a capable team together, sourcing all the equipment they will need, embarking on a massive logistics effort, and working with national and local governments as well as local people. But despite their preparatory efforts, trips don’t always go as planned.

In 2019, Thompson’s team of researchers was on the Peruvian mountain of Huascarán when they received word they needed to leave the mountain within 12 hours because locals did not want them there. With teams spread out over the mountain, Thompson explained that the time frame was impossible to meet and negotiated for two days to extract his team. Leaving the mountain in a hurry, the team was forced to leave ice cores and equipment behind, hoping they could retrieve them later.

Thompson met with local people to learn more about their concerns. He learned local residents mistakenly believed his team was planning on developing a gold mine and extracting resources. They were concerned about potential pollution, and when they heard about the ice drilling project, they were upset foreigners were taking ice and removing it from Peru. He says the locals were also concerned that Peru’s president came to visit the drilling site via helicopter, bypassing the local villages and not listening to peoples’ concerns about an array of issues – including those unrelated to the scientific research.

Ultimately, the discussions resulted in Thompson’s receiving permission to remove his team’s equipment and the ice cores from the mountain with the assistance of an Mi-17 helicopter from the Peruvian government.

On a 2010 expedition to a mountain in New Guinea, Thompson’s team was planning to drill an ice core from a glacier on a rainforest mountain. A warming world meant the glacier was in imminent peril and, if they didn’t obtain samples soon, they might never have the chance. While they received governmental permits and authorization, they soon learned when they arrived in the area that tribal leaders were not on board with the project. Thompson engaged in discussions with people, hoping to find a solution.

“In the religion of this tribe the arms and legs of their god are the mountains and the valleys, and the head of the god is the glacier,” Thompson explains. “And, in their words, we were drilling into the skull of their god to steal their memories. And I said, that’s exactly what we’re doing – we are trying to capture those memories before they disappear because these glaciers will disappear.”

He recalls how tribal members discussed the situation, with elders saying the glaciers would always be there and younger members explaining the glaciers were actually retreating rapidly.

By the end of the meeting, the tribes granted permission to continue with the project, drilling the ice cores and bringing them back to Ohio to keep them – and the knowledge they contain – safe for future generations.

Preserving Ice-Locked Records Before They Disappear Forever

Part of the reason researchers believe it is so important to preserve ice core samples while they still exist is so future scientists can one day use technologies perhaps not even imagined today to further analyze them.

“The beauty of ice is that it records everything that is in the environment,” Thompson says. “Unfortunately in today’s world, and in the future, many of these archives are going to disappear and we will lose that history.”

Editor’s Note:  Considered among the very top tier of the world’s most respected glaciologists, Thompson and Alley share some common bonds: Each is a Member of the National Academy of Sciences, and each has been an author and/or subject of public broadcasting documentaries and books. Thompson is a 2005 winner of the National Medal of Science, awarded by the President of the United States. Alley, widely recognized as a highly innovative and charismatic climate science communicator, is the force behind the PBS documentary “Earth: The Operators’ Manual” and the companion book.

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Covid 19

Universal Testing: An Overlooked Covid-19 Policy Response

Yves here. Universal testing and isolation were the South Korea approach, except they geared up so quickly, their testing only had to be aggressive and extensive.

By Reda Cherif and Fuad Hasanov, Senior Economists at the IMF. Originally published at VoxEU

Lockdown measures, contact tracing, and widespread testing have dominated the policy responses of many countries to the Covid-19 crisis. This column argues that a universal testing and isolation policy is the most viable way to vanquish the pandemic. Its implementation requires an epidemiological, rather than clinical, approach to testing, and requires the ramping up of testing kit production in order to achieve a scale and speed that the market alone would fail to provide. The estimated cost of universal testing is dwarfed by its return, mitigating the economic fallout of the pandemic.

The world is racing against time to vanquish Covid-19, the disease resulting from the novel coronavirus that spread rapidly across the world in early 2020. After millions of cases and hundreds of thousands of deaths (Johns Hopkins University 2020), extraordinary strains on healthcare and medical personnel, national lockdowns, and economic fallouts unseen since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the world has yet to see the emergence of a viable global strategy (Baldwin and Weder di Mauro 2020a, 2020b).

A Return to Normalcy

As lockdowns were implemented to ‘flatten the curve’, the debate about saving lives or saving jobs ensued (Chang and Velasco 2020). However, the policy debate should be about expanding the frontier of how much economic activity could be pursued while keeping the epidemic in check (Budish 2020). What is needed is an assessment of the viability of policies in terms of the speed of reopening the economy with minimal restrictions, the efficiency in keeping the epidemic in check in different contexts (advanced versus emerging and low-income countries), as well as policy cost. Keeping minimal restrictions on the majority of economic activities is key to ensuring policy viability. Policies based solely on strict non-pharmaceutical interventions (e.g. full or age- and geography-dependent lockdowns) would not be viable as they would slow down the epidemic, while not helping reopen economies fully and safely. Many of these measures, such as lockdowns or contact tracing, would also be difficult to implement in developing countries, or past a certain epidemic stage.

We argue that the most viable way to vanquish the pandemic is a universal testing and isolation policy (Cherif and Hasanov, 2020). Using a modified Susceptible, Infected, and Recovered (SIR) model with R0 of 3 and a 25 percent leakage of the quarantined, we argue that a continuous universal testing and isolation of the infected would keep the epidemic in check. Combined with “smart” testing strategies such as group (pooling individual samples for testing) and periodic testing as opposed to random testing (e.g., using blocks of population by a geographic grid) the testing rate required would be about 5 percent of the population per day instead of 20–30 percent of the population with random and individual tests.

An epidemiological Approach to Testing

To succeed, policymakers should adopt an epidemiological, rather than clinical, approach to testing, sacrificing accuracy (sensitivity and specificity) for scalability, convenience, and speed. The aim of this approach is to identify (and isolate) ‘enough’ infected individuals, rather than to provide a precise clinical diagnosis. Rapid serological tests for antibodies (IgM) or antigens, which are similar to pregnancy tests, and Point-of-Care (POC) rapid molecular tests could be good candidates to reach a large share of the population. Including ‘symptom-based’ tests to identify infected patients could further reduce the number of required tests to below 5%. This type of ‘test’ (including fever measurement) could be implemented immediately, albeit at the cost of isolating many false positives, but still at a fraction of the cost of a lockdown.

Universal testing could be further complemented with other ‘smart strategies’. Mobility restrictions in and out of urban centres could help reduce contagion across cities and regions, and minimise the number of tests needed overall. In an SIR model with mobility and universal testing, we show that with the same testing rates, restricting movement to ‘the hub’ by 75% reduces infections from day 1. In contrast, reducing movements to any grid by 75%, or to all grids by 25%, results in a resurgence of infections, or ‘second wave’ (Figure 1). This approach promotes the idea of ‘urban villages’, and minimises restrictions on economic activities. In the same vein, prioritising potential infection clusters (e.g. hospitals, care homes, prisons, schools, and public gatherings) could reduce the spread of the virus spread substantially, since approximately 20% of infected cases generate around 80% of subsequent transmissions due to ‘super-spreader events’ (Adam and Cowling 2020). Light non-pharmaceutical intervention measures such as maintaining distance in public and mask wearing could further reduce transmission rates.

Figure 1 An SIR model with mobility across four grids: Travel restrictions by (1-a) percent (grid 1 is a hub)

To ‘squash the curve’, universal periodic testing needs to be continuous, until a safe vaccine or a cure is developed. An early warning system could help monitor and control the spread of the infection. Alternative methods could be used to detect infection clusters, such as testing for the virus in sewage systems, a method used to assess the vaccination campaign against polio (Mallapaty 2020).

Countries or regions that have used large-scale testing have slowed the epidemic substantially. At the onset, South Korea conducted widespread testing that helped it keep the epidemic spread in check (Cheong 2020). In Italy, the region of Veneto achieved a much slower progression of the epidemic, mostly due to its large-scale testing and isolation (which included asymptomatic people), in comparison to Lombardy. The small town of Vò (in Veneto) conducted universal testing of its population and isolated the infected before and after the two-week lockdown; the virus was wiped out as a result (Zingales 2020).

Although there is a growing chorus of voices arguing that testing is key, there is no consensus on how much testing is needed (Romer 2020a, 2020b, Siddarth and Weyl 2020, Baldwin 2020, Berger et al. 2020, Brotherhood et al. 2020, Eichenbaum et al. 2020, Bethune and Korinek 2020, Acemoglu et al. 2020, and Piguillem and Shi 2020). Our own simulation results – about 5% of the population per day – call for a smaller number of periodic tests than Romer (2020b), and a broadly similar number of tests as proposed by Siddarth and Weyl (2020), in order to keep the epidemic in check. Testing rates in many countries (including smaller economies) fall far below these rates. By late June 2020, the maximum daily (on a 7-day rolling average) population testing rates have been achieved by Luxembourg (0.9 percent), Bahrain and Iceland (0.5%), and Denmark and Lithuania (0.25%) (Roser et al. 2020).

Universal Testing Is Feasible

Although experts agree on its ability to ‘squash the curve’, universal testing has not gained much traction because it has been considered ‘infeasible’. Indeed, the sheer number of tests needed compared to current production in each country, and the difficulty of scaling up collecting and processing samples, could suggest that this task is impossible (e.g. Kofler and Baylis 2020, Rose 2020). Huge shortages of ventilators and personal protective equipment across the world, including in many advanced economies, seem to confirm this view (e.g. Azmeh 2020, Bradley 2020).

The perception of the infeasibility of universal testing stems from the adoption of a clinical approach to testing, as well as a laissez faire approach to production. Even the rate of approximately 5% of population a day (with a smart epidemiological approach and cheaper tests) would still be far beyond the existing production capacity of most countries and could seem infeasible if one ignores market failures.

Indeed, the market for tests in the context of a raging pandemic is laden with market failures stemming from uncertainty, capacity constraints, coordination failures, externalities, and market power. Industrial policy is needed to correct these failures (Cherif and Hasanov 2019) and ramp up the production of tests. We sketch such a strategy to define clear objectives in terms of testing rates. Policymakers should: set up an appropriate institutional apparatus to coordinate government agencies and the private sector along the whole value chain, align incentives (e.g. financing and intellectual property), and enforce accountability when support is provided (Cherif and Hasanov 2020).

The feasibility of a rapid scale-up in the production of tests is akin to war mobilisation efforts during WWII, when the US and the Soviet Union drastically increased their production of military equipment at an unprecedented scale and in a record amount of time. For example, ammunition factories were built from scratch in as little as three months. The existential threat of war motivated policymakers to spring into action. Although not trivial, the current task is minuscule in comparison, yet the danger of an endemic pandemic is real and entails enormous costs. The global cost of testing is only a small fraction (about 1-2 months) of the 2020 global economic losses and fiscal stimulus (about $20 trillion). To put this into perspective, the number of testing kits needed is only a fraction of the number of soft drink cans consumed globally (about a trillion per year), as Romer (2020b) has also pointed out for the US.

Global support and coordination could make universal testing possible. Similar to the huge government resources invested in vaccine development, the same strategy is needed to develop rapid and convenient tests. If enough firms pool their resources (and there is substantial public funding, support, and coordination), most countries could meet the demand for tests relatively fast. Recent developments give hope that a vaccine, or a cure, could be found within a year, but there is no guarantee. Betting only on a safe vaccine or a cure to vanquish the pandemic illustrates the ‘incredible certitude’ of policymakers (Manski 2019). With the enormous costs and risks of a protracted crisis (especially in developing countries), universal testing, which could be implemented in a matter of months, would be a viable alternative strategy.

Authors’ note: The views expressed in this column are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the IMF, its Executive Board, or IMF management.

See original post for references

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Covid 19

The A Levels Results Crisis and the Covid Education Train Wreck

Yves here. Many of you in the US likely missed the A level testing algo fiasco. Here is the short version, from the Financial Times yesterday:

The government is under mounting pressure to come to the aid of secondary school pupils in England after almost 40 per cent of A-level grades were downgraded from teachers’ predictions.

Amid an angry backlash from pupils and teachers, opposition parties and trade unions led calls for ministers to review how A-level results were modified by examination regulators using a computer algorithm.

But Boris Johnson, prime minister, defended the contentious arrangements aimed at preventing unwarranted grade inflation, saying there had been a “robust” marking system.

With exams cancelled because of the coronavirus crisis, A-level results released on Thursday were calculated through a two-part process: teachers estimated pupils’ grades, and then Ofqual, the watchdog, moderated the qualifications through statistical modelling that factored in schools’ past performance, among other considerations.

And a related Financial Times story alludes to the fact, as has no doubt occurred to many US parents, how Covid-19 is further reducing already low class mobility. Only a small subset of kids are motivated enough to take online study to heart; the most affluent can hire tutors; some but not very many parents have the breadth of knowledge, time, and temperament to home school.

Sarah Akintunde admits to being “scared”. The 18-year-old from Romford in Essex hopes to study law at Oxford university from September but needs Thursday’s A-level results to deliver top grades to do so.

If that prospect was already daunting, the disruption of coronavirus and the scrapping of exams this year, in favour of a series of statistical assessments, means that the future for the 700,000 A-level students due to get their results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland this week is even more uncertain than normal….

The stakes are particularly high for students from ethnic minorities, like Ms Akintunde, those from low-income backgrounds and from other groups traditionally under-represented in higher education — including white working class boys, Roma and mature students.

The barriers that students from these backgrounds face remain formidable. Data from the Office for Students, the university regulator, show that those admitted to Oxford and Cambridge are around 15 times less likely to come from the UK’s poorest districts than its richest ones. Across more than 25 of the more prestigious universities from Birmingham to York, young people from the richest areas of the country are on average four times more likely to attend than those from the poorest…

Even before coronavirus — and despite more than £550m being spent annually on boosting access — progress had been slow. The share of students from the least wealthy fifth of British districts attending higher education has risen from 11.6 per cent to 12 per cent in the past five years; and for black students from 5.8 per cent to 6.6 per cent. Universities such as Oxford had announced bold plans this year to expand their intake of students from low-income backgrounds.

Now, there is concern that coronavirus threatens to reverse even the small progress that has been made. The fear, among teachers and specialists is that less privileged school leavers will receive lower grades given that the marking algorithms deployed to substitute for written exams are based partly on a school’s past record rather than the individual’s potential.

Richard Murphy worries that Covid-19 interrupted public education won’t go away any time soon, and authorities and gatekeepers aren’t prepared.

By Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant and a political economist. He has been described by the Guardian newspaper as an “anti-poverty campaigner and tax expert”. He is Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at City University, London and Director of Tax Research UK. He is a non-executive director of Cambridge Econometrics. He is a member of the Progressive Economy Forum. Originally published at Tax Research UK

make no apology for returning to the A level theme that I have noted for a couple of days. This blog is a stream of consciousness, as much as anything. It represents my reaction to world events, and in my world this has been a big deal for the last few days. My son and I are, we now know, amongst the lucky ones. We could celebrate last night, and not all could.

This year’s results are not, however, my main concern this morning. Next year’s are. And they are just as important to those who will be taking them as this years have been to people like my son. The prospect that those results will be severely impacted by the coronavirus crisis is very real. And that is an issue I have not seen anyone mention in the mainstream media as yet.

There is an assumption that this year’s results will be aberrational: a disruption in an otherwise smooth flow of results that would otherwise exist from 2019 to 2021, but that is not true. In fact, it is likely to be very far from it. I can, in fact, make a fairly confident set of predictions right now, presuming that there are A level exams in 2021, and nothing should be taken for granted at present.

The first is that students from private schools will perform at way above average level. Their schooling has been relatively uninterrupted during the summer term of 2020, largely because it was reasonable for those schools to presume that every pupil could partake in online learning.

Second, and inversely, state school performance will be worse. They could not deliver a continuing curriculum during a crucial term, or provide the exam training that is, rightly or wrongly, a key part of that team’s work for their pupils. Those pupils will not be as well prepared as is desirable as a result. That is the consequence of their inability to assume all pupils could access online learning.

And third, the impact noted in my second point will be exaggerated by income factors. The lower a pupil’s parental income is likely to be the harder access to education during the last term was also likely to be, through lack of IT resource, uninterrupted space to study, and so on.

As a result it is entirely possible to say now, and with absolute certainty, that next year’s A level results will not see a return to normal.

It is equally certain that those results will be heavily biased in favour of those pupils with the best off parents, and most especially those who have attended private schools.

It follows that without allowing for this fact the 2021 A level results will fail next year’s sixth formers, and most especially those from lower income households attending state schools. That means planning to correct for this has to start now, unless the government is indifferent to the injustice this will give rise to.

And nor will the problem end there. Those aged 15 who will be taking GCSEs next year are also impacted by this. The consequences will flow through to their post 16 choices and A levels. There is very likely impact in that case until the 2023 A level results, at least.

My question in that case is a simple one, and is what is to be done about this, unless we are to be indifferent to the resulting prejudice? This year’s mess can be dismissed as a fiasco, even if an utterly arbitrarily unfair one. But next year’s issue is wholly anticipatable, because I am doing that now. It cannot be avoided in that case. And I suggest that the injustice cannot be avoided either.

So what is to be done? I have no answers, at least as yet. I do not claim that I can formulate answers to every problem I can foresee arising. But unless this issue is addressed now the scale of the anger at the injustices that will result will be even greater than this year, where some degree of forgiveness for the mess is at least possible on the part of some. Next year there will be no such tolerance.

The key issue is that we are not going back to normal.

And that means that ministers need to prepare for that reality.

And so, too, does everyone else.

The post-Covid world is not going to be the same as the pre-Covid one. We need to embrace that reality. Few have. And ministers do not appear to be amongst those few. It’s time they rose to the challenge, and prepared the ground. How society develops from here depends upon them doing so.

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Covid 19

Links 8/14/2020

Insect apocalypse? Not so fast, at least in North America LiveScience

Why the Mauritius oil spill is so serious BBC

COVID-19 gives Sri Lanka’s threatened elephants a reprieve Channel News Asia

Feds say Yale discriminates against Asian, white applicants AP

Syracuse University Warns Students That They May Be Punished For Not Acting To Confront “Bias Motivated” Speech or Conduct Jonathan Turley

A California appeals court just ruled that Amazon is legally liable for defective products sold on its site by third parties Business Insider


Comparison of Estimated Excess Deaths in New York City During the COVID-19 and 1918 Influenza Pandemics JAMA. From the discussion:

This cohort study found that the absolute increase in deaths over baseline (ie, excess mortality) observed during the peak of 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic was higher than but comparable to that observed during the first 2 months of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City.

However, because baseline mortality rates from 2017 to 2019 were less than half that observed from 1914 to 1917 (owing to improvements in hygiene and modern achievements in medicine, public health, and safety), the relative increase during early COVID-19 period was substantially greater than during the peak of the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic.

Not “just the flu”…

‘We’ve hit the iceberg’: NCAA medical adviser warns as fall season sinks Politico and CDC director warns of ‘worst fall’ in history if people don’t follow COVID-19 guidelines The Hill

Coronavirus: Nearly two-thirds of Auckland’s COVID-19 border, isolation staff had never been tested a week ago NewsHub. Holy moley!

The Coronavirus Is Never Going Away The Atlantic

Why the U.S. Is Losing the War On COVID-19 Time. Good, but omits health care-for-profit and federalism. Too much about “leadership,” too little about systems.

Biden, Harris call for all states to mandate masks after first joint Covid-19 briefing Politico. Not substantively different from what Trump is doing.

‘It’s Not Who Has the Most Deaths; It’s Who’s Doing What to Prevent the Spread’ FAIR

COVID-19 vaccine will be free for Americans: officials Agence France Presse

What looks like aerosol tranmission in three other choirs. Thread:

From May, still germane; we now have additional examples besides the Skagit Valley Chorale. (Two are from non-English language sources.)

Prince George’s County Is Limiting Free COVID-19 Tests DCist. Take that, worker bees.

The Disproportionate Effects of COVID-19 on Households with Children Liberty Street Economics

Escalating Plunder New Left Review

Covid-19 is causing a microcredit crunch The Economist


China’s days as world’s factory are over due to trade war, iPhone maker Foxconn says Straits Times

China’s debt collection firms flourishing as coronavirus batters economy South China Morning Post

After 500 Years Trying to Tame Fatal Floods, China Tries a New Way Bloomberg. Impermeable surfaces are bad!

Two countries, one oligarchy? A long and fascinating thread about Chinese real estate dealings:

Jakarta is returning: The ‘neoliberal cookbook’ that guides Indonesia’s Omnibus Bill Lausan

The Koreas

Bus stop newest front in South Korea’s coronavirus battle Medical Express


Israel and the UAE just struck a historic peace deal. It’s a big win for Trump. Vox. If this were Obama, there’d be already be a chorus of full-throated calls to give him a second Nobel.

UAE and Israel to establish full diplomatic ties AP

* * *

US official says FBI joining Beirut explosion investigation Al Jazeera

Who owned the chemicals that blew up Beirut? No one will say Reuters

Report: Welders Set Off Beirut Blast While Securing Explosives The Maritime Executive


Brexit: Johnson’s ‘dead body’ EU Referendum


The PPE debacle shows what Britain is built on: rentier capitalism Guardian

The Russian Interference Report, Without Laughing Craig Murray

Algorithms are no substitute for professional judgement: No. 10 needs to take note Tax Research UK


US attorney general may be using Assange case for political ends, court told Guardian. “Chaotic arrangements.”

Bolivia’s perfect storm: Pandemic, economic crisis, repressive coup regime Monthly Review Online

New Cold War

Operational Space as an Imperative of Russian Foreign Policy Valdai Discussion Club

West’s response to Russian vaccine owes as much to geopolitics as science FT

Vietnam Health Ministry to buy Russian Covid-19 vaccine Straits Times

Trump Transition

Senate breaks for August recess with no coronavirus deal in sight Roll Call

White House Says No Plan to End Payroll Tax Permanently Bloomberg. Good to see all sides accept that Federal taxes pay for Federal spending. That will come in handy when it comes time to impose austerity.

Payroll tax deferral looks like a whole lot of nothing AEI

* * *

Mail sorting equipment being “removed” from post offices, leaving mail to “pile up”: union leader Salon. Since the House Democrats have gone on vacation, and since they didn’t rescue the Post Office in the first stimulus bill, when they had leverage, they are fine with this.

Trump Opposes Postal Service Funding But Says He’d Sign Bill Including It NPR (but see here from 2013).

Postmaster general under fire over Amazon stock holdings The Verge (Re Silc).


AOC Only Gets 60 Seconds At Democratic Convention To Deliver Pre-Recorded Message Forbes. Commentary:

The Wikipedia War That Shows How Ugly This Election Will Be The Atlantic (Re Silc).

Big Brother Is Watching You Watch

The Internet as a Cold War Weapon Yasha Levine, Immigrants as a Weapon

Class Warfare

Another huge unemployment wave is coming—and there’s an obvious way to stop it Sara Nelson, Fortune

Some people are still waiting for a stimulus check to arrive: What’s the holdup? USA Today

Collaborative Approach To Public Goods Investments (CAPGI): Lessons Learned From A Feasibility Study Health Affairs

The Fallacy of the Civic Champion Ross Barkan, Political Currents

Did they even hang bears? LRB. On the Vikings.

A Lot of What Is Known about Pirates Is Not True, and a Lot of What Is True Is Not Known. Humanities (AL).

Antidote du jour (CV):

Imaginary feeders with real hummingbirds…

See yesterday’s Links and Antidote du Jour here.

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Covid 19

Summer Rerun: Journey Into a Libertarian Future: Part I –The Vision

Yves here. Your humble blogger is a bit wiped out, plus the news offerings of the later part of this week feel like the real world analogue to Hollywood: too many warmed over franchises, not enough fresh productions. I’m already tired of Kamala Harris, for instance, and even the impasse over the next stimulus package is feeling old. Mind you, that’s become even more serious since the Senate has adjourned till after Labor Day. For instance, the Federal eviction moratorium has expired, leaving any respite up to states and cities. So how about a change of programming in the form of a NC classic, like Andrew Dittmer’s series on the implications of libertarian thinking?

By Andrew Dittmer, who recently finished his PhD in mathematics at Harvard and is currently continuing work on his thesis topic. He also taught mathematics at a local elementary school. Andrew enjoys explaining the recent history of the financial sector to a popular audience.

First published on November 29, 2011. Simulposted at The Distributist Review

Recently journalist Philip Pilkington has interviewed authors with unconventional perspectives on economic issues, including Satyajit Das and David Graeber. I thought it would be fun to interview someone too – but the man I interviewed uses a pseudonym. This is a six-part series.

ANDREW: Some people say that you represent a fringe view, and so interviewing you is a waste of time.

CODE NAME CAIN: If people obsessed with inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom underestimate libertarians, so much the better.

ANDREW: Can you give any evidence that your ideas are taken seriously?

CNC: Well, people used to think that the financial crisis was caused by antisocial behavior in the finance sector. In September 2007, Tom DiLorenzo pointed out on the Lew Rockwell website that the crisis was actually the result of the government forcing banks to make risky loans to low-income borrowers. Although initially ignored, DiLorenzo’s thesis is now widely accepted among careful observers.

ANDREW: Is that your only convincing example?

CNC: Hardly. Did you notice how over the last year or so, everyone started to talk about how the threat of new taxes and regulations was making producers uncertain? And when producers are uncertain, the economy fails to improve? Well, the fact that worries about taxes and regulations cause uncertainty and so damage the economy is a key insight of Austrian economics that we have proclaimed for decades.

ANDREW: Wait, I thought people said that Obama was causing the uncertainty.

CNC: Obama is causing the uncertainty now. Before Obama, George W. Bush was causing the uncertainty. In general, democratic government causes uncertainty. Hans-Hermann Hoppe made all of this clear in his 2001 book “Democracy: The God That Failed.”

ANDREW: Are there things you have learned from the work of Dr. Hoppe that you had not found in the writings of other libertarians?

CNC: “Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard were great men, but they lived in a time when supporters of freedom needed to be careful about what they said. As a result, libertarians often fail to describe their ideal future society in clear detail. But, as the Cato Institute’s Patri Friedman has recognized, Hans-Hermann Hoppe is an exception to this reticence. He is willing to speak the truth, no matter how much it makes “politically correct” people squirm, and he is so logical and eloquent that I routinely quote from his classic book on the failure of democracy. Please color such quotes in red – I would never try to pass off my own ideas as if they were on his level.

ANDREW: Tell us now about the libertarian society you are working to make possible.

CNC: It will be a free society – no government, no coercion. People will have their rights respected. Everyone will be free to do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s rights… why are you looking at me like that?

ANDREW: I was kind of hoping for less speeches and more details.

CNC: What do you mean?

ANDREW: In our society, the government is the only organization allowed to kill people. In the libertarian society, which organizations will kill people?

CNC: There will be no government that is allowed to use force against people and kill them.

ANDREW: Some people will be very rich, right?

CNC: Of course. Some people will always be stronger and more brilliant than others.

ANDREW: Will the wealthy people still be worried about people stealing from them?

CNC: Obviously – all property… is necessarily valuable; hence, every property owner becomes a possible target of other men’s aggressive desires. [255]

ANDREW: So who will protect property owners?

CNC: Insurance companies in a competitive marketplace.

ANDREW: So in your society, insurance companies will be sort of like governments. Can we call them security GLOs (Government-Like Organizations)?

CNC: Sure, as long as we stress that the insurance companies, as security GLOs, will be very different from the statist, coercive governments we have today.

ANDREW: Will security GLOs be different from governments because they will be small family firms?

CNC: No. One reason that insurance companies will be well-suited for the role of security GLOs is that they are “big” and in command of the resources… necessary to accomplish the task of dealing with the dangers… of the real world. Indeed, insurers operate on a national or even international scale, and they own substantial property holdings dispersed over wide territories… [281]

ANDREW: Will security GLOs be different from governments because they don’t use physical force against criminals?

CNC: You gotta be kidding, right? … in cooperation with one another, insurers [will] want to expel known criminals not just from their immediate neighborhoods, but from civilization altogether, into the wilderness or open frontier of the Amazon jungle, the Sahara, or the polar regions. [262]

ANDREW: So the security GLOs will be allowed to kill people, if they are known criminals?

CNC: The security GLOs will not kill people, they will just expel them to the Sahara or polar regions. What happens then is up to the criminals.

ANDREW: Can we say that the security GLOs will effectively kill them?

CNC: I really don’t like that choice of wording. You make it sound like the security GLOs will be committing aggression against the criminals. That’s backwards – the criminal commits aggression, and security GLOs will just defend people. They won’t violate anyone’s rights.

ANDREW: Maybe you would prefer that we say: the security GLOs will effectively kill people in a rights-respecting manner.

CNC: Yeah, that’s better.

ANDREW: Will everybody be able to get insurance from the security GLOs?

CNC: Of course – in a market economy, shortages are impossible. Anyone can get anything by paying the market price.

ANDREW: What if the market price of insurance for some people is more money than they can pay?

CNC: Don’t worry, competition among insurers for paying clients will bring about a tendency toward a continuous fall in the price of protection… [281-282].

ANDREW: In the future everyone will pay less for security than they currently pay in taxes?

CNC: Well, certain government-induced distortions would be eliminated. Government taxes more in low crime and high property value areas than in high crime and low property value areas. [259] Security GLOs would do the exact opposite.

ANDREW: So in rough neighborhoods, most people might not be able to afford security insurance.

CNC: Possibly.

ANDREW: Suppose there are people who aren’t covered by any security GLO – would it effectively be legal to kill them?

CNC: They would definitely be rendered economically isolated, weak, and vulnerable outcast[s] [287].

ANDREW: Then people are effectively forced to join a security GLO?

CNC: Maybe you haven’t realized it yet, but this will be a free society. The relationship between the insurer and the insured is consensual. Both are free to cooperate and not to cooperate. [281] No one will force people to buy protection, and no one will force insurers to offer protection at a price they think is too low.

ANDREW: What are some other ways that you think this would be a good system?

CNC: Well, every property … can be shaped and transformed by its owner so as to increase its safety and reduce the likelihood of aggression. I may acquire a gun or safe-deposit box, for instance, or I may be able to shoot down an attacking plane from my backyard or own a laser gun that can kill an aggressor thousands of miles away. [256] In a free society, security GLOs would encourage the ownership of weapons among their insured by means of selective price cuts [264] because the better the private protection of their clients, the lower the insurer’s protection and indemnification costs will be [285].

ANDREW: Let’s see if I understand. In poor neighborhoods, most people will not be insured, and it will be legal to kill them. The people that are insured will be encouraged by the security GLO to carry weapons that are as technologically advanced as possible. It sounds to me like this would be bad for the poor neighborhoods.

CNC: On the contrary – in “bad” neighborhoods the interests of the insurer and insured would coincide. Insurers would not want to suppress the expulsionist inclinations among the insured toward known criminals. They would rationalize such tendencies by offering selective price cuts (contingent on specific clean-up operations). [262]

ANDREW: Suppose that security GLOs, or private groups that they sponsor, are looking for criminals. When the enforcers catch the criminals, will they always transport them to an uninhabited area, or will they sometimes put them in prison?

CNC: Prisons like the ones we have? With basketball courts and televisions for the criminals? How would that be fair?

ANDREW: Maybe other kinds of prisons?

CNC: Look, it’s not about putting people in prisons. It’s about people getting what they deserve. And in the libertarian society of the future, people will get what they deserve. Security GLOs can be counted upon to apprehend the offender, and bring him to justice, because in so doing the insurer can reduce his costs and force the criminal… to pay for the damages and cost of indemnification. [282]

ANDREW: So they’ll have to do forced labor for the security GLO?

CNC: How can you possibly think this could be worse than our current system? Where instead of compensating the victims of crimes it did not prevent, the government forces victims to pay again as taxpayers for the cost of the apprehension, imprisonment, rehabilitation and/or entertainment of their aggressors [259]?

ANDREW: Still, as a libertarian, aren’t you against coercion?

CNC: Coercion? Obviously you don’t understand what you’re talking about. Coercion is only when someone interferes with rights someone else actually holds. Criminals can forfeit their rights through their own choices. When that happens, requiring them to make restitution for their actions doesn’t violate their rights.

ANDREW: Will there be any other people in the free society who will be slaves?

CNC: Slaves?! Don’t you know that the first condition of a libertarian society is that everyone owns themselves?

ANDREW: Sorry, I meant to say: effectively slaves in a rights-respecting manner.

CNC: Oh. Hmmm. Let me think about that.

ANDREW: For example, suppose someone signs a business contract and then, later, can’t fulfill the terms of the contract. What would happen?

CNC: In a libertarian society, sanctity of contract is absolutely fundamental.

ANDREW: Let me be a little more specific. Suppose some guy can’t pay his debts. Would he be allowed to declare bankruptcy and move on, or would he become, in a rights-respecting manner, the effective slave of whoever had loaned him the money?

CNC: That would depend upon the debt contract that the lender and borrower had together voluntarily signed. If they had chosen to include a bankruptcy proviso, then the borrower could declare bankruptcy.

ANDREW: Suppose that in the libertarian society, lenders would rather encourage borrowers to focus on repayment – and so they decide not to give borrowers an easy way out. Suppose that no lenders offer loans with a bankruptcy proviso. Would that be okay?

CNC: Economic theory tells us that loans without a bankruptcy proviso will be made at lower interest rates than loans allowing borrowers to go bankrupt. So if no loans contain a bankruptcy proviso, it will just mean that borrowers prefer low-interest no-bankruptcy loans.

ANDREW: I see some problems here.

CNC: Look, it sounds from your question like you think that the lenders should be coerced into allowing borrowers to be irresponsible and go bankrupt! That would effectively make them loan their hard-earned money in ways that they don’t want. How is that any different than forcing them to work at hard labor?

ANDREW: Obviously it would be better to have defaulting borrowers be effectively enslaved in a way that fully respects their natural rights.

CNC: Obviously. Now that we’ve cleared that up, can you turn off the tape recorder? I want to get started on my steak.

Now that Code Name Cain has indicated the promise of a libertarian society, in the next part of the interview he will give a step-by-step plan for how we can make this society a reality.

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Covid 19

‘Morality Pills’ May Be the US’s Best Shot at Ending the Coronavirus Pandemic, According to One Ethicist

Yves here. Lord help us, propaganda and “nudge theory” haven’t done a good enough job of getting people to do the right thing, or even what is in their own interest (in this case, like wear masks during a pandemic) so now experts are coming up more aggressive interventions. In this case, the author seriously proposes medicating people without their consent so as to increase their pro-social behavior. And this comes from a soi-disant ethicist? Did he miss that political theorists have debated since the days of the Greeks about what to do about minority views in democratic system? Or not even see the last season of Game of Thrones?

Clive has cited this clip apropos masks. Key section starts at 2:38:

The flip side is it’s not hard to argue that a lot of traditional societies did administer pro-social drugs through the ritual use of hallucinogens. And that suggests that if this ethicist thinks we need more “cooperative” medication, rather than forcing it on people, decriminalizing non-dealing-level possession of LSD, ayahuasca, and ‘shrooms would be the better way to go. But that introduces another level of problems: less anxious people are harder to control.

By Parker Crutchfield, Associate Professor of Medical Ethics, Humanities and Law, Western Michigan University. Originally published at The Conversation</strong>

COVID-19 is a collective risk. It threatens everyone, and we all must cooperate to lower the chance that the coronavirus harms any one individual. Among other things, that means keeping safe social distances and wearing masks. But many people choose not to do these things, making spread of infection more likely.

When someone chooses not to follow public health guidelines around the coronavirus, they’re defecting from the public good. It’s the moral equivalent of the tragedy of the commons: If everyone shares the same pasture for their individual flocks, some people are going to graze their animals longer, or let them eat more than their fair share, ruining the commons in the process. Selfish and self-defeating behavior undermines the pursuit of something from which everyone can benefit.

Democratically enacted enforceable rules – mandating things like mask wearing and social distancing – might work, if defectors could be coerced into adhering to them. But not all states have opted to pass them or to enforce the rules that are in place.

My research in bioethics focuses on questions like how to induce those who are noncooperative to get on board with doing what’s best for the public good. To me, it seems the problem of coronavirus defectors could be solved by moral enhancement: like receiving a vaccine to beef up your immune system, people could take a substance to boost their cooperative, pro-social behavior. Could a psychoactive pill be the solution to the pandemic?

It’s a far-out proposal that’s bound to be controversial, but one I believe is worth at least considering, given the importance of social cooperation in the struggle to get COVID-19 under control.

Public Goods games Show Scale of the Problem

Evidence from experimental economics shows that defections are common to situations in which people face collective risks. Economists use public goods games to measure how people behave in various scenarios to lower collective risks such as from climate change or a pandemic and to prevent the loss of public and private goods.

The evidence from these experiments is no cause for optimism. Usually everyone loses because people won’t cooperate. This research suggests it’s not surprising people aren’t wearing masks or social distancing – lots of people defect from groups when facing a collective risk. By the same token, I’d expect that, as a group, we will fail at addressing the collective risk of COVID-19, because groups usually fail. For more than 150,000 Americans so far, this has meant losing everything there is to lose.

But don’t abandon all hope. In some of these experiments, the groups win and successfully prevent the losses associated with the collective risk. What makes winning more likely? Things like keeping a running tally of what others are contributing, observing others’ behaviors, communication and coordination before and during play, and democratic implementation of an enforceable rule requiring contributions.

For those of us in the United States, these conditions are out of reach when it comes to COVID-19. You can’t know what others are contributing to the fight against the coronavirus, especially if you socially distance yourself. It’s impossible to keep a running tally of what the other 328 million people in the U.S. are doing. And communication and coordination are not feasible outside of your own small group.

Even if these factors were achievable, they still require the very cooperative behavior that’s in short supply. The scale of the pandemic is simply too great for any of this to be possible.

Promoting Cooperation with Moral Enhancement

It seems that the U.S. is not currently equipped to cooperatively lower the risk confronting us. Many are instead pinning their hopes on the rapid development and distribution of an enhancement to the immune system – a vaccine.

But I believe society may be better off, both in the short term as well as the long, by boosting not the body’s ability to fight off disease but the brain’s ability to cooperate with others. What if researchers developed and delivered a moral enhancer rather than an immunity enhancer?

Moral enhancement is the use of substances to make you more moral. The psychoactive substances act on your ability to reason about what the right thing to do is, or your ability to be empathetic or altruistic or cooperative.

For example, oxytocin, the chemical that, among other things, can induce labor or increase the bond between mother and child, may cause a person to be more empathetic and altruistic, more giving and generous. The same goes for psilocybin, the active component of “magic mushrooms.” These substances have been shown to lower aggressive behavior in those with antisocial personality disorderand to improve the ability of sociopaths to recognize emotion in others.

These substances interact directly with the psychological underpinnings of moral behavior; others that make you more rational could also help. Then, perhaps, the people who choose to go maskless or flout social distancing guidelines would better understand that everyone, including them, is better off when they contribute, and rationalize that the best thing to do is cooperate.

A moral booster rather than an immunological one?Jeffrey Hamilton/DigitalVision via Getty Images

Moral Enhancement as an Alternative to Vaccines

There are of course pitfalls to moral enhancement.

One is that the science isn’t developed enough. For example, while oxytocin may cause some people to be more pro-social, it also appears to encourage ethnocentrism, and so is probably a bad candidate for a widely distributed moral enhancement. But this doesn’t mean that a morality pill is impossible. The solution to the underdeveloped science isn’t to quit on it, but to direct resources to related research in neuroscience, psychology or one of the behavioral sciences.

Another challenge is that the defectors who need moral enhancement are also the least likely to sign up for it. As some have argued, a solution would be to make moral enhancement compulsoryor administer it secretly, perhaps via the water supply. These actions require weighing other values. Does the good of covertly dosing the public with a drug that would change people’s behavior outweigh individuals’ autonomy to choose whether to participate? Does the good associated with wearing a mask outweigh an individual’s autonomy to not wear one?

The scenario in which the government forces an immunity booster upon everyone is plausible. And the military has been forcing enhancements like vaccines or “uppers” upon soldiers for a long time. The scenario in which the government forces a morality booster upon everyone is far-fetched. But a strategy like this one could be a way out of this pandemic, a future outbreak or the suffering associated with climate change. That’s why we should be thinking of it now.

Covid 19

The Pandemic Has Revealed America’s Zip Code Map of Inequality

By Marshall Auerback, a market analyst and commentator. Produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute

It is understandably tempting to drop all the blame for America’s catastrophic response to COVID-19 on the big desk in the Oval Office. But there’s more to the story than epic incompetence, grift and delusion at the highest levels of government. The stark divide in the level of health care from testing to treatment is divided by wealth and the legacy of systemic racism.

In the words of Ed Yong of the Atlantic: “Chronic underfunding of public health neutered the nation’s ability to prevent the pathogen’s spread. A bloated, inefficient health-care system left hospitals ill-prepared for the ensuing wave of sickness. Racist policies that have endured since the days of colonization and slavery left Indigenous and Black Americans especially vulnerable to COVID-19.” Yong could also add Hispanics to that list, along with virtually any person of limited economic means, regardless of race.

In the land of the free and the home of the brave, income and zip code determine everything. And this is not a new phenomenon. In a recent article in Le Monde Diplomatique, historian Thomas Frank quotes physician Dr. Michael A. Shadid, who was a longtime advocate for cooperative health care from the 1920s onward until his death. In his 1947 book, Doctors of Today and Tomorrow, Shadid made the case for socialized medicine on the grounds that “[p]oor people get sick quicker, stay sick longer, need medical aid most, get it least. Some are poor because they are sick. Others are sick because they are poor.”

Nothing has fundamentally changed since Shadid’s time. The United States continues to have the most expensive health care system in the world, yet a 2019 comparison of health indicators in the United States versus those of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries’ average reveals a system that persistently produces inferior outcomes relative to other nations (in spite of higher expenditures) and has done so for decades.

COVID-19 has both amplified and revealed these long-standing flaws, tragically reflected in its death count, but it is by no means a historical anomaly. Earlier pandemics reveal a similar pattern, suggesting a more widespread systemic problem: namely, that the high death counts relative to the rest of the world are an inescapable consequence of our for-profit, pervasively oligopolistic health care system. The problems of a for-profit health care system are exacerbated by the diversion of resources and skills into militarism, and unequal food distribution systems’ effect on diet and obesity. All of these pre-existing problems contribute to higher mortality rates, as does access to proper medical care, which is heavily circumscribed by income.

In terms of fatalities, COVID-19 now ranks as one of the most severe pandemics in modern history, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The most deadly was the 1918 influenza pandemic: 50 million deaths globally out of a worldwide population of 1.8 billion, or 2.7 percent, while the U.S. recorded 675,000 fatalities, or 0.65 percent on a per capita basis out of a population of 103 million. The only “good” thing that can be said about the 1918 tragedy is that the United States fared relatively better than the rest of the world, by this measure.

By contrast, a notable feature of four major pandemics over the past 63 years* (the 1957-1958 H2N2 influenza virus, the 1968 H3N2 influenza virus, the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus or so-called “swine flu,” and COVID-19 today) is America’s persistent underperformance in terms of fatalities relative to the rest of the world in spite of the vastly higher sums the country devotes to health care expenditures (in both absolute terms and as a percentage of GDP). For all of the talk about American exceptionalism, the only thing “exceptional” about the U.S. health care system is this profound systemic failure.

The 1957 H2N2 flu virus caused 1.1 million deaths globally out of a worldwide population of 2.9 billion, or 0.038 percent on a per capita basis; whereas in the United States, it caused about 116,000 deaths out of a U.S. population of 178 million, or 0.065 percent on a per capita basis. The 1968 H3N2 virus resulted in 1 million fatalities worldwide out of a global population of 3.6 billion, or 0.028 percent on a per capita basis; in the United States, there were 100,000 deaths out of a population of 203 million, or 0.049 percent on a per capita basis. The 2009 H1N1 virus caused far fewer overall deaths both globally and within the U.S., with 284,000 fatalities globally and a mere 12,469 fatalities in the U.S.; per capita fatality rates were the same (.004 percent on a per capita basis). But COVID-19 has reflected the reversion to American underperformance: as of August 13, confirmed global fatalities (out of a worldwide population of 7.8 billion) were 749,776, or 0.0096 percent on a per capita basis, versus 169,488 deaths in the United States out of an existing population of 331 million, or 0.051 percent on a per capita basis.

Even more disturbing is that American fatalities are profoundly impacted by income disparities. Low-income communities and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) are experiencing substantially higher rates of mortality. Examining by zip code the geographic distribution of the segments of the population most likely to die from COVID-19—BIPOC, as well as people over the age of 65, and those of any age who are nursing home residents (other than those in luxury elderly care facilities)—these three overlapping segments account for most deaths. It may be that in the northern states these most vulnerable people are heavily concentrated in densely populated areas and thus are quickly exposed to infection and die relatively soon after COVID-19 starts spreading in their area. The New York experience validates that assessment.

In the southern and western states, these most vulnerable populations are more widely scattered across vast suburban and rural areas, which likely explains why the United States as a whole has experienced rolling hot spots, in which the more diffuse population centers become infected and die relatively later after the initial outbreaks of the virus that were largely experienced in heavily urbanized regions. We see this pattern manifested in a recent Arizona compilation of new cases by zip code, as AZ Family reports using analysis by CBS 5 Investigates. Arizona has been one of areas most badly affected by COVID-19 during the summer months, and the AZ Family report illustrates that the hotspots for new cases are dominated by zip codes with “large minority populations” living in areas that are rural or on the outskirts of urban centers.

Why is this significant? David Dayen of the American Prospect explains: “Rural hospitals… are in total crisis in the U.S., with 19 closures last year and 120 since 2010. As hospital networks consolidate and strive for ever-greater profits, rural hospitals that fail to bring in the necessary revenue fall away.”

In the same piece, Dayen quotes a study from Health Affairs, which reports that “49 percent of the lowest-income communities had no ICU beds… whereas only 3 percent of the highest-income communities had no ICU beds.” He highlights an extreme example of this problem, originally reported by the Houston Chronicle: the Rio Grande Valley, along the Texas-Mexico border, “home to 1.3 million residents… [with] no public hospital. Starr County is one of the only in America to have to resort to triage, choosing who to care for and who to send home to die.”

Dayen’s analysis illustrates the fundamental flaw in the system: Levels of provision are a function of profitability; they do not reflect health care priorities. Hence the lowest-income hospitals are often shut down, which means worse health care outcomes for residents in these poorly serviced areas.

The other problem in Texas is that the state historically has also featured a high concentration of undocumented (largely Hispanic) immigrants (the second-highest “unauthorized immigrant” population in the U.S., behind only California), who are being forced to work even when sick, since they are, by virtue of their undocumented status, largely excluded from any and all virus-relief economic aid and access to primary health care. As ProPublica noted: “Texas is also the largest state in the nation that refused to expand health insurance for low-income residents under the Affordable Care Act… Nearly a third of adults under 65 in Texas lack health insurance, the worst uninsured rate in the country, and more than 60% of those without health insurance in the state are Hispanic.”

Furthermore, living in crowded multigenerational settings, workers infected on the job come home and risk spreading the illness to their parents and grandparents (many of whom may also have problematic immigration status in the country and risk deportation if they seek to address their health issues). Consequently, Hispanics are now suffering some of the worst health outcomes in the U.S.

With this information in context, it’s clear the more we lay blame at Trump’s feet, the further we’re going to be from confronting that COVID-19 fits neatly into a decades-old pattern of pandemic response. American health care can literally impoverish its citizens even as it undermines their physical well-being. Breaking the pattern can only happen if Americans keep putting pressure on institutionalized racism, get serious about inequality, and flip the switch on our employer-based private health care system.


*Franklin “Chuck” Spinney provided research assistance on the compilation and analysis of the pandemic data.

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Covid 19

2:00PM Water Cooler 8/13/2020

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.


At reader request, I’ve added this daily chart from 91-DIVOC. The data is the Johns Hopkins CSSE data. Here is the site. Here are the four United States regions, plus US data.

This chart also includes positivity, starting with the highest (worst): The South, the US as a whole, the West, Midwest, and the Northeast. Only the Northeast, at 1.85%, beats the WHO standard of 5%, although the Midwest, at 5.58%, approaches it. The United States as a whole is at 7.53%.

CA: “How a rush to reopen drove Los Angeles County into a health crisis” [Los Angeles Times]. “[S]uccess is often the enemy of public health. When the infection curve flattened in early May, elected officials believed it was safe to rapidly reopen the economy. Then it all went wrong. Los Angeles Times reporters reviewed months of public statements and documents from L.A. officials to understand the factors that set the stage for a resurgence of the coronavirus in June that ultimately killed more than 1,600 people. This timeline shows that after originally talking about beginning to reopen the economy as late as July, officials allowed thousands of businesses to unlock their doors in May. Local leaders seized the opportunity when California Gov. Gavin Newsom loosened reopening criteria. It appears to have happened too fast. Officials initially discussed opening businesses in waves, allowing a few weeks to pass between each round of reopenings. This plan was abandoned for a faster reopening.” • To be fair, given the givens, this is inevitable. When commerce stops, tax revenue collapses for the states and localities (who are not currency issuers). Moreover, capital accumulation halts for business. All the pressures of the system are to open ASAP, regardless of public health implications, which are easily (and sometimes lucratively) rationalized away. There’s no point blaming the poor schlubs on the beaches. They are not the drivers!


“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” –James Madison, Federalist 51

“They had one weapon left and both knew it: treachery.” –Frank Herbert, Dune

“They had learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.” –Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

The electoral map. July 17: Georgia, Ohio, ME-2 move from Leans Republican to Toss-up. Continued yikes. On July 7, the tossup were 86. Only July 17, they were 56. Now they are 91. This puts Biden at 278, i.e. over 270. August 10: Still no changes.

So, taking the consensus as a given, 270 (total) – 204 (Trump’s) = 66. Trump must win 66 from the states in play: AZ (11), FL (29), MI (16), NC (15), PA (20), and WI (10) plus 1 to win not tie = 102. 102 – 66 = 36. So if Trump wins FL, MI, NC, and PA (29 + 16 + 15 + 20 = 80), he wins. That’s a heavy lift. I think I’ve got the math right this time!


Biden (D)(1): Biden announces Harris. It’s only 1:26:

I was sent this by a level-headed person who commented: “Biden looks bad. I mean he looks terrible. everyone around him has to know he is not fit.” I watched it first with the sound down, and it didn’t seem any different from the usual Biden. Then I watched it with the sound up, and I have to say Biden seemed a little flat — nothing like his Corvette ad — but not too far below baseline. So my reaction was not so strong. But perhaps I’m too jaded; there’s a lot of jading being done right now. Readers, what do you think?

Biden (D)(2): “Why Kamala Harris Matters to Me” [Manisha Sinha, New York Times]. “Her Indian background will also appeal to many Indian-American immigrants like me, if not to those who tend to be conservative and even racist in their views.” • This drives me crazy, not because I have any objection to “background” of any kind, and not (heaven forfend) because I’m birther-adjacent and don’t think Harris is ineligible to run, or isn’t a “real American.” Rather, I don’t think that liberal Democrats, including those at the Times, can sell Harris as Black to the Blacks and Indian to the (subcontinental) Indians at the same time. Sinha alludes to a “cosmopolitan, interracial democracy” (presumably exemplified in Harris’s person). Well and good; I’m with her. But that’s not how the Democrat Party is set up, and that’s not how they think. They conceive of identities as vertically siloed and mutually exclusive. That’s how NGOs are set up. That’s Democrat strategists talk. And that’s how their assets in the press report the race. So, institutionally, intersectionality me no intersectionality; it’s not happening. Why? Well, the dirty little secret of identity politics is that if you want a truly multiracial, multicultural, multinational, multigendered, multi-whatever, you go to the working class. You do not go to the PMC (the Democrat’s present base) or to suburban Republicans (the base they seek to add).

Biden (D)(3): “Think Joe Biden Will Be the Next FDR? His Wall Street Donors Don’t Seem To” [Jacobin]. “[Even discounting] Biden’s entire political history, there’s a much more basic reason to think that faddish comparisons to FDR won’t be borne out in the form of anything transformative should he actually be elected president. As new reporting from the New York Times details, the former vice president is blowing Donald Trump out of the water when it comes to donations from the financial industry — financial interests have already chipped in some $44 million compared to Trump’s $9 million. The contributions have been so vast that the Biden campaign is now reportedly demanding at least $1 million in donations from anyone who expects the candidate to appear at an event.”

Biden (D)(4): “Low-income Americans could help oust Trump — if they show up” [Jonathan Capehart, WaPo]. “Poverty rarely, if ever, gets discussed on the presidential campaign trail. Barber notes this every chance he gets. But given the misery enveloping large swaths of the U.S.electorate, Trump and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will have no choice but to address it. A report released Tuesday from Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign, Repairers of the Breach and the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice shows that the candidate who does could release an untapped well of votes. According to the report, of the 63 million poor and low-income Americans who are eligible to vote, 34 million did not cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election. ‘An increase of at least 1 percent of the non-voting, low-income electorate would equal the margin of victory in the 2016 presidential election in Michigan or a 4 percent to 7 percent increase in states such as Florida, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin,’ the study notes.” • Let me know how that works out.

UPDATE Biden (D)(7): “Behind closed doors: How Biden’s team weighed the VP candidates” [Los Angeles Times]. “‘[Biden and Harris] had the right heart-to-hearts,’ the senior official said. ‘They came back to a place they always had, of affinity for one another, even a love.’” • Lordie.

UPDATE Biden (D)(6): “Kamala, Joe, And The Fissures In The Base” [NPR]. “Black women are the Democratic party; wherever Black women go, so goes the party.”

Trump (R)(1): Another that requires sound:

I think Biden’s Corvette ad was better. But this is a taste of what is to come, “golden hairs” and all.

Trump (R)(2): “Approve or Not, Trump Is Setting Unfavorable Downballot Conditions” [Charles Cook, Cook Political Report]. Lots of good polling data. But the bottom line is right at the end: “perhaps 70 percent of voters are likely to cast their ballots before Election Day, either by mail or in-person early voting. Automobile side-view mirrors have the disclaimer, ‘Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear.’ That could also be said about this election: It’s closer than it appears.” • Trump’s gonna need a September surprise. That is extremely early for a (colorable claim of) a vaccine.

UPDATE Trump (R)(3): “Trump Is Hobbling the Mail the Old-Fashioned Way” [The Atlantic]. “If Republicans wanted to limit voter turnout and raise doubts about the election’s integrity, creating chaos within the Postal Service and undermining its independence would be an efficient way to pursue that goal. Past efforts to politicize the mail service were overt. According to the ‘spoils system’ that President Andrew Jackson—whom Trump admires most among his predecessors—established soon after his election in 1828, the party that won the White House gained the right to award tens of thousands of postal jobs to its supporters, thus securing their loyalty and zeal. The postmaster general—inevitably a political crony and fixer eager to do the president’s bidding—became a Cabinet member who oversaw this immense patronage scheme…. In 1970, President Richard Nixon finally ended the spoils system by signing the Postal Reorganization Act. The law turned what had been the Post Office Department into the modern USPS…. The financial crisis now threatening the Postal Service has deep roots. The trouble began after 2001, as email shrank the volume of first-class letter mail, and was compounded by the disastrous Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. … The growing demand for voting by mail should be a reason to shore up the Postal Service and shield it from political interference, not force it to a halt.”

* * *

Krystal Ball unloads on the Virginia Democrats:

Virginia readers, what do you think?

“QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene wins Georgia Republican primary” [BBC]. “Ms [Marjorie Taylor Greene], a businesswoman who owns a construction company with her husband, beat neurosurgeon John Cowan for the Republican nomination on Tuesday. She will face Democrat Kevin Van Ausdal in November but is widely expected to win in the conservative district. The controversial candidate has previously expressed support for QAnon – a wide-ranging, unfounded conspiracy theory that says that Donald Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media. In a YouTube video, she praised ‘Q’ – the pseudonymous figure who started the conspiracy theory – as a ‘patriot.’” • Interesting to picture QAnon supporters and the Squad (say) interacting on the House floor:

“What is QAnon? How the conspiracy theory gained traction in 2020 campaign” [PBS]. “The QAnon conspiracy theory originated on 4chan in October of 2017, though it has its origin in Pizzagate. The basic premise is that a group of high-level military intelligence officials close to President Trump, QAnon followers believe, are sending out secret coded messages on these image boards about this great grand battle of good vs. evil, in which Trump and what they call the Q Team are working to destroy a global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles, which the QAnon community believes is controlling everything. And that includes politician, entertainment and the media.” • I don’t want to be so open-minded that my brains fall out here, but first, we’ve had plenty of major pedophile scandals — the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, and the BBC come to mind, along with the extremely gregarious Jeffrey Epstein plus Speaker of the House Denny Hastert — and it’s not all that cray cray to imagine pedophilia as an elite pastime (although a Satan-worshipping cabal is another matter). More centrally, I file QAnon as a form of symbol manipulation available to the relatively disempowered, very much unlike RussiaGate (another cray cray yarn diagram, but one propagated by the powerful that threatens war with a nuclear power) or mainstream economics (more cray cray than anything, and responsible for a lot of deaths through austerity, among other pathways). QAnon does remind one of, well, COINTELPRO. I wonder if any textual analysis has been done on Q’s messages. It would be interesting to discover they were created by a committee, instead of an individual, for example). Oh well. Il faut cultiver notre jardin, where the squash create their own yarn diagrams, and cray cray is held at bay.


UPDATE “A hard path for Susan Collins and 5 other takeaways from the BDN’s Maine poll” [Bangor Daily News]. “House Speaker Sara Gideon held a 5-point lead over Sen. Susan Collins among likely voters in the closely watched U.S. Senate race. Freshman Rep. Jared Golden and former Vice President Joe Biden were up by even larger margins among registered voters in the poll, though Biden and President Donald Trump were virtually tied in the 2nd District….. Voters are far more favorable about the state of affairs in Maine than in the U.S. at large, with 58 percent saying things are on the right track here versus only 27 percent nationally. ” • I don’t know what to make of that! Maine’s excellent response to Covid?

UPDATE College Democrat Morse smear continues to unravel:

UPDATE “College Democrat Chats Reveal Year-Old Plan to Engineer and Leak Alex Morse Accusations” [The Intercept]. “The leadership of the University of Massachusetts Amherst College Democrats began discussing an operation they believed could sink the campaign of Alex Morse for Congress as far back as last October, a plan they then helped engineer and which came to fruition on Friday… Timothy Ennis, the chief strategist for the UMass Amherst College Democrats, admitted in the chats that he was a ‘Neal Stan’ and said he felt conflicted about involving the chapter of the College Democrats in a future attack on Morse. ‘But I need a job,’ concluded Ennis. “Neal will give me an internship.” At the time, Ennis was president of the chapter, a post he held from April 2019 to April 2020, when he was term-limited out. Leaders of the College Democrats group went beyond merely plans to leak. They also explicitly discussed how they could find Morse’s dating profiles and then lead him into saying something incriminating that would then damage his campaign.”

Stats Watch

At reader request, I added some business stats back in. Please give Econintersect click-throughs; they’re a good, old-school blog that covers more than stats. If anybody knows of other aggregators, please contact me at the email address below.

Unemployment: “08 August 2020 Initial Unemployment Claims Decline To 963,000 This Week” [Econintersect]. “Market expectations for weekly initial unemployment claims (from Econoday) were 1,100 K to 1,220 K (consensus 1,160 K), and the Department of Labor reported 963,000 new claims. The more important (because of the volatility in the weekly reported claims and seasonality errors in adjusting the data) 4 week moving average moved from 1,339,000 (reported last week as 1,337,750) to 1,252,750…. Of the 963,000 jobs lost this week, the BLS says 488,622 were due to the coronavirus (versus 655,999 last week).”

Imports: “July 2020 Import Year-over-Year Inflation Now -3.3%” [Econintersect]. “Year-over-year import price indices inflation remained in contraction and moved from -3.9% to -3.3%. Fuel prices and agricultural exports increased this month.”

Rail: “Rail Week Ending 08 August 2020 – Good Recovery in Intermodal” [Econintersect]. “Week 32 of 2020 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) contracted according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. Total rail traffic has been mostly in contraction for over one year – and now is recovering from a coronavirus pandemic…. Total rail traffic has two components – carloads and intermodal (containers or trailers on rail cars). Container exports from China are now recovering, container exports from the U.S. declined and remains deep in contraction. This week intermodal was in expansion year-over-year. However, carloads remain deep in contraction.”

* * *

Tech: “Google to buy stake in ADT in home security push for $450 million” [Reuters]. “Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google is picking up a 6.6% stake in ADT Inc (ADT.N) for $450 million, betting on the home security company’s strong customer base and an army of technicians to drive sales of its Nest devices…. The investment gives ADT the backing of a high-profile technology partner and broadens its services business. In return, Google gets access to about 6.5 million customers, strengthening its presence as it competes with’s (AMZN.O) Ring and Boston-based SimpliSafe, among others.” • That’s nice.

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 73 Greed (previous close: 73 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 73 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Aug 13 at 12:21pm Falling back to mere Greed from Extreme Greed. Disappointing!

The Biosphere

“Air pollution is much worse than we thought” [Vox]. “The evidence is now clear enough that it can be stated unequivocally: It would be worth freeing ourselves from fossil fuels even if global warming didn’t exist. Especially now that clean energy has gotten so cheap, the air quality benefits alone are enough to pay for the energy transition. This conclusion has been reaffirmed by the latest air quality research, presented at a recent hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform by Drew Shindell, Nicholas professor of earth science at Duke University (and a lead author on both recent IPCC reports)… Shindell’s testimony reveals that the effects of air pollution are roughly twice as bad as previously estimated…. Importantly, many of the benefits can be accessed in the near term. Right now, air pollution leads to almost 250,000 premature deaths a year in the US. Within a decade, aggressive decarbonization could reduce that toll by 40 percent; over 20 years, it could save around 1.4 million American lives that would otherwise be lost to air quality.” • Important and well worth a read.

UPDATE “The Effect of Leaded Gasoline on Elderly Mortality: Evidence from Regulatory Exemptions” [American Economic Review]. The abstract: “Leaded gasoline is still used globally for aviation and automotive racing. Exploiting regulatory exemptions and a novel quasi-experiment, we find that leaded gasoline use in racing increases ambient lead, elevated blood lead rates, and elderly mortality. The mortality estimates indicate that each gram of lead added to gasoline exceeds $1,100 in damages. Our setting allows us to rule out potential confounders, such as correlated pollutants or socioeconomic status. We provide the first causal estimates linking adult mortality to leaded gasoline, highlight the value of banning on-road leaded gasoline, and present policy-relevant cost estimates at the lowest ambient levels to date.” • Only the abstract is available, so I don’t know what the “novel quasi-experiment” is.

“‘This land is all we have left’: tribes on edge over giant dam proposal near Grand Canyon” [Guardian]. “Phoenix-based Pumped Hydro Storage LLC has received a preliminary permit from federal regulators for its Big Canyon Pumped Storage Project – a string of four huge dams near the Little Colorado River, along with reservoirs and a power-generation facility…. The project is the third Pumped Hydro has proposed in the Big Canyon region – the two previous ones received major pushback from tribes and environmentalists. If built, it would function as both a battery and station for generating up to 7,900 gigawatt-hours of electricity. It would pump groundwater up into four reservoirs, one of which would flood Big Canyon. That water would be stored as potential power, ready to be unleashed down canyons, through generators and toward the Little Colorado River when electricity is needed…. The Big Canyon project won’t move forward without the Navajo government’s approval and non-tribal entities are joining the chorus of criticisms. Even the US Department of the Interior has filed a comment, arguing the project could have adverse effects on the environment and cultural lands.”

“With Biden-Harris Ticket Set, Climate Groups Demand ‘Transformative Action From Day One’ If Elected” [Common Dreams]. “Sunrise’s Prakash vowed that ‘our movement remains committed to defeating Trump and Pence this November and hope to hold her accountable in office—just like we will with Joe Biden.’ ‘Let’s do our part to end this era of chaos and defeat Republicans up and down the ballot,’ she said. ‘Then, let’s turn up to make a Biden-Harris administration lay the groundwork for a Green New Deal.’” • But above all, let’s leave Richard Neal in place at Ways and Means!

“Mauritius seeks compensation after vessel blackens beaches with oil spill” [Straits Times]. “Mauritius is seeking compensation from the owners of the cargo carrier that run aground and spilled oil off its coast, causing the island nation’s worst ecological disaster…. Mauritius now faces widespread pollution, threatening the livelihoods of communities that depend on the ocean. The island economy, which relies on tourists who flock to its white sand beaches, is already reeling from the coronavirus fallout and may be further affected by the spill.”

Health Care

“A negative COVID-19 test does not mean recovery” [Nature]. “Eight months into the global pandemic, we’re still measuring its effects only in deaths. Non-hospitalized cases are loosely termed ‘mild’ and are not followed up. Recovery is implied by discharge from hospital or testing negative for the virus. Ill health in those classed as ‘recovered’ is going largely unmeasured. And, worldwide, millions of those still alive who got ill without being tested or hospitalized are simply not being counted. Previously healthy people with persistent symptoms such as chest heaviness, breathlessness, muscle pains, palpitations and fatigue, which prevent them from resuming work or physical or caring activities, are still classed under the umbrella of ‘mild COVID’. Data from a UK smartphone app for tracking symptoms suggests that at least one in ten of those reporting are ill for more than three weeks. Symptoms lasting several weeks and impairing a person’s usual function should not be called mild. Defining and measuring recovery from COVID-19 should be more sophisticated than checking for hospital discharge, or testing negative for active infection or positive for antibodies. Once recovery is defined, we can differentiate COVID that quickly goes away from the prolonged form.”

I should react to this in horror:

But I would kinda like a mask like that. (In fact, I’m imagining a clear plastic, astronaut-style helmet!)

Black Injustice Tipping Point

“How early U.S. newspapers brokered slavery” [Journalist’s Resource (TH)]. “Slave owners paid newspapers to publish advertisements that described the physical traits of slaves who had run away, offering rewards for their return. Those ads ‘were a lucrative and consistent source of revenue’ for newspaper printers, writes Jordan Taylor, visiting assistant history professor at Smith College, in a new paper published in the journal Early American Studies. But colonial newspapers weren’t mere messengers for slavers. Taylor chronicles more than 2,100 unique ads from 1704 to 1807 that show newspaper publishers also acted as brokers, facilitating the buying and selling of up to 3,400 men, women and children as chattel. For most of that century or so, slave brokerage ads appeared primarily in Northern newspapers, Taylor finds in his paper, ‘Enquire of the Printer: Newspaper Advertising and the Moral Economy of the North American Slave Trade.’ ‘Newspaper editors and printers jumped enthusiastically into brokering the slave trade,’ he says. ‘Journalists and members of the news media today should be reckoning with that.’”

Groves of Academe

“Math Problems for Faculty on Their University’s Reopening Plan” [McSweeney’s Internet Tendency]. “1. Your University requires all students to wear masks while in class, and faculty — not the administration — are expected to enforce this mandate. On the first day of the semester, three students in your class refuse to wear masks because “this is America.” One student shows up in a Confederate flag mask, and another shows up in a “defund the police” mask. You ask them to leave and they refuse, reminding you that they are paying customers. Calculate the number of students who will be infected with COVID-19 after being involved in the ensuing multi-student fistfight.”

Class Warfare

More from r/unemployment:

Not seeing either major party speaking to this population.

News of the Wired

“Community gardens are cropping up at public libraries everywhere” [Shareable]. “My own research — including a survey of library gardens in the United States and Canada, and a collection of resources on the food-justice movement in public libraries — shows that community gardens are popping up across the country…. Most remarkable is that all this activity developed organically. No one at the state or national level told these librarians they should start doing this work. They just did it. And it may get easier still to just do it. Last summer the American Library Association published Libraries and Gardens: Growing Together, a book that validates the efforts of librarians gardening in their communities at the grassroots over the years. So if your library doesn’t have a community garden, reach out to them. They may be more receptive than you think.” • And to note the obvious, gardens are outside. The article also includes lots and lots of examples, and a potted history of community gardens. News you can use!

* * *

Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, (c) how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal, and (d) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi and coral are deemed to be honorary plants! If you want your handle to appear as a credit, please place it at the start of your mail in parentheses: (thus). Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. Today’s plant (JU):

JU writes: “Here’s a Manzanita tree loaded with ladybugs. Sometimes when we hike up here, we have to stop and turn around, because you’d kill 50 of them with each step forward, they’re so thick.” That seems… odd. Readers, have you noticed anything similar?

* * *

Readers: Water Cooler is a standalone entity not covered by the annual NC fundraiser. So if you see a link you especially like, or an item you wouldn’t see anywhere else, please do not hesitate to express your appreciation in tangible form. Remember, a tip jar is for tipping! Regular positive feedback both makes me feel good and lets me know I’m on the right track with coverage. When I get no donations for five or ten days I get worried. More tangibly, a constant trickle of donations helps me with expenses, and I factor in that trickle when setting fundraising goals:

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Covid 19

Fewer hospital patients in Covid-19 hotspots

Hospital generic

Image copyright
Getty Images

The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 fell in coronavirus hotspots in June and July, according to data released by NHS England.

Cases of coronavirus have been rising nationally since the middle of July, and even earlier in Leicester.

More of these cases are among young people, who are less likely to become seriously sick.

A University of Oxford expert said there were “not yet any signs of a second wave in the hospital data”.

The number of people dying or going into hospital with Covid-19 has been falling across the UK for months, but since the middle of July, the number of confirmed cases has started to rise.

Prof Chris Whitty, the UK’s chief medical adviser, has warned that we have “reached the limit of what we can do to open up society” without allowing room for the virus to return.

But some scientists argue that the rise in confirmed cases could reflect more testing rather than more infections.

It may still be too soon for any increase in infections to translate into more people in hospital or dying with Covid-19 nationally.

But hotspots can test the theory since their numbers of cases started to increase earlier.

Leicester saw worsening infection figures throughout the early summer before Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced a local lockdown at the end of the June.

And Blackburn overtook Leicester as the part of the country with the highest rate of infection in July.

Data released on Thursday by NHS England showed that rising cases were not matched by an increase in the number of people in hospital in the NHS trusts that serve either of these councils.

The number of people admitted to hospital for the first time with Covid-19 did increase in Leicester in June, but the rise was much smaller than the rise in confirmed cases.

In July, Leicester saw 1,336 cases but only seven people were admitted to hospital with Covid-19.

In Blackburn, the number of infections more than doubled in July, but the number of people admitted to hospital fell from 54 in June to 13 in July.

More of the cases now being detected nationally are in people aged 15-44.

They are much less likely to become seriously ill or die with coronavirus.

That could explain some of the UK’s fall in Covid-19 hospitalisations, according to Jason Oke, a researcher at the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford University.

But “there are not yet any signs of a second wave in the hospital data”, he says.

Covid 19

Greg Rutherford found testicle lump during lockdown

Greg Rutherford

Image copyright
Getty Images

Greg Rutherford is encouraging men to check their testicles for lumps, after revealing he ignored his.

The 33-year-old Olympic athlete’s mental health “took a bit of a beating” when he found a lump during lockdown, he wrote on Instagram.

After getting checked Greg was told he has cysts – a fluid build up – and now wants other men to “take it seriously”.

The “invincibility” he felt in sport “took a massive knock” and he didn’t discuss it with his wife.

The dad-of-two, who won an Olympic gold medal for long jump at London 2012, now wants everyone to check themselves, and also suggests partners could offer to do it.

“Even now, during a pandemic, when I think it’s safe to say we’re fearful of wasting doctors’ and nurses’ time. If you’re a bloke, grab them and make sure nothing’s wrong,” he wrote.

Testicular cancer is quite rare, affecting around 2,300 people in the UK each year but is unusual as it mainly affects those aged between 15 and 49.

The overwhelming majority of people diagnosed (91%) survive for at least 10 years after the cancer is first detected.

According to the NHS, white men have a higher risk of developing testicular cancer than men from other ethnic groups, for reasons that are unclear.

Any change in shape or feel of a testicle should be checked by a doctor, it says.

Greg says he feels “incredibly grateful I can say it’s nothing serious”.

“Keep checking and if you find something, take it seriously.”

The athlete, who’s the current British record holder for indoor and outdoor long jump, retired in 2018.

“My body is most certainly ready for me to retire and move on to new things. Getting out of bed in the mornings nowadays is quite difficult. I need to let it recover properly and move on to something new,” he said at the time.

“I’m old enough now, I’ve done this long enough – it’s time to let the youngsters take over and push it on to a new level.”

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