lost at sea

The Google tells me there are around 335 cruise ships in the world. I’ve no idea if that’s a reliable figure, but would the Google lie to me? (SPOILER: yeah, it probably would, but what are you gonna do?) The Google also tells me the average number of passengers on a cruise ship is around 3000. The Google isn’t terribly helpful when it comes to average crew size, but it appears to be about a third to a half of the average number of passengers. So let’s split the difference and say the average crew size is 1250. That would make the average number of humans on a cruise ship would be around 4,250.

If that’s the case, then the MSC Divina would be THE average cruise ship. It can carry 3502 passengers and has a crew of 1388.

Glittery and glam, the MSC Divina not only offers an impressive lineup of entertainment options, but also gives cruisers a taste of Italian culture – all for bargain prices designed to compete with other party ships departing Florida’s harbors. With vibrant nightlife and special kids’ fares, MSC Divina has something to appeal to everyone.

Now, imagine if the MSC Divina sank with all hands. The entire ship, all the passengers, the captain, the deck crew, the beauticians, the pursers, the entertainers, the galley staff, the hosts and hostesses, the gift shop operators, the photographers, the fitness instructors, the housekeepers, the bartenders, the dance instructors, the stewards, the massage therapists. All of them, every single one, down with the ship, drowned. Four thousand, two hundred and fifty souls lost at sea.

Now imagine a cruise ship the size of the MSC Divina sinking with all hands every week for thirty-five weeks.

That’s what we’ve got with Covid-19 in the United States.

If 35 cruise ships sank off the US coast over the course of five months, what would we do? What we ARE doing is ignoring the professional ship builders and designers who testify under oath that Covid cruise ships aren’t safe. We have a president who not only dismisses the expertise of the ship builders, but who claims to know more about ship building than anybody else. We have a president who treats cruise ships sinking as a public relations problem. We have a president who claims he’s saved millions of people from drowning by banning Chinese cruise ships from docking in US ports.

We have state and federal government officials who have the duty and the authority to prevent passengers and crew from boarding those MSC Davinas, but for political reasons refuse to issue a DO NOT BOARD mandate. They argue that there are several cruise ships that haven’t sunk. We have state and federal officials who argue children should board the MSC Davina because they are less likely to drown. We have state and federal officials who will encourage folks not to board cruise ships, but won’t stop them. They say they trust people will act responsibly and decide for themselves not to board.

Today we’ll hit 150,000 confirmed Covid-19 deaths. We’re dying here. We’re drowning. And the people whose job is to protect us claim it would be government overreach to pull up the gangplank.

EDITORIAL NOTE: I’m sure the actual MSC Divina is a grand ship, perfectly lovely, excellently staffed, and crewed by consummate professionals, as are all the ships belonging to the Mediterranean Shipping Company. This is me covering my ass.

this is not difficult; wear a mask

You know what the difference is between experts and fuckwits? I’ll tell you. Experts learn from their mistakes. Okay, there are other differences too, but that’s a big one.

Yesterday, in his FoxNEWS interview with Chris Wallace, Comrade Trump (not an expert) responded to a question about masks with this: “Dr. Fauci said don’t wear a mask. Our surgeon general, terrific guy, said don’t wear a mask. Everybody was saying don’t wear a mask. All of a sudden, everybody’s got to wear a mask.” He went on to say he believes masks are good, but clearly Trump’s intent was to discredit Fauci and the necessity of wearing a face mask in public.

Wear a mask in the cereal aisle.

Today the conservative online magazine The Federalist parroted Trump’s argument in an essay written by David Marcus (not an expert) called ‘How Have Our Scientific Experts Gotten So Much Wrong?’. The magazine, by the way, is privately owned, so it doesn’t have to disclose who the owners are or who funds the magazine; make of that what you will. Here’s an example of what Marcus (still not an expert) thinks the experts have been ‘wrong’ about:

Masks don’t make a difference. Remember that? It was about two months ago. The consensus of scientific experts who must be obeyed unless one is a Trump-loving troglodyte assured us that there was no need to don a silly mask. Today, masks are the Holy Grail of stopping the virus. How did that happen? What do we know in July that we didn’t know in May?

At least non-expert Marcus asked the right question: what do we know now that we didn’t know back in May? Sadly, he assumes the answer is ‘nothing’. He fails–or refuses–to understand two things. First, this is a novel coronavirus. It’s brand new; we’ve never seen it or dealt with it before, so nobody, including the experts, knows quite what it does, how it does it, or how to stop it from doing it. The experts hoped SARS‑CoV‑2 would act like similar coronaviruses (it hasn’t) and would respond to similar treatments (it doesn’t).

Wear a mask in the garden center.

To answer Marcus’s question, there’s a LOT we know now that we didn’t know in May. We didn’t know infected people could be asymptomatic for a couple of weeks. We didn’t know asymptomatic people could transmit the virus. We didn’t know the virus could be transmitted by talking loudly or singing, and not just by the more common forms such as coughing and sneezing. We didn’t know masks were an effective way to significantly retard transmission. That’s what we know now that we didn’t know in May.

This is how science works. This is what experts do that fuckwits don’t. They incorporate new information and allow it to revise their understanding of the problem in order to better shape their response to it. The fact that the experts were wrong at the beginning doesn’t mean they’re unreliable, or that they can’t be trusted, or that they’re not really experts. It just means they didn’t know as much back then.

Another example of the difference between experts and fuckwits. Marcus (very much not an expert) wrote:

[O]f all the blunders by our elite intellects that must not be questioned, perhaps the most significant is one that President Trump pointed out in March only to be jeered and mocked. On March 4, the president told Sean Hannity that he had a hunch that the World Health Organization’s assertion that 3.4 percent of people who contracted the Chinese Virus would die was wrong. He said he believed the actual number was closer to .5 percent…. Months after the mockery of him, it turns out Trump was right. It also turns out, and I know this is impossible so I can’t explain it, the scientific experts who must be obeyed were, how should I put this…um, (leans into microphone) “wrong.”

Maybe not. As I write this, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the US is 3,925,886. The number of confirmed Covid-19 deaths is 143,515. In other words, about 3.65% of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the US have died. That’s a tad more than the experts of the WHO estimate, but a LOT more accurate that the ‘hunch’ of Comrade Trump (not anywhere close to being an expert).

Wear a mask in the produce department.

Near the end of his editorial, Marcus (OMG not an expert) says this:

Let’s remember that the massive spikes in deaths predicted when Gov. Brian Kemp opened Georgia, or when Trump held a rally in Tulsa a month ago did not materialize. 

Yes, let’s do some remembering. Let’s remember that Georgia re-opened on April 30th. They had 693 new cases that day. Yesterday they had 2,453 new cases, a bit down from their seven-day average of 3,201. And let’s remember that on June 20, when Trump held his rally in Tulsa, they had 331 new cases. Yesterday they had 916, up from their seven-day average of 715 new cases.

And while we’re remembering that, let’s also remember that new Covid-19 cases lag a couple of weeks behind actual infections, and that Covid-19 deaths lag anywhere from two to four months behind diagnosis. Bodies are going to start piling up.

Don’t be one of those fuckwits without a masks.

Marcus (nothing like an expert) concludes by suggesting we should weigh the advice of all those experts who’ve been wrong against our own common sense. And hey, he’s right. We really should do that. But when we’re doing that weighing, our common sense should tell us to include the weight of the 143,515 dead Americans.

I your common sense tells you NOT to wear a mask, then you’re probably a fuckwit. Don’t be a fuckwit. Wear a mask.

safe to assume

This is just my opinion, but it seems to me that the Trump administration has demonstrated an uncanny ability to do the worst possible thing at the worst possible moment for the worst possible reasons. For example, changing the process for reporting Covid-19 cases during the biggest spike in Covid-19 cases.

Even if we give the Trump administration the benefit of the doubt (stop laughing, it’s just a hypothetical example) and accept that they just want to ‘streamline’ the reporting process, it’s still a phenomenally idiotic point in time to do it. I mean, the CDC has been collecting and reporting hospitalization data for decades. Everybody is familiar with the system, everybody knows what to do, everybody knows the data is unfiltered by the government and pretty reliable. Everybody knows they can use that data as a foundation for planning.

Why are all these refrigerated trucks parked outside of hospitals? It’s a mystery.

Sure, that system is being challenged by a shocking number of Covid-19 cases. We’re talking about national daily infection rates of more than 50,000 new cases a day. A day, for fuck’s sake. Tens of thousands of cases every day from thousands of health care centers scattered all over the US. The fact that the CDC’s system is handling and publicly reporting all that data shows how stable and robust it is.

But the Trump administration has decided to route that data through a private corporation. A private corporation run by a Trump supporter. A Trump supporter and long-time GOP donor who got the US$10.2 million contract through a no-bid process. A contract that requires health care centers to learn an unfamiliar protocol that includes several additional types of data, some of which isn’t usually collected by some state health agencies. The phrase ‘recipe for disaster’ comes to mind.

The worst possible decision at the worst possible time for the worst possible reasons. Well, I’m assuming the worst possible reasons. It’s safe to assume the Trump administration is acting out of the worst possible reasons, because that so often turns out to be the case. It’s theoretically possible somebody in the administration truly and sincerely believes the shift in data collection is being done to make the process more transparent and more simple. But there are people in the Trump administration who truly and sincerely believe prayer is an effective tool in the fight against gun violence. And teen pregnancy. And climate change. And, I don’t know, forest fires. Halitosis. The outcome of football games.

This isn’t to suggest Comrade Trump is actually driving refrigerated body trucks. He doesn’t have a commercial driver’s licence.

So yeah, it’s probably safe to assume this plan to shift Covid-19 data collection from a familiar robust system used by the CDC to a new protocol created by a private company owned by a Trump supporter is designed to control what information the public gets. To turn the data into a political tool. To cook the books and make the pandemic seem somewhat less catastrophic than it is. To benefit Trump.

It’s safe to assume everything Trump does is to benefit Trump. Everything.

can’t argue with gravity

Comrade Trump is taking a break from his Make the Confederacy Great Again campaign (which some folks believe is largely an attempt to distract the public from the Russia Pays the Taliban to Murder Marines in Afghanistan scandal) in order to demand parents Send Their Kids to School during an escalating pandemic.

Trump says he ‘disagrees’ with the epidemiologists at the CDC and just about every professional education administrator in the nation. Remember Mike Hughes? He disagreed with scientists who claimed the earth was a globe. Trump’s disagreement will end with much the same result.

The late ‘Mad’ Mike Hughes, who died 2/22/2020 as a result of gravity.

This is the problem with science. It’s immune from opinion. It’s invulnerable to viewpoint. It’s resistant to persuasion and not susceptible to belief. You can believe it’s safe to send kids to school during an escalating pandemic, but that won’t keep them healthy and alive.

Trump argues “Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden” are opening their schools without problems. That’s not entirely a lie, but it’s far from accurate. Germany, Denmark, and Norway all followed the advice of their scientists, and their Covid-19 cases have declined dramatically. Yesterday Germany had 298 new cases, Norway had 11, and Denmark only 10 new cases. Even Sweden, which fucked up nearly as badly as the US, only had 271 new Covid-19 cases. The United States had 55,422 new cases yesterday.

Part of Trump’s argument is that kids with Covid-19 don’t get as sick as adults. Seriously, he actually said that during a meeting.

“What we want to do is we want to get our schools open. We want to get them open quickly, beautifully, in the fall. And the — as you know, this is a disease that’s a horrible disease, but young people do extraordinarily well.”

That’s the key to Trump’s rationale — relatively few young people die from Covid. So he wants students back in the classroom. Returning kids to school projects the illusion that everything is okay, that we’re back to normal, that the only thing school children have to worry about is homework and sporadic mass murder by their classmates. But even if Covid symptoms do, in fact, tend to be mild among kids, some of them will become severely ill and suffer long term health issues. Some of them will die. And some will go home from class and infect their families.

Hardly any of these happy white kids will die from Covid-19.

The CDC’s guidelines for safely opening schools included desks at least six feet apart and facing the same direction, lunch in classrooms rather than a central lunchroom, staggered arrival times, cloth masks for staff, and daily temperature screenings for everyone. Trump ‘believes’ that’s too cumbersome and impractical. So this morning, Vice President Pence announced “the CDC would issue additional recommendations…that would provide ‘more clarity’.” In other words, they’ll water down the guidelines.

This is something Trump does. He pressures governmental agencies to alter their findings or recommendations to support whatever mistake, lie, or fantasy he’s blurted out. Remember the migrant caravans? Trump lied that Middle Eastern terrorists had infiltrated them. So several agency officials published what was later called a bogus ‘official’ statement that it could happen. Before the mid-term elections, Trump promised a 10% middle class tax cut, taking his Treasury people by surprise. So they cobbled together some statements to make it seem that it could happen. It didn’t. And then, of course, there was Trump mistakenly claiming Alabama was at risk from a hurricane, after which NOAA administrators fudged a report saying it could have been at risk. It wasn’t. 

No Sharpie will modify the Covid-19 butcher’s bill. No ‘official statement’ will reduce Covid transmission. No lie or fantasy will keep school kids and their families and their teachers safe from the virus. There’s no messaging solution to public health.

You can’t fucking argue with gravity.

it would have been better in náhuatl

I had very good reasons for missing Comrade Trump’s 3rd of July speech at Mt. Rushmore. First, it was a Friday evening, and I needed to watch an episode of a 2018 British cop show that streams on Acorn. Second, it was Trump giving a speech — which meant it would either be an ad-libbed hateful rant full of free-floating racism or a dreary monotonous recitation of buzzwords interrupted too frequently with adverbs and adjectives. And third, I’d rather watch an episode of a two-year-old British cop show translated into classical Náhuatl than listen to Trump give a speech.

But I read it this morning. And let me just say this: Lawdy.

At least the aircraft weren’t Russian.

The speech reads like it was written by H.P. Lovecraft, if Lovecraft had a limited vocabulary and was writing for Twitter. It was awkward at best, full of woefully clumsy and ridiculous dark images of modern American. It was profoundly paranoid.

“Our children are taught in school to hate their own country. And to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but they were villains. The radical view of American history is a web of lies. All perspective is removed. Every virtue is obscured. Every motive is twisted. Every fact is distorted and every flaw magnified until the history is purged.”

History, totally purged. You know, they warned us this would happen if we took pale Jeebus out of the schools and substituted many-tentacled Cthulhu.

The entire speech was deeply weird. Trump seemed to confuse the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Or maybe he thought they were the same war, it’s hard to say. He apparently thinks protesters are trying to bring down statues of Revolutionary War figures who sang a song written a century or so after they died.

“In toppling the heroes of 1776, they seek to dissolve the bonds of love and loyalty that we feel for our country and that we feel for each other. Their goal is not a better America. Their goal is to end America…. By tearing down Washington and Jefferson, these radicals would tear down the very heritage for which men gave their lives to win the Civil War. They would erase the memory that inspired those soldiers to go to their deaths, singing these words of the Battle Hymn of the Republic: ‘As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free while God is marching on.'”

Trump ended the evening by telling us that “American freedom exists for American greatness” and that our legacy has something to do with champions and monuments. Then, of course, there were fireworks.

Very pleased with himself.

This entire event was perfectly in keeping with the Trump brand. It was a hateful, divisive, political speech full of lies. It was given in a location considered sacred by the native population (who objected to the event). It was given during the worst pandemic in a century (which was exacerbated by Trump’s failure to take it seriously), with no real attempt to reduce transmission of Covid-19 by using face masks, and no real chance of any social distancing (in part because the 7500 audience seats were zip-tied together to reduce the likelihood of them becoming obstacles in case an emergency escape was necessary during, say, a wildfire). And it concluded with a fireworks display (the first in more than a decade because a long term infestation of pine beetles has turned the local Ponderosa pine population into something resembling kindling) during a period of moderate drought.

The whole thing would be comical if it weren’t real.

everything would have been knocked down

Task force. Originally, it was a naval term. Specialized ships from different fleets and squadrons would be temporarily assembled to work as a group to perform a single defined task or activity. After the mission was accomplished, the various ships would return to their normal duties. The ‘task force’ concept has been widely adapted.

Comrade Trump signs an executive order creating a task force to protect…wait…statues?

It’s a great concept, an effective administrative tool, and if used wisely, a task force can be incredibly efficient. If used wisely is the operative phrase in that sentence. Here’s an example of the wise use of a task force. In 2013, the Obama administration created the Pandemic Prediction and Forecasting Science and Technology Working Group. It was comprised of members from eighteen different federal departments and agencies, including the National Security Council, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Office of Management and Budget, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Defense.

Mass burial of Covid-19 victims.

Their job was to “mitigate large‐scale outbreaks by predicting more accurately when and where outbreaks are likely to occur, and how they will progress.” They did this by monitoring and analyzing a myriad of minor social disruptions which, on their own, might not be alarming, but when considered in context could indicate a potential disease outbreak. If, say, the price of pork in Country A suddenly increases, it could mean the hog farmers in Province X have been forced to slaughter a lot of their stock because of a localized swine disease. Taken in conjunction with an increase in Province X’s hospitalizations for flu-like syndrome, it could suggest the first seeds of an epidemic. Task force experts could then be sent to Province X to work with Country A to find out just what the fuck is going on. Then deal with it locally, and prevent the spread to Province Y — or worse, Country B.

Brilliant. By the way, if you’re curious, you can read a report on the PPFSTWG (which, I agree, is among the worst acronyms ever) here. And yes, this is the pandemic response team which the Trump administration disbanded because…well, who the hell knows why.

Let me repeat myself for a minute. A task for is an effective administrative tool, and if used wisely, a task force can be incredibly efficient. Here’s an example of a task force NOT used wisely. Comrade Trump has issued an executive order directing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to create a task force to “protect historic landmarks against vandalism and destruction” from “violent anarchists and rioters”. Homeland Security, you’ll remember, is the agency created in 2002 in response to the 9/11 attacks; its stated mission is to prepare for, prevent, and respond to domestic emergencies, particularly terrorism. Now, apparently, they have to redirect resources to preventing members of the public from painting ‘Black Lives Matter’ on statues of Confederate generals.

This statue of Andrew Jackson is now safe.

You may be asking yourself if it’s really necessary to create a federal task force to protect statues. Good question. Here’s what Trump had to say about it (and I am NOT making this up):

“I took out an old act, the statues and monuments. And we’re going to have thousands of people in Washington last week. And nobody showed up because they get a 10-year jail term now. They pushed down a statue. They — they even touch anything. It’s a very tough act. You couldn’t get a thing like that approved today. I took it out and we used it and you see the difference. You haven’t seen any rights. You haven’t seen people doing things lately. And the reason is 10 years in prison. If they knocked down a statue, now it started with Confederate soldiers, and then they started hitting George Washington, Abraham Lincoln. And they started hitting Thomas Jefferson. And you know, I’m going to a very special place this weekend, as you know, very beautiful monuments called Mount Rushmore, and somebody said they want to see that come down, that’s never coming down. And we’re going to, uh, run it the way I’ve been running it. Very tough. Now, we had to see what was going on for a period of a week, week and a half. Once we saw what was going on, I did this act last week, a week ago, a little more than a week ago. And it’s been very powerful because people don’t want to go to prison for 10 years for knocking down a statue. And most of these people they’re anarchist or they’re agitators, most of them don’t even know what they’re knocking down. You know, whether it’s Andrew Jackson, they were doing Andrew Jackson the week ago. Almost got it down but I had people go in that were very strong and they went and did a good job. The ropes were up, everything was ready, we got just in time. Andrew Jackson was a great general and a good president, very good president and probably two term and we did a good job. If I weren’t here, this all of Washington would have been knocked down. That’s what would have happened. You would have had Washington knocked down with somebody like a Biden where there’s no law, there’s no order. Everything would have been knocked down, but I’m here.”

There you go. Trump’s here, with a task force. Otherwise everything would have been knocked down.

Yesterday, there were 51.097 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the U.S. and a butcher’s bill of over 130,000 dead. But at least Trump has saved a statue of Andrew Jackson, the president who signed the Indian Removal Act (which resulted in at least 15,000 native American deaths — or about 11.5% of a pandemic).

change gonna come

Every time the United States is coping with widespread rioting sparked by racism and police violence during an economic crisis caused by the near-collapse of the national healthcare system overloaded by an inept and indifferent response to a global pandemic taking place a few months before the most critical presidential election in the history of this nation pitting an essentially decent, good-hearted but bumbling old white man against a malignant, mendacious, ignorant old white man, I am reminded of the words of the Poet Sam Cooke.

A change gonna come.

It has been a long time coming. I don’t know what the change will be, but it’s coming. There’s no guarantee the change will be a good one. But all the same, it’s coming. I’m scared to be very hopeful, I really am. I know the change — even if it’s a good one, even if it’s the change I want — won’t be nearly enough to make everything right. But it’s coming, and it’ll bring some clarity. In a few short months, things will start to get better. Or they’ll start to get much worse. But a change gonna come.

You can’t dodge it. You can’t stop it. You can work to make it the change you want, but it’s coming. You can organize, you can protest, you can sit at home and binge watch television, you can throw stones, you can vote, you can wear a mask, you can ignore science, you can pray to any entity you can believe in, you can burn the motherfucker down, you can donate money, you can buy a t-shirt with a slogan on it, you can bake bread, you can call names, you can close your eyes and hope it all goes away, but it won’t. You know it won’t. You know it won’t.

Change gonna come.

don’t be a dick; wear a mask

I don’t mind wearing a mask. I don’t like it, but I don’t mind it all that much. I hate the fact that it’s necessary (and, yeah, it IS actually necessary), but it’s a relatively small inconvenience. I have maybe a half dozen masks, all of which were given to me by friends. When I have to put one on, it’s a reminder that there are folks out there who care about me. I like that.

That’s the reason we wear the masks — because we care about other people. Because we’re not selfish dicks. We wear masks because this is a public health issue; not a political one, not a religious one, not a cultural one. Comrade Trump and his followers seem determined to make it into all three.

Me, being a good citizen.

Politically, they say it’s about Democrats wanting to scare the public, wanting to hurt the economy in order to damage Trump’s chance for re-election. Which is profoundly stupid. Like everybody else, I want to go back to pubs and coffee shops. I want to go to the movies. I want to stroll through the crowds at the farmer’s market, and linger over the counter of the pastry shop, and spend a few idle hours at the art center, and wander through the aisles of the market. I miss all that.

But the only way we’re going to be able to safely do that stuff again is if we wear masks for a while — until we can get a handle on Covid-19. Which we are NOT going to do if we don’t do more actual testing, if we don’t do contact tracing, and if we don’t wear the goddamn masks.

In terms of religion, they suggest Democrats want to keep churches closed in order to…I don’t know what. Something Satanic, I suppose. But we’ve seen that houses of worship are now the most common source of new Covid-19 outbreaks. That’s true internationally. Prayer alone is a poor prophylactic against viruses. The only way folks will be able to safely return to church is — well, again, testing, contact tracing, and wearing masks. If a divine being exists, he or she or it should be able to hear prayers said through a mask.

Don’t be a dick; wear a damn mask.

Culturally, wearing a mask gets passed through a filter of absurd masculinity and phony notions of heroism. Those folks standing together in crowds, mask-free, shouting about tyranny and mocking mask-wearing reporters — they see themselves as heroes. They see themselves as William Wallace (or at least Mel Gibson and his hair in Braveheart) shouting ‘Freedom!’ (they seem to forget he’s beheaded immediately afterwards). They see themselves as a Band of Brothers (the television mini-series about WWII, not that poofy Shakespeare St. Crispin’s Day bullshit), courageously displaying their willingness to stare a virus down and show it who’s boss. Wearing a mask, they think, is cowardly. A mask is a white flag of surrender to…something. Mask-Nazis.

Burial at Arlington National Cemetery. You think these guys are cowards?

It’s not cowardly to wear a mask when you buy groceries. It’s not cowardly to wear a mask when you’re burying your brothers-in-arms. It’s not brave to wear a mask either. It’s just being respectful. It’s just being a good citizen, a decent person. It’s just looking out for other folks in your community. It’s just good public health and common sense.

Wearing a mask is about not being a dick. Don’t be a dick. Wear a mask.