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Things to do at home 5

Play the ukulele with Will Grove White from the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (one of my favorite bands!).

This is an edited down version of an hour-long play along that was done on facebook on April 2. 1200 people joined in from all over the world to watch and take part in the UOGB’s first-ever live stream play along. You can even get chord and lyric sheets from their website.

If you’ve never heard of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, here’s two videos of them practicing self isolation because of the coronavirus:

If you want more of them, here’s one of my favorite concerts by them, called “Anarchy in the Ukulele“.


Things to do at home 4

4. Make silly videos about the pandemic

And with lots of time on their hands, they made another one. If you have not had enough of the Sound of Pandemic, watch on!

One last thing, I was hoping that people would send me more things like this to post for everyone’s enjoyment. Send me videos, photos… heck, I figured out a hack to get videos out of Facebook, so send me even those!



Yesterday, I read the transcript of the address to the UK by Queen Elizabeth II, but today a friend sent me a link to the video, which the NY Times has graciously allowed non-subscribers to watch for free (after watching an ad).

I’ve lived in England, and (perhaps despite that) I’ve never been much for the British monarchy, but this is one hell of a good address. It brought tears to my eyes. It is fairly short. I highly recommend you watch it.


Things to do at home 3

3. Mountain biking.

This one almost seems practical.


Things to do at home 2

2. Climb Mt Everest.


Things to do at home

  1. Freestyle skiing

I’m thinking of starting a series of posts about fun or unusual things people are doing at home while sheltering in place. Of course, I could use some help from you, dear readers. Please post links in the comments. Some sort-of guidelines: they should have been done since the start of the pandemic, and they should be things that people probably wouldn’t do otherwise. It helps if they make me laugh. And only things that can be reposted please (so no videos locked up by Facebook, the bastages!)


Exponentially Increasing

Humans are woefully terrible at understanding the impact of exponential growth. Here’s an example.

An article in the NY Times looked at CDC data for COVID-19 and found something interesting: “By the time 50 cases were officially confirmed, at least 1,200 people had already started showing symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.”

If you do the math, this means that there were 1200 / 50 = 24 times as many people infected compared to the number of confirmed cases. As I’m writing this Thursday evening, there are 245,080 Coronavirus cases known, which means that there might be 5.9 million people actually infected right now.

Take that number with a huge grain of salt (or a barrel of regular sized grains of salt). Because the growth rate isn’t constant, and external factors — like how well we are behaving at social distancing and washing our hands — can reduce growth considerably.

And who knows, maybe someday we will even have enough test kits and doctors so that when Donald Trump says anyone who wants to get tested, can be tested, he won’t be a pathological, pants-on-fire, lying asshole. That would help, too.

However, there are other potential external factors — like hospitals becoming overwhelmed, people running out of food or losing their jobs or homes — that could make the growth worse. Much worse.

But let’s say that the growth stays the same (even though it won’t). What is the interval of time that it takes between the time that someone gets infected and when they are a confirmed case? This includes how long it takes after someone is infected before symptoms appear (estimated to be 5 to 14 days), how long it takes before they can take the test (highly variable), and how long to get the results back (around 4 to 8 days now, but will get longer if hospitals get overloaded).

We don’t actually need to know precisely how long it takes. Whether it takes a week or a month (much more likely to be somewhere between that) the result of exponential growth is the same, it just takes longer.

In that amount of time, the number of people who are likely to be currently infected right now (roughly 5.6 million people) will grow around 24 times and turn into 141 million people. It just doesn’t matter if that takes a week or a month.

The only solution is to stop the rate from growing at all, by any means at our disposal. The magic number is to make it so that on average each infected person infects less than one other person. We know how to do it, now it is up to us to just do it.

(While I was writing this, the number of cases rose again, and the number deaths also increased a bit.)


Price Gouging

It’s enough to take your breath away.

Five years ago as part of its efforts to prepare for a global pandemic (such as the one we are facing now), the Obama administration signed a $13.8 million contract with a Pennsylvania manufacturer owned by Dutch multinational corporation Philips to design and produce “a low-cost, portable, easy-to-use ventilator that could be stockpiled for emergencies.

You might think those would come in handy right about now. But there is not a single one of these ventilators in the US stockpile, even though the US ordered 10,000 of them last September.

The problem is that because the ventilators were developed using funds from the government, the US pays $3,280 each for them. Instead, Philips (under its brand Respironics) has been producing and selling them on the open market. And last week, due to the current high demand, Philips hiked its price. Here’s a screenshot for one of these ventilators from a medical supply company on Staten Island, in the heart of the area with by far the largest outbreak of COVID-19 in the US, with 2,400 deaths.

According to Philips, the company has no plans to even begin producing these ventilators for the US until 2021. Instead, Jared Kushner is negotiating with Philips to produce 43,000 more complex and expensive ventilators for the US.

On Feb 10, the Trump administration hailed the Philips ventilator it had funded as a breakthrough for pandemic preparedness, saying “This game-changing device, considered a pipedream just a few years ago, is now available at affordable prices to improve stockpiling and deployment.”

Less than two weeks later, the government approached Philips with an urgent request to make these ventilators (that the Trump administration claimed were already available). On March 10, Philips agreed to supply the ventilators “as soon as possible”. However, in a subsequent statement, Philips admitted that it only committed to meet the original contract deadline of 10,000 ventilators by September 2022. Could it be that Philips is more interested in producing and selling the more expensive ventilators?

Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act last Friday, whose purpose is to compel companies to provide needed equipment and supplies in case of an emergency (and will cover any losses sustained by the company). Considering that ventilators are the most important thing keeping victims of COVID-19 alive, you might think that it would make sense to get the ventilators they already ordered, but you would be wrong. Instead, the government has been “remarkably deferential to Philips”.


Sexual Harassment

Saturday, my favorite political site Electoral Vote published a question from one of their readers asking about Tara Reade’s accusation of sexual assault against Joe Biden. Here’s the question and their answer:

Q: I was wondering if you might comment on the recent failed anti-Biden propaganda push related to sexual assault. Whoever is pushing the story is currently failing to get oxygen because of COVID-19 news, but they do successfully inundate Twitter and Reddit and Facebook every night. Do you think this indicates a pre-scheduled propaganda schedule? If so, did they have to go through with it, even though they knew they wouldn’t get traction? Or are Republicans just trying to get this into the news so they can start pretending it’s real? Is the current failure an instruction that the best way to deal with obvious Republican propaganda is to just ignore it? I would love to hear your thoughts. M.A., Washington, DC

A: Just so everyone is on the same page, the story being referenced is Tara Reade’s claim that she was sexually assaulted by Joe Biden back in 1993, while she was working for him. Here is the key portion of her narrative:

He just had me up against the wall. I was wearing like a skirt, a business skirt. I wasn’t wearing stockings. It was kind of a hot day that day, and I was wearing heels…I remember I was wearing a blouse, and he just had me up against the wall. And the wall was cold. It happened all at once…his hands were on me and underneath my clothes. Yeah, and he went down my skirt but then up inside it, and he penetrated me with his fingers, and he was kissing me at the same time, and he was saying something to me. He said several things. I can’t remember everything he said.

Biden, of course, has denied this.

It does not appear to be centrally coordinated; in fact, it started on one end of the political spectrum and then jumped to the other. You’re right that the story definitely did not gain traction, despite the fact that many mainstream outlets took a look at it. Here are some guesses as to why:

The “#MeToo Moment” Has Passed: There was a period of time there, right after the Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby stories broke, that the mere whiff of sexual impropriety was career-ending. Perhaps the most obvious person caught up in this was former senator Al Franken, who was compelled to resign his office before an investigation could be conducted. It is the case that sexual assault claims are taken much more seriously these days than they used to be, as well they should. But we seem to have exited the time in which a mere accusation was seen as proof of guilt.

Is Reade Trustworthy?: The general progression of events does not increase confidence in Reade’s account. The first problem is that she didn’t tell anyone at the time that she was assaulted, and she did not come forward with the story until a quarter-century had passed. Second, she came forward previously, and was one of the women who accused Biden of inappropriate hugging/touching, but didn’t mention anything beyond that. Third, she has been an outspoken anti-Biden and pro-Sanders voice on social media (and, in fact, when she made the assault allegations, she did so to a staunchly left-leaning website, The Intercept). None of this proves she is lying, but it certainly does raise some concerns about her veracity and her motivations.

Out of Character for Biden: There is no question that Biden grew up with a 1950s/1960s sense of boundaries, a sense out of step with where we’re at today. But, unlike Bill Clinton, Brett Kavanaugh, Anthony Wiener, and other plausibly accused alleged perpetrators of sexual assault, Biden’s never been associated with any misconduct beyond that. There is a huge chasm between “inappropriate hug” and “violent sexual assault.” It’s highly unusual for someone to jump over that chasm with no intermediate/gateway steps. It’s even more unusual for it to happen exactly one time. And thus far, nobody else has come forward with claims like Reade’s.

Right Wing Framing: After The Intercept ran the story, right-wing media grabbed it and ran with it. Interestingly, most of them had a headline or a lede that included the formulation “Joe Biden Said He Believes All Women. Does He Believe Tara Reade?” That’s a very unusual framing, one that downplays the more serious crime of sexual assault, and plays up Biden’s alleged hypocrisy (which is, of course, not a crime). Framing things in that way certainly makes it seem like even the right-wingers don’t really think Biden assaulted Reade, and instead they’re trying to use this as a “gotcha.”

Going to the Well Too Many Times: Shamefully, a number of folks (most commonly hacky right-wing operatives) have tried to use 100% fabricated claims of sexual misconduct to smear political opponents. The most notable case of this is probably the comically inept Jacob Wohl, who tried to smear special counsel Robert Mueller in this manner, and then tried it again with Pete Buttigieg. This has undoubtedly put the idea in people’s minds that when a sexual assault claim seems like in might fail the smell test, it might just be a political hit job.

Anyhow, these are our guesses. We think it’s instructive that Donald Trump has yet to deploy this against Biden. If there was any chance it could stick, and was going to become an element of the 2020 campaign, surely the President would have tossed it out there already.

And yes, propaganda is best ignored.

This is an issue I have quite a bit of interest in. I am extremely happy that (finally!) people are now taking accusations of sexual harassment seriously, but that doesn’t mean that all accusations are automatically true. They must be investigated and vetted.

I strongly agreed with their answer to the question, including that Biden had an overly touchy feely behavior toward women in the past, but that is a far cry from sexual assault. However, I had a couple of comments, so I wrote a response to them for use in their Sunday mailbag, and they published it. Here’s my response:

I.K. from Olympia, WA, writes: I really appreciate you answering the question about Tara Reade and the anti-Biden propaganda push. You make excellent points, but I have two comments.

First, You left out what happened with the Time’s Up fund, who declined to fund legal and PR fees for Reade because the appearance of them being political would threaten their 501(c)(3) status. In response, some sites have cried “coverup”. However, Time’s Up could have safely helped Tara Reade (despite Joe Biden being a presidential candidate) as long as they used their normal procedure to decide whether to help. Doesn’t it make more sense that they used their normal procedure to evaluate Reade’s claims, and (they, like you) found them unconvincing?

Second, you say that this story did not gain traction, and you also say that it is instructive that Trump has not deployed this against Biden, but you ignore something important. Does Trump know a better way to harm Biden with this than using it against him directly (and appearing to be the pot calling the kettle black).

In the last week, I have been inundated with messages from my relatives and friends who are Sanders supporters, all of them saying exactly the same thing: that because of this one accusation of sexual assault, they refuse to vote for Biden for president. So this is splintering the Democrats, which can only help Trump. I have no idea who is spreading this, but it seems to be working, and there are plenty of actors (Republicans, Sanders supporters, Russians, etc.) who would benefit. Plus, this is eerily similar to the way that fear, uncertainty, and doubt was used against Clinton during the 2016 election.

(My only regret is that I didn’t add some cute snark, and say “the despot calling the kettle black”).


Three Things

Three things happened in the last three days that have made me so angry that I couldn’t write this post until I calmed down a bit. It is now many hours later, so here they are:

First, two days ago was this headline: “White House abruptly transfers DHS official amid loyalty purge“. This is a top official at DHS, the department that is in charge of protecting homeland security and has taken a leading role in fighting COVID-19. She was moved out of DHS because “the Presidential Personnel Office raised questions about her loyalty to President Donald Trump.”

We are in the midst of a pandemic where tens of thousands of people have died and over half a million are sick, and a record-breaking economic meltdown has led to the largest jump in Americans applying for unemployment insurance in history. And the Trump administration is using that as a distraction so they can quietly get rid of people who don’t kiss Trump’s ass enough.

Like any bully, Trump didn’t hide from people in the DHS that he was removing someone because of lack of loyalty. He wanted to use her as an example, to frighten everyone else there into being loyal.

As terrible as that is, we are no longer surprised when crap like this happens. It is almost a daily occurrence with Trump. Him acting like the king (or mob boss) of what used to be a democracy has sadly become the new normal.

But then yesterday came the following news:

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) suggested Friday that a growing rift with the White House is affecting shipments of medical supplies to Michigan amid exponential growth in confirmed coronavirus cases.

When the federal government told us that we needed to go it ourselves, we started procuring every item we could get our hands on. What I’ve gotten back is that vendors with whom we had contracts are now being told not to send stuff here to Michigan.

Whitmer didn’t say who has told vendors to stop sending medical supplies to the state, but strongly implied the order came from President Trump’s administration.”

Seriously? Someone is blocking Michigan from receiving medical supplies that are urgently needed to save lives? Who could that be? And finally today, we got the horrible answer.

Today (Friday), during his now-daily TV briefing, Trump announced that “he told Pence not to call governors who aren’t ‘appreciative’ of White House coronavirus efforts.

Trump continued, “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call. I think they should be appreciative.” And if there was any doubt, he added “All I want them to do, very simple, I want them to be appreciative. I don’t want them to say things that aren’t true. I want them to be appreciative. We’ve done a great job.”

Trump even mentioned two governors by name:

Mike, don’t call the governor of Washington. You’re wasting your time with him.

Don’t call the woman in Michigan. It doesn’t make any difference what happens.

Is there any doubt that Trump is also preventing Michigan from getting medical supplies? After all, he just said that it doesn’t matter what happens. Think about that, it doesn’t matter if people die, or if they lose their life savings. That doesn’t matter. It only matters to Trump if people kowtow to him.

I’ll end with a wee bit of good news. Of all places, Fox News just released a poll that shows Joe Biden up 49% to 40% over Trump. And in counties where Hillary Clinton and Trump were within 10 points in 2016, Biden leads Trump 57% to 32%, a 25 point advantage.


Viral Spending

The Senate has passed the Coronavirus Relief Bill, which will likely pass the House by the end of this week. The size of the bill is staggering, at $2.2 trillion dollars. To put that in perspective, total federal spending is already $4.45 trillion, so we are talking about increasing this year’s spending by 50%, to $6.65 trillion.

Note that total tax revenue for the US is $3.46 trillion/year, but don’t be too surprised when that goes down due to the economy cratering.

Already, politicians on both sides of the aisle are pointing out that even this staggering bill will not be enough, and are talking about additional money being allocated. Estimates are that $2.2 trillion will only be enough to keep the country afloat for a few months.

Lastly, and also to nobody’s surprise, the bill is full of pork for special interests. In addition, the largest chunk of money ($540 billion) goes into a slush fund, which the Trump administration (under the direction of Trump’s Treasure Secretary Steven Mnuchin) can hand out anyway they see fit (also known as “picking winners and losers”). The Democrats did manage to add a limitation that none of the slush fund can go to any elected federal officials (including Trump) but does anyone doubt that it will end up in the bank accounts of Trump’s big campaign donors? Or used to build a wall along the southern border?


Death Panels

Back when President Obama was trying to enact health care reform in 2009, Sarah Palin created and popularized the term “death panels”. She claimed that the ACA would create panels of bureaucrats who would decide who was “worthy of medical care”. Even though this was a complete fabrication on the part of Palin, it managed to turn many people against what Republicans derided as “socialized medicine”. And of course, the healthcare system then knew who was worthy of saving — people who had enough money (or power) to get healthcare or afford required drugs.

It would be like wanting to privatize firefighting because our current system will lead to panels of bureaucrats who would decide which houses were worthy of being saved when they caught fire. Or privatize police departments so you have to pay for their protection, or courts, or the military.

But last night, Donald Trump tweeted “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. At the end of the 15 day period, we will make a decision as to which way we want to go!”

The question Trump is saying we need to decide is whether the costs of social distancing are worth it. Do we want to focus on saving lives, or saving the economy by focusing only on “productive” citizens.

That’s right, Trump is proposing “death panels” pure and simple. We have to decide who is worth saving. And we already know Trump’s answer to that question. The rich and powerful, and even then, probably only those who support him.

Sarah Palin was lying when she claimed that the government would decide who lives and dies. But now that is exactly what Trump is proposing.

UPDATE: Trump is thinking about relaxing social distancing rules and having people go back to work … in order to “save” the economy.


Read this NOW – UPDATE

The same person who authored the Medium article featured in my original “Read this NOW” post has come out with an update, and this time he had lots of help. The new version has concrete suggestions of good ways to contain the coronavirus outbreak, and has the added benefit of only requiring harsh restrictions for a limited amount of time — they estimate 7 weeks.

Using similar measures, China was able to control their epidemic in around two weeks. And South Korea is having similar success now.

There is also a White House petition you can (and should) sign.


Coronavirus Concertos

Italy is one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus. In fact, on Thursday they passed China on the number of people who have died from the pandemic — that’s an absolute number, which is pretty scary considering that China has far, far more people than Italy. And the Italians have been under a country-wide lockdown since earlier this month.

But that’s not going to stop the Italians from having fun, and a sense of humor about the whole thing. First, there were videos coming out of Italy showing the Italians standing on their balconies and playing music, with other nearby people joining in, or even dancing. Speaking of going viral, who knew music and dancing could stand up to social distancing!

Here’s just one video, but there are many more in this article in Vox, and even more on YouTube.

However, even more fun is this video, demonstrating how to prevent spreading the virus with music and dance. Note that there are captions in Italian, but even if you don’t know the language, you should be figuring out what they are demonstrating (if you can’t, you haven’t been paying attention lately!). And be sure to watch at the end, when they have one last joke.


Rewriting History

If you ever wanted to see the rewriting of history going so fast that it might give you whiplash, the Washington Post has put together this video showing Fox News hosts contradicting themselves over the course of a week. Do they really think their viewers are so stupid that they won’t notice? Could they be right?

The reason Fox News is doing this is that their telling people not to worry about the novel coronavirus has delayed America from taking measures to combat it, which means that dramatically more people will die, and the economy now looks like it will fall into a full depression, and they don’t want people to realize that their lies and propaganda were responsible.