Category Archives: Science

Saturday Odds & Sods: Sail On, Sailor

Fishing Boats by Georges Braque.

My birthday was last Thursday. We celebrated by going to Brigtsen’s a great restaurant in Uptown New Orleans. It was my first time eating out with a mask mandate in place and only my third time in an eatery since the lockdown. It was kind of weird but so am I.

As a result of the weeklong festivities, this edition of Saturday Odds & Sods will be somewhat truncated. Pity that I’m not a show biz kid so I can’t make this pun: “born in a truncated.” I guess I just did…

Cubist artist Georges Braque may not be synonymous with summer, but the Beach Boys are. This week’s theme song was written by Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks and two dudes I’ve never heard of for the Beach Boys 1973 album Holland. It’s nautical yet somehow still naughty or some such shit.

We have three versions of Sail On, Sailor for your listening pleasure: the studio original, Ray Charles with the Beach Boys live, and Los Lobos from their new album of California songs, Native Sons.

Now that we’ve sailed the ocean blue but not in 1492, let’s jump to the break.

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We’re All Guinea Pigs

Image by John Valentino.

The same people who spiked the ball over the end of the pandemic are whining about inconsistent statements from the CDC. The reason for the inconsistency is that COVID is a moving target.

The CDC has to be nimble in its response. Has the response been perfect? Of course not. It’s a human institution run by people. We’re fallible and so are scientists. Under its current leadership, the CDC’s actions are honest and based on science not on the wishful thinking coming out of the Trump White House.

Repeat after me: Wishful Thinking Kills.

As a daily reader of the Guardian I watched the Delta variant rip through the UK and elsewhere. I began to tell people that it was not over both here and elsewhere. I take no pleasure in being right about this. Wanting things to return to normal isn’t the same as it being normal. Wishful thinking is lethal in this context.

Repeat after me: Wishful Thinking Kills.

We all have pandemic fatigue. We’re all exasperated by the willfully unvaccinated. Too much of the pandemic’s burden has been borne by the responsible and vaccinated majority. I get all that but that doesn’t mean that we can pretend it’s over.

Repeat after me: Wishful Thinking Kills.

Some anti-vaxx sentiment was inevitable. Contrarianism is as American as apple pie. There’s always someone who is skeptical of everything that comes out of government. What’s different this time is that a major political party is anti-vaxx and anti-mask. That’s resulted in a slice of the country that refuses to get vaccinated. The malakatude, it burns.

Josh Marshall nailed our current dilemma last week:

COVID is an evolving pathogen. Our knowledge of it is evolving. We’re basically conducting, against our will, a live subject study with the entire human population. Science isn’t a book with all the answers. It’s an empirical process. By its nature it’s tentative and evolving. We are learning about the efficacy of the best vaccines. We’re learning about Delta COVID. And we’re trying to figure out how the two interact.

The scientific method involves trial and error. Our role in the process is to mask up and stay safe.

We’re all lab rats.

We’re all Guinea pigs.

The last word goes to They Might Be Giants with a song that includes these lyrics, “A scientific theory isn’t just a hunch or guess. It’s more like a question that’s been put through a lot of tests.”

Repeat after me: Wishful Thinking Kills.

Don’t Fauci My Florida?

Some things never change. Republicans have long identified enemies, then raised money by attacking them.  For many years, Ted Kennedy was the GOP’s main boogieman even after his presidential hopes ended. They raised hell and buckets of bucks off the Clintons, Barack Obama, and Nancy Pelosi. Now the Trumpiest Trumper of them all, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is continuing this odious tradition with an unlikely target: Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Say What?  You heard that right. Team DeSantis is selling tacky anti-Fauci: merch.

Freedom, man. A friend has suggested I slap that on a t-shirt or koozie and sell it on Etsy or Red Bubble, but too many people would take it literally instead of ironically. (The first time I heard about Etsy, the name made me chortle. Etsi-ketsi is Greek for so-so. So-so it goes.)

The Impeached Insult Comedian was the one who started the hate campaign against one of the world’s most eminent scientists. What Trump does, Ron DeSantis immediately imitates.

DeSantis’ record on the pandemic is one of the worst in the world:

DeSantis avoided statewide mask requirements even as leaders across the political spectrum embraced them amid growing evidence of their effectiveness. This spring, he suspended all virus-based local rules for businesses and individuals.

The governor has encouraged people to get vaccinated but also banned businesses from requiring proof of vaccination, arguing that such measures are a form of discrimination against people who refuse vaccines for medical or religious reasons. He also successfully sued the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to keep it from enforcing its coronavirus rules on cruise ships in Florida, a major part of the state’s tourism industry.

Freedom, man.

DeSantis is bragging about Florida’s “freedom based” economy while ignoring the latest explosion of COVID in his state. Freedom, man.

At last weekend’s summer CPAC event DeSantis came in second to Trump in a 2024 presidential straw poll with 21%. According to Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman, Trump was already jealous of his Mini-me:

In recent days I spoke with a half dozen GOP insiders about the recent flare-ups between DeSantis’s and Trump’s camps. The sources agreed that DeSantis and Trump are on an inevitable collision course as the 2024 GOP field takes shape. “There’s going to be a blowup,” a prominent Republican said. “Trump fucking hates DeSantis. He just resents his popularity,” a Trump confidant told me. Asked for comment, Trump spokesperson Liz Harrington said: “Governor DeSantis has shown great respect.”

Part of Trump’s irritation with DeSantis is that Trump famously claims credit for anyone in his orbit who gains attention. “Trump tells people, ‘I made Ron,’” the prominent Republican said. “Trump says that about a lot of people. But in this case it’s actually true.” According to sources, then congressman DeSantis cultivated Trump’s support during the 2018 gubernatorial primary by hanging out at Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel. “Ron basically ran his primary campaign out of the hotel. He buttonholed Trump supporters and his friends,” the prominent Republican said.

I look forward to a collision between Dr. Evil and his Mini-Me. It will be entertaining as well as destructive to the Republican party. Game Of Thrones ended badly, hopefully Trump-DeSantis will too. Stay tuned.

Back to Tony Fauci. He’s a tough old bird who can take a punch. He’s from Brooklyn before it became Hipster Central. In Fauci’s day, it was a tough working class enclave. Dr. Fauci has been vilified before; by AIDS activists in the 1980’s. He was able to win them over with a combination of charm and substance, but they were good people who wanted to stop a deadly disease. Ron DeSantis is a bad person who has allowed a deadly disease to spread to further his political ambition.

Freedom, man.

The last word goes to Bessie Smith:

Why Is Miss Universe Always From Earth?

A lot of us are feeling a lot of anticipation right now—for those who have not yet been jabbed it’s the anticipation of that jab and how your body will react to it (my first Moderna shot elicited a slight headache and the second some pretty bad fatigue and muscle aches for about 10 hours, but so worth it), the semi-jabbed anticipate the next jab, and the fully-jabbed anticipate returning to the larger world.

I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends, and resuming the things that bring me joy:  volunteering at a no-kill animal shelter, singing with my choir, doing Church Lady things with the St. Mary’s Guild at church, wandering Costco, seeing a movie in a theater, eating a hot meal I didn’t cook and having all the plates taken away for someone else to wash.

I am anticipating these things in the context of the awfulness of our current society:  the continued fallout of a violent insurrection, almost daily mass shootings, police officers STILL FORKING KILLING Black people. I’m an anxious person to begin with, and none of those things are balm for a worrywart like me.

But the thing I am anticipating the most right now is a fairly rare and quite delightful experience:  the return of Brood X, the largest and most populous periodic cicada emergence. I have been part of a Mid-Atlantic weather community for 15+ years and in addition to tracking spring storms, we are also tracking the emergence of these amazing insects. That’s the magnitude of this event.

I grew up in New England so I didn’t experience this surreal phenomenon until I moved to DC. In 2004 I lived in a prime neighborhood for cicadas with established tree-lined streets and a large wilderness park just a few blocks away. And even better, the small building I lived in had a giant Japanese maple tree right in front of my windows. As the nymphs came out of the ground to shed their skins, grow wings, and fly away I could see them on my window screens. The noise in my neighborhood was deafening and that tree was absolutely covered with cicadas.

Here’s the thing:  I am not a fan of bugs. I like pollinators, praying mantises, katydids, and I catch inside spiders and take them outside (or at least I did before we got our cat Rey because she is always at war with spiders and she always wins), but the rest of the insect world can go pound sand. I was excited to experience Brood X but I was also quietly terrified. All those bugs! In the air! On the ground! Would they hurt me (no)?

As it turns out, cicadas are harmless and bumbling. I would even say they are charming. You’ll see the newly emerged ones rocking upside down on the street. (I used to turn them right side up as I headed to my bus stop. I couldn’t help myself.) They are flying doofuses with no capability to hurt you. Our cats are absolutely obsessed with bugs, to the point that last summer the aforementioned Rey got stung by a potter’s wasp she was annoying and she continues to annoy them still, so I imagine they are going to go nuts in a few weeks.

One of the best things about Brood X is that there are different cicadas that emerge, each with its own song and each with specific mating calls. So while it is loud, it’s also a whole boatload of loud.  One of the cool songs is the “pharaoh” song:

Another group sings a frying pan/lawn sprinkler sound (I think this is a mating call) :

And my favorite sound, and the one that inspired the title of this post, is a high-pitched alien spaceship song—you’ll have to listen for it in the background, but once you hear it, you’ll know it:

It seems unusually early, as the cicadas didn’t emerge en masse in 2004 until May, but there are already reports of some early birds up and singing in the trees in the DC metro area. They will pay for their temporal mistake as they will be gobbled up by eager prey. In the meantime I watch for emergence holes in the yard and listen for first song of the swarm. I really can’t wait for it to begin.

The Perseverance of Science

 

Marvin The Martian

You Make Me Soooo Angry

 

NASA has released video of Perseverance landing on Mars.

I have to admit, watching it makes me a little verklempt (it’s Yiddish, look it up).

I am of the the generation that grew up with the Space Race. I remember TVs being wheeled into elementary school classrooms so we could watch the Mercury, then Gemini, then Apollo rockets lift the men with the Right Stuff off into the wild blue yonder. There was a time when I could name all the Astronauts, the names of their ships (capsules), and what their particular missions accomplished in the contest to be first to the moon.

And that does not make me unique. All my friends could do it too. I suspect at the time most Americans  could do it. It was a national obsession that in it’s backstory had a basis in our fear of what our opponents, the Roos-skies, were doing.

But then Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon and overnight we seemed to move on. TV stopped covering launches in real time. Even the grainy black and white images of men scampering on the moon became fodder for the “B” block or even latter in Walter Cronkite’s evening recap of the news.

Then last week NASA landed a jeep on Mars, complete with a helicopter and a dozen Go-Pros (yes, really, all the cameras are off the shelf) and this morning, due to the fact it takes a couple of days to get a signal from Mars back to Earth, they released the video of the actual landing and I found myself tearing up as the megapack hit the surface.

I thought about the stunning scientific achievement I was watching and the joy in the Jet Propulsion Lab of the dozens of scientists and engineers seeing years of commitment and sacrifice finally pay off. They were celebrating more than just the capstone to that commitment and sacrifice. They were celebrating science itself.

Science has had a rough go of it the last few decades. It gets disregarded, shamed, and generally dismissed. Science, unless directly connected to the digital world, has gone from core curriculum in schools to elective class. Commerce overwhelms science as the events in Texas last week showed. Hell, the last bastion of unapologetic comedic shaming is making fun of smart people aka The Big Bang Theory.

Worst of all, conspiracy theories have replaced the scientific method as our means of understanding the world. Teaching science to high school kids isn’t about making them into future scientists. It’s about teaching them to see a problem and explore all the logical explanations that will lead to a solution or, dare I say, truth. That process will carry over into their lives in so many ways that will have nothing to do with science. For instance if they understand the scientific method they are more likely to say 81,000,000 is greater than 74,000,000 and all of your “Big Lie” just doesn’t hold up to critical thought.

Meanwhile I will follow with great interest the adventures of Perseverance of Mars. Deep down I hope it discovers that there was once a thriving civilization on Mars that destroyed itself through it’s disregard for science and truth. Maybe then earthlings will begin to take seriously the danger of disregarding science.

But even then we’ll probably be told it’s all made up by “scientists” to just “save their jobs”. You know, fake news.

Shapiro Out

Texas to Florida: Hold m’ Beer, Watch This

Dr. Hasan Gokal

Sometimes you’re a hero, sometimes you’re a brown skinned villain.

This whole COVID vaccine mishigas (per the Chief I’m trying to use more Yiddish) is getting so as you can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys.

Above you see Dr. Hasan Gokal of Houston, TX. Until recently he was the medical director for Harris County’s Covid-response team. In that capacity he was put in charge of getting those precious cc’s of vaccine into the arms of local citizens.

On Dec. 29, a mild Tuesday, Dr. Gokal arrived before dawn at a park in the Houston suburb of Humble to supervise a vaccination event intended mostly for emergency workers. In part because of minimal publicity, the pace was slow, with no more than 250 doses administered. But this was the county’s first public event, he said. “We knew there would be hiccups.”

Hiccups are one thing. Drink a glass of water while standing on your head and they’re gone. I promise, try it. What he had on his hands was about to become a major headache.

As the event wound to a conclusion Dr. Gokal found himself with an opened vial containing ten more doses that were turning into a ticking time bomb. You might be aware once those vaccine vials are punctured you have six hours to use them before they go bad.

And as the Boss says, vaccine doses these days ain’t cheap.

Now it’s not like Texas medical authorities didn’t have a plan for this probability. In fact it had been laid out to all doctors and nurses who would be administering the shots. If there was a punctured vial with remaining doses:

The advice was to vaccinate people eligible under the 1(a) category (health care workers and residents in long-term-care facilities), then those under the 1(b) category (people over 65 or with a health condition that increases risk of severe Covid-related illness).

After that the message was: “Just put it in people’s arms. We don’t want any doses to go to waste. Period.

Faced with the instructions not to let any vaccine go to waste

Dr. Gokal called a Harris County public health official in charge of operations to report his plans to find 10 people to receive the remaining doses. He said he was told, simply: OK.

Dr. Gokal found a hodgepodge of folks who needed and wanted the vax. Some were people he knew, some were friends of friends, and the last was his own wife whose pulmonary sarcoidosis made her eligible for the vaccine. In all he used up the precious vaccine with 15 minutes to spare and after running around the county for close to six hours.

Ten days later he was fired.

The official reason was he administered the vaccine outside the scheduled vaccination event. According to those who were firing him he should have returned the unused vaccine or simply thrown it away. They also said they had questions about the “equity” of who got those last ten shots.

Apparently the officials didn’t like that he gave the shots to people who were friends or friends of friends, literally the only people he could find. That and oh yeah they were brown people with Indian sounding names.

White man says hrumph.

But it gets better.

On January 21, Dr. Gokal’s son opens the front door to their house to find a gaggle of reporters and cameramen screaming for comment on his father’s imminent arrest.

Harris County’s district attorney, Kim Ogg, had just issued a news release that afternoon with the headline: “Fired Harris County Health Doctor Charged With Stealing Vial Of Covid-19 Vaccine.”

Fortunately there is at least one sane person in Texas and he happened to be the judge who was shackled with this. He immediately dismissed the case, adding in

“In the number of words usually taken to describe an allegation of retail shoplifting, the State attempts, for the first time, to criminalize a doctor’s documented administration of vaccine doses during a public health emergency,” he wrote. “The Court emphatically rejects this attempted imposition of the criminal law on the professional decisions of a physician.”

Wonder if that would be his opinion in an abortion case. But I digress.

All’s well that ends well? Oh no, this is Texas baby, we don’t cotton to no judge just up and saying we don’t got a case. DA Ogg is now taking this to the next meeting of the grand jury in March. Apparently she thinks this is a game of Cowboys and Indians and she’s out for his scalp.

Meanwhile Dr. Gokal is out of a job and unable to find one because as we all know the accusation is on page one and the dismissal is on page 27. Yeah Texas that’s smart, keep a doctor out of commission in the middle of a pandemic. As the wife (Cruella) has been known to say, “what the f**k is wrong with our healthcare system?”

I’d like to say a little common sense and all of this would have been avoided, but it’s pretty clear this isn’t about common sense. This issue is as clear as brown and white. There is not a chance in hell that if this doctor had been white and the folks who got the “use it or lose it” vaccinations were white we wouldn’t be talking about this right now. Dr. Gokal would be hailed as a hero and praised for his savvy quick thinking. Just like the white doctors and nurses who were in almost the exact same situation in Oregon a couple of weeks ago, time running out on their vaccines, stuck in the snow, and telling other stuck motorists to roll down their windows and roll up their shirtsleeves.

Instead Harris County Texas DA Ogg wants to send him to jail. I guess she’s tired of Florida holding the title as Chief Dumb Ass State in the Union. Hopefully the appropriately named 10cc won’t be singing this for him.

Shapiro Out

Jab Jabber

Hands by Max Ernst.

When I say jab, I don’t mean Jabberwocky, Jabba the Hutt, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or a punch. Jab is what the Brits call a shot in the arm administered by a medical professional. That’s right, this long punny intro leads to a post about our hope to vaccinate our way out of the pandemic.

COVID is the David Bowie of viruses. It keeps morphing and changing like crazy. Scientists are cautiously optimistic that the various vaccines can keep up with the virus, but I have the jab jitters as we move from the Ziggy Stardust phase of the virus to the Thin White Duke phase. The good news is that Bowie lived a long life, the bad news is that we’re stuck by analogy in his most decadent phase: the mid-1970’s.

It’s unclear how well the Bowie analogy holds up but what is clear is that the Trump Regime like its leader was not big on planning. Team Biden is left with a mess that requires their immediate attention. It’s one of many. I think there will be days where President Biden will say to his estimable chief of staff Ron Klain, “Remind me why I wanted this job again.”

The good news is that Joe Biden is not a quitter. In fact, he’s a tougher sumbitch than given credit for.  This toughness is epitomized by a man with a serious stutter going into a line of work that requires public speaking. You can still see him struggle with his stutter then overcome it by force of will. This is not a man easily deterred by setbacks. It’s just what the doctor ordered at the end of the Trump error.

The headline on an article by TPM’s Josh Kovensky says it all: How Trump Left The Country With No Real Vaccine Distribution Plan. Make sure you read the whole damn thing. You’ll alternate between moments of schadenfreude and worry about how we’ll get out of this mess. Mercifully, Team Biden is imbued with the can-do spirit that America was known for before wallowing in white Trumper angst for four years.

Under the previous administration, we were neck deep in shit and sinking fast, but help is not only on the way it’s here.

The last word goes to David Bowie with a song that name checks the Thin White Duke:

Saturday Odds & Sods: Time To Kill

The Gross Clinic by Thomas Eakins.

This week’s featured image is one of the most famous American paintings of the 19th Century. I’ve posted it to honor all the medical professionals who are fighting the good fight against COVID-19 but who wear masks and gloves unlike Dr. Gross and his cohort. Thanks, y’all.

I prefer to keep this weekly feature light but it’s hard to do in these tough times. The second act is kind of heavy, but the jokes return in our third act. Laughs are precious right now when fear is abroad in the world and our government in the hands of an evil clown, President* Pennywise. Oy just oy.

At the risk of being a pest, a reminder to support Chef’s Brigade NOLA for all the reasons set forth in this post. Thanks again, y’all.

This week’s theme song was written by Robbie Robertson in 1970 for The Band’s third album Stage Fright. It’s a joyful tune with a somewhat dark lyrical subtext.

We have two versions of Time To Kill for your listening pleasure:  the Todd Rundgren produced studio original and a live version from the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen: a 1973 festival starring The Band, The Dead, and the Allman Brothers Band.

The title certainly resonates in our era:, we all have time to kill. One of my mottos as a blogger is: When in doubt, post a Kinks song:

Now that we’ve killed time, let’s jump to the break. It won’t kill you.

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Knowledge Isn’t Always Power

When I was younger, I was easily flustered and had a temper to match. In Star Trek terms, I was something of a Klingon; only without the bellicosity, bad food, and rotten opera. I spent years trying to Vulcanize my temperament and have largely succeeded. I pride myself on being calm, rational, and never panicking. Better a Vulcan than a Klingon: I’m just glad that my ears aren’t pointed.

My resolve to stay calm has been sorely tested by the COVID-19 crisis. And not just by the insane reaction of a president* who thinks that ignoring the problem will make it go away. After an extended bout with a more conventional bug, the news has me jittery and on edge. My Vulcan resolve is shaken but I refuse to let it slip away.

Being well-informed is usually my armor against the crazy. The viral virus news has left me jittery and uneasy.  And the reaction of people who should know better has shaken me to the core. Denial is in, realism is out. There’s a fine line between underreacting to a problem and freaking out. It’s called the happy medium and we’re not achieving it as a society.

The first cases of coronavirus in New Orleans were announced yesterday. The city had a big weekend planned; full of large public gatherings including the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Parade. That parade is known for riders throwing veggies from their floats and walking groups of drunken men kissing women along the route. Mayor Cantrell quite wisely pulled the plug on this parade and other events. We’ll just have to buy our own cabbages.

The reaction to the Mayor’s decision flooded social media with a noxious gas of self-righteousness and downright stupidity. I’m not a fan of this Mayor but I am a fan of rational public health measures intended to limit the spread of this contagion. If it can be limited early, we have a chance to avoid becoming the Seattle of the South; something that in another context would be a good thing.

Watching the people in Washington state struggle to contain the epidemic is, to be blunt, unnerving. It’s a wealthy state with more competent state and local governments than we’re accustomed to in New Orleans, Louisiana. If it can hit them this hard, it can happen here. We need to learn from the mistakes of others, not repeat them. The virus doesn’t care that we survived Katrina and the Federal Flood and the daily hardships of living in TFC: This Fucking City. In Star Trek terms, it’s the Borg; only without the crazy rubberized outfits.

The only rational fears expressed yesterday on social media were about the impact of this public health crisis on service industry workers and the poor. Something must be done to help them on a state, local, and national level. Bailing out the oil companies and hoteliers simply won’t do. The latter strikes me as another slush fund for the Trump clan. Nice work if you can get it.

In the short run, I’m planning to hunker down and limit my social contacts. This virus is highly contagious, and I have no desire to be either an infector or infectee.

In the end, the post title is ironic. I still believe that information is power, but a surfeit of information presented hysterically is not. Beware, take care.

The last word goes to my main man, Mr. Spock:

The Shadow Of Incompetence

First, I’d like to second what Athenae said yesterday about focusing on the big picture. The real enemy is Donald Trump, not Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders; not even their more obnoxious supporters. A reminder that the Impeached Insult Comedian has been undermining our democracy and the rule of law whenever possible. Incumbents are always the issue when they run for re-election, especially in 2020. The issue is Trump, Trump, Trump.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming. The Trump regime has been trying and failing to lie its way through the COVID-19 crisis. It’s been their modus operandi since 2017, after all. They don’t know any other way to cope with a problem. They’ve been lucky so far: none of their past crises directly threatened the lives and health of the vaunted Trump base. This time is different.

The NYT’s Charles Blow nails it in a column titled You Can’t Gaslight A Virus:

Whereas his supporters can be lied to and gaslighted, a virus cannot. A virus is going to do what a virus does. Viruses are not thinking and aware. Technically, they’re not even living things. They are like an army of androids, multiplying as they attack and infect living things.

So none of the tricks that Trump has learned and deployed will work against this virus. Only science, honesty, prudence and genuine concern for public safety will work now.

President* Pennywise is still trying to use his characteristic combination of bluster, braggadocio, and bullshit. It seems that he knows more about the contagion than eminent scientists such as Francis Collins and Anthony Fauci. There was a group shot the other day of Trump with those two men; both of whom were looking down, not at the Kaiser of Chaos. I feel terrible for them and for everyone who has tried to bring expertise and common sense to bear on the problem.

In his frantic attempts to gaslight the public, Trump keeps pouring petrol on the fire. His self-appointed role as commentator-in-chief exposes his fatal inability to STFU. Trump’s motto seems to be, when in doubt babble. It’s something he has in common with Joe Biden. Team Trump is playing with fire in discussing Biden’s “cognitive decline” when their candidate is mentally ill.

The 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic established that lying one’s way through a public health crisis was the worst possible way of handling it. The Great War had put governments, including our own, in the habit of lying. In a public health crisis, the truth is the best disinfectant.

The inevitable comparisons between the COVID-19 catastrophe and the Bush administration’s inept handling of Hurricane Katrina have been drawn. Partisan politics played a role in that crisis as well: Karl Rove oversaw the White House response. He and Congressional GOPers demonized Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. Trump followed suit by calling Washington Governor Jay Inslee “a snake.” More snake oil from the liar-in-chief.

Another thing these two seemingly disparate episodes have in common is historian John Barry. He has written two books applicable by analogy: Rising Tide and The Great Influenza. On January 31, Barry wrote an op-ed for the WaPo in which he argued that the government’s efforts to contain the virus were doomed to fail. The events of the last few weeks have proven Barry right. Again.

This is a tricky time. Lives are at stake, so we wish our government’s response was honest and competent. Unfortunately, those are two qualities that the Trump regime lack. This public health crisis is shadowed by their incompetence; even the stock market gets it. It’s a pity that the White House does not.

Repeat after me: In a public health crisis, the truth is the best disinfectant.

The last word goes to Jackson Browne:

It’s A Mystery

This is a lot of words about why “we” don’t believe in science anymore just to NOT say “Republicans:” 

We are abandoning our last greatest hope and assuming enormous risk when our policy makers stand at odds with science without any rational foundation for their dissent. The U.S. has long led the world in scientific discovery and putting science into practice to advance human health, energy, agriculture and food safety. Yet, now, amidst impending crisis, are we to deny our own strength and step back from leadership?

I mean …

I can’t imagine why one political party in one country has a stranglehold on all discourse, not to mention funding, for various kinds of science including climate science. Our “policy makers” do not stand at odds with science. Our REPUBLICAN policy makers do, but articles like this perpetuate the fiction that ALL government is the problem, instead of saying outright that right-wing government is the problem.

And it’s frustrating because that maintains the terrible state of things, that cynical LOL EVERYTYHING’S RUINED thing we think is so savvy and cute. If we don’t name the problem, if we don’t say outright that what we need to do is elect NON-REPUBLICANS, we will continue to stand around staring at each other and wondering why there are no more polar bears or whatever.

A.

Saturday Odds & Sods: I Can’t Stand The Rain

Landscape in the Rain by Vincent Van Gogh.

It was the week from hell in New Orleans. There turned out to be much more human error involved in the flood I wrote about Monday. It has led to an orgy of recrimination and paranoia. The bottom line is that the city’s pumping system is in poor shape at the peak of hurricane season. It makes me glad to live in the so-called sliver by the river but it still bites the big one.

Mayor Landrieu has been re-enacting my Russell Long meme:

Comparisons to Katrina and the Federal Flood remain overwrought but things should not have gotten as bad as they did. It was also my birthday and in the future the August 5th flash flood will join the list of local flood dates. Heckuva job, Mitch. Btw, your fantasies of a presidential bid are underwater, both literally and figuratively.

This week’s theme song was an easy choice since I live in a city with marginally functional drainage as of this writing. I Can’t Stand The Rain was written by Ann Peebles, Don Bryant, and Bernie Miller. It was a big hit in 1973 and could be the theme song not only of this post but of the city of New Orleans in the summer of 2017. Heckuva job, Mitch.

Here are two versions of this superb song: the Ann Peebles original and a live version from the great Paul Rodgers. Rodgers recorded the song in Memphis for his Royal Sessions album. It was one of my birthday albums. It’s a good ‘un.

I’m feeling terse and not particularly funny as I write this on Friday morning. I’ve been on the receiving end of some extraordinarily bad customer service this week and I’m still fuming as you can see from this tweet:

The post was already assembled so I’ll play hurt as it were. We’ll see how that works out after the break. At least I’m not concussed…

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Malaka Of The Week: William Happer

An eminent physicist who’s on the faculty at Princeton is openly campaigning to become the Insult Comedian’s science adviser. He has an impressive curriculum vitae and is certainly qualified for the position. There’s a rub: he’s a climate change denier. And that is why William Happer is malaka of the week.

Dr. Hapless Happer gave an interview to the Guardian wherein he shared his views on those of us who believe in climate change:

“There’s a whole area of climate so-called science that is really more like a cult,” Happer told the Guardian. “It’s like Hare Krishna or something like that. They’re glassy-eyed and they chant. It will potentially harm the image of all science.”

Are they Moonies, Scientologists, or Hairy Fishnuts, Dr. Hapless Happer? They’re all inclined to be glassy-eyed and the first cult is pro-GOP. Scientologists are down with Trumpism because they believe greed is good and selfishness is where it’s at.

Dr. Malaka also supports the gag order imposed by the morons at the Brown House:

Happer also supports a controversial crackdown on the freedom of federal agency scientists to speak out about their findings, arguing that mixed messages on issues such as whether butter or margarine is healthier, have led to people disregarding all public health information.

“So many people are fed up of listening to the government lie to them about margarine and climate change that when something is actually true and beneficial they don’t listen,” he said, citing childhood vaccines as an example. “The government should have a reputation of being completely reliable about facts – real facts.”

Real facts, Dr, Malaka? Do you mean the facts as spoken by your dear leader? I wonder if you understand the Faustian bargain you’re entering into. Trump listens to no one and insists on unconditional subservience. Are you ready to lick Bannon’s jackboots and be humiliated by the president*? That’s what the job entails.

Dr. Malaka derides scientists who believe in climate change as members of a cult. He’s about to join a cult where staffers are required to clap every time the dear leader speaks and retweet his increasingly incoherent rants. The hapless Happer might end up on the streets banging a tambourine and selling MAGA caps as punishment for displeasing Trump or Bormann Bannon. The only one who’s drinking Kool-Aid is Dr. Malaka. It’s Trumper Kool-Aid.

Happer doubtless thinks he’ll be an important and influential man if he becomes Trump’s science guy. Wrong. He’ll be just another one of the Insult Comedian’s dignity wraiths who will skedaddle back to a cold welcome at Princeton when he quits or is fired. Dr. Malaka is not only a climate change denier, he’s a world-class naif. And that is why William Happer is malaka of the week.

 

 

 

Malaka Of The Week: Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

There’s a lot of malakatude to choose from this week: even more than usual. I decided it was time to be bipartisan and select a Democrat with nutty ideas who is trying to sell-out to the Trumpers.  And that is why Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is malaka of the week.

It’s hard to live up to a famous father, especially one whose candidacy remains one of the great what ifs of American history. That’s the burden RFK Jr. carries and I don’t envy him. For years, he seemed to be fighting the good fight as an environmental lawyer until he got hooked up with the anti-vaxxers. I’ll let Slate’s Susan Matthews explain the connection between his thinking and that of the Insult Comedian with whom he met this week:

This mistrust of expertise fits right in with RFK Jr.’s vaccination theories, which are built around the blatantly false idea that vaccines are unsafe, and the more paranoid idea that there is a conspiracy to cover this up extends from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to elected officials to journalists. My Slate predecessor Laura Helmuth got a full rundown of RFK Jr.’s vaccine theory when he called her to complain about our coverage of his views in 2013, which Slate referred to as “anti-vax,” a label that Kennedy rejected, saying he was “very much pro-vaccine.” Kennedy wrote a book that attempts to connect a component of vaccines to neurodevelopment disorders including autism, called Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak, and regularly attempts to meet with elected officials regarding his concerns.

In Helmuth’s piece, journalist Seth Mnookin succinctly describes Kennedy’s problematic assessment of the CDC: “What he has done is taken concern that there could be a problem as evidence that there was a problem.” This, coincidentally, is why putting Kennedy in charge of a commission on vaccine safety would be so frightening.

That’s right, Kennedy left his meeting with Trump claiming that he would be appointed to some role in investigating the vaccines that he claims not to oppose. Not so fast said Team Trump:

“The President-elect enjoyed his discussion with Robert Kennedy Jr. on a range of issues and appreciates his thoughts and ideas,” Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in a statement obtained by CNN. “The President-elect is exploring the possibility of forming a commission on Autism, which affects so many families; however no decisions have been made at this time. The President-elect looks forward to continuing the discussion about all aspects of Autism with many groups and individuals.”

Kennedy and Trump have both pushed the discredited theory that vaccinating children can cause autism, even though the notion of a link between vaccines and autism has been thoroughly discredited by the medical community. Trump has said that he has personally witnessed children who received “massive injections” of vaccines at once develop “horrible autism” as a result, while Kennedy continues to promote the myth that thimerosal, a mercury-based compound once contained in many childhood vaccines, causes autism.

The Kennedy-Trump confab could be called When Fabulists (Fantasists?) Collide. I don’t know who to believe since neither of them is credible. That tends to be the case with zealots and conspiracy buffs. As for Hope Hicks, I’d like to paraphrase something  the late writer Mary McCarthy said during her epic feud with Lillian Hellman: Every word she says [writes] is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’. That goes double for Hicks’ boss and his henchmen and henchwomen. I have a hench y’all agree with me…

Kennedy has gone from denouncing Trump to cozying up to him since they agree about a long discredited study. It’s what zealots and malakas do. And that is why Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is malaka of the week.

 

Malaka Of The Week: John Milkovich (Not Malkovich)

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They say that great minds think alike, so do twisted minds. Michael F and I came up with similar ideas yesterday: to mock the same Gret Stet legislator today. When I first saw his piece I thought I’d *accidentally* posted but then I noticed the title: Being John Milkovich. I considering scrapping this malaka of the week post but since it was 75% complete, I decided to issue whatever the hell this is: an introduction or disclaimer? Beats the hell outta me. Let’s get on with it:

Many state legislatures have been bringing the big stupid of late; come on down, North Carolina. I guess the Gret Stet lege got so jealous that they just had to join in on the fun. And that is why Louisiana State Senator John Milkovich (Not Malkovich) of Shreveport is malaka of the week.

I must confess that the similarity between the State Senator’s name and that of actor John Malkovich is one reason Milkovich is this week’s “honoree.” The other is that Milkovich (Not Malkovich) said something really stupid. I’ll let my pal Lamar White explain what happened when one of Milkovich’s colleagues proposed a bill to repeal a 1987 creationism  bill that was ruled unconstitutional years ago:

Newly-elected State Sen. John Milkovich, like Sen. Claitor, is also an attorney, except that, as he revealed today, he lacks a basic understanding of the law and science education, the only two things he should have familiarized himself with before debating a law about science education. Curiously, he seemed completely unfamiliar with the Louisiana Science Education Act.

<SNIP>

Sen. Milkovich wasn’t done yet, though. He wanted Sen. Claitor to know that science actually agreed with new earth creationism, and he rattled off a list of talking points that seemed memorized from Discovery Institute flash cards. Hadn’t Sen. Claitor heard about the discovery of Noah’s Ark? Apparently, they’re not receiving the same chain e-mails. And what about all of the “new scientific discoveries” that proved the Genesis account of new earth creationism? Sen. Milkovich asked.

“In fact, scientific research and developments and advances in the last 100 years, particularly in the last fifty, twenty, ten years have validated the Biblical story of creation by archeological discoveries of civilizations in the Mideast that secularists said did not exist and further archeological research determines are true. There’s some published research that an ark or large boat was found on the top of Mount Ararat and then in addition the point of the notion of instantaneous creation has been validated by the scientific study of heliocentric circles in rocks, which is consistent with an instantaneous…. I’m guess I’m asking this,” Sen. Milkovich concludes, “are you aware that there is an abundance of recent science that actually confirms the Genesis account of creation?”

I wonder which movie Noah Sen. Milkovich (Not Malkovich) prefers: John Huston or Russell Crowe? As a classic film buff, I’d go with Walter’s son/Anjelica’s daddy-o:

Huston-Bible

We in the Gret Stet of Louisiana have been laboring for many years under a variety of moronic laws that purport to protect us from heathen science and the Darwinian anti-Christ. It has been the source of considerable embarrassment and, more importantly, costly litigation. I wish these bible-thumping bozos would come up with a pie-in-the-sky-god fundamentalist explanation of climate change since they refuse to believe that it’s man-made. Now *that* would be constructive.

Back to State Senator John Milkovich (Not Malkovich.) I’d never heard of him until this week and hope NOT to hear much more of him in the future, especially since he’s a Democrat. As the kids say I’m SMH. I mostly followed in Michael F’s wake to milk the whole Milkovich (Not Malkovich) joke within an inch of its life. I guess you could call it flogging a dead milk cow as opposed to a beating a dead horse, either qualifies as malakatude. I, for one, would rather not be inside the head of a guy who believes in the Noah’s Ark fairy tale.

The Zombie-Picayune has video of Malaka Milkovich’s (Not Malkovich) remarkable exchange with State Senator Dan Claitor:

The worst thing about people like Malaka Milkovich (Not Malkovich) is their need to paint a scientific gloss on their religious beliefs. It’s a cynical way of skirting Supreme Court establishment clause cases in order to teach children this hokum or is that harum scarum? There’s so much of this nonsense out there that I’m proud to be an agnostic, atheist, or whatever the hell I am. This rank hypocrisy is why Louisiana State Senator John Milkovich (Not Malkovich) is malaka of the week.

I’ll give Nick Lowe and his Jumbo Ark the last word:

Studying the Universe from the Outside

Boss lady: 

Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime—almost a century ago. But until recently there was no way to observe them. But thanks to the work of Dr. Nergis Mavalvala and her colleagues at MIT, Einstein’s theory is now a proven phenomenon.

Last week, the ultrasensitive telescope her team built detected gravitational waves for the first time, created from the collision of two black holes some 1.3 billion years ago.

[snip]

“Theoretically a consequence of violent cosmic events—the collisions of black holes, the explosive deaths of stars, or even the big bang—gravitational waves could provide a brand new lens for studying the universe,” writes Science magazine.

Women are a rarity in the sciences—LGBT Pakistani women exceedingly so. But Mavalvala, 47, told Science magazine, “I don’t mind being on the fringes of any social group.”

The self-described “out queer person of color” and mom to a 8-year-old says being an outsider, “you are less constrained by the rules.”

A.

We Don’t Believe Women Get Sick, Not Really

There’s pretty much nothing that can’t be solved by the hysterical bitches just calming down a little and maybe admitting it’s all in their heads: 

“That to me felt like this deeply personal and deeply upsetting embodiment of what was at stake,” she said. “Not just on the side of the medical establishment—where female pain might be perceived as constructed or exaggerated—but on the side of the woman herself: My friend has been reckoning in a sustained way about her own fears about coming across as melodramatic.”

“Female pain might be perceived as constructed or exaggerated”: We saw this from the moment we entered the hospital, as the staff downplayed Rachel’s pain, even plain ignored it. In her essay, Jamison refers back to “The Girl Who Cried Pain,” a study identifying ways gender bias tends to play out in clinical pain management. Women are  “more likely to be treated less aggressively in their initial encounters with the health-care system until they ‘prove that they are as sick as male patients,’” the study concludes—a phenomenon referred to in the medical community as “Yentl Syndrome.”

We are so, so, so afraid of making noise.

Girls. Women. We are so scared of the sound of our own voices that we will lie in pain in a hospital hallway without making a peep because we can’t, like, get in anyone’s way.

We are taught from the day we are born to take up as little space as possible in the world and then, when we are hurt or overlooked, we are asked why we didn’t speak up.

I was lucky, when my ovarian cyst burst more than 10 years ago now, that the EMTs and ER doctors we called on took it seriously. I had surgery, good medication, follow-up care. But that’s all it was, luck, luck that we found someone to listen. That’s what our lives hinge on, the blind stupid chance that the person we are calling out to won’t assume we don’t know what we’re talking about, and ignore us.

I’ve been ignored in doctors’ offices, though, before and since. My first infertility doctor refused to listen to any of my concerns before putting me on medication that I didn’t need, that made me sicker than I’ve ever been. I had a GP once tell me that I should stop taking anti-depressants because, “What, do you want to be on pills for the rest of your life?” I had a therapist cancel an appointment, not tell me, and then later kick me off her service because I didn’t keep the appointment. Some of this is just run-of-the-mill pain in the ass stuff that could have happened if I was a dude, sure, but all along the way I’ve been made to feel exceptionally bad about myself for getting upset about it. Shh, there are other patients. Sit down. Don’t make a fuss.

This is a time in our society when you have to be a fierce advocate for your own medical care, for your rights as a patient, and of course when you most need those rights you are least physically and emotionally capable of defending them. I’m not surprised women’s pain is ignored until they make themselves un-ignorable. Why should our pain be different from any other aspect of our existence?

A.

 

Knee Jerk Nuke Jerks

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Ernest Moniz and John Kerry have negotiated a deal that’s as good as their hair.

The Republican freak out over the Obama-Kerry-Moniz nuclear agreement with Iran is in full fury. They don’t know what they’re for but they’re against anything proposed by this administration.  It’s called a knee jerk reaction hence the post title. The knee jerk nuke jerks have a beef with the proposal. They are convinced that doing what we’ve been doing for years will suddenly work as if by magic. It’s very much like their reaction to recent changes in Cuba policy. Give the sanctions a chance to work say Marco Rubio, man of the future, and his ilk. And they call President Obama naive…

The alternative to this agreement is the status quo and eventual war with Iran.  That would grant Little Lindsey and Senator Walnuts’ wish:

I’m also not crazy about continuing to sub-contract our foreign policy to the Saudis and Bibi. The Israeli’s are, in part, seeking to maintain their nuclear monopoly in the region.  Slate’s Fred Kaplan nails the real reason the Saudi Arabian and Israeli governments oppose the deal:

The most diehard opponents—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi King Salman, and a boatload of neocons led by the perennial naysayer John Bolton—issued their fusillades against the accord (“an historic mistake,” “diplomatic Waterloo,” to say nothing of the standard charges of “appeasement” from those with no understanding of history) long before they could possibly have browsed its 159 pages of legalese and technical annexes.

What worries these critics most is not that Iran might enrich its uranium into an A-bomb. (If that were the case, why would they so virulently oppose a deal that put off this prospect by more than a decade?) No, what worries them much more deeply is that Iran might rejoin the community of nations, possibly even as a diplomatic (and eventually trading) partner of the United States and Europe.

<SNIP>

What Netanyahu and King Salman want Obama to do is to wage war against Iran—or, more to the point, to fight their wars against Iran for them. That is why they so virulently oppose U.S. diplomacy with Iran—because the more we talk with Iran’s leaders, the less likely we are to go to war with them. Their view is the opposite of Winston Churchill’s: They believe to war-war is better than to jaw-jaw.

Bingo. This nails the reason for King Salman’s Rushdie to judgment. Bibi, of course, has been blatantly and defiantly wrong about Iran for 25 years. As to the so-called GOP tough guys aka the knee jerk nuke jerks, when they came into office in 2001, the Bushies reversed President Clinton’s policy of engagement with North Korea. They hit that member of the “axis of evil” with more sanctions and empty threats of violence. The result was that North Korea now has nuclear weapons. Way to go, Bush-Cheney gang. The GOP’s manly men have also conveniently forgotten that the Beavis-Duce administration negotiated a nuclear deal with Libya before Gadhaffi’s sand nap. I guess the knee jerk nuke jerks mistrust Obama because he knows how to pronounce nuclear or some such shit…

The nuttiest thing about the knee jerk nuke jerk’s response is its premise. They believe that the Iranians are suicidal and would go out of their way to violate the agreement thereby triggering the chance of war. That’s as wackadoodle as past malaka of the week Tom Cotton’s letter to the Ayatollahs a while back. They somehow think all the US has to do is to dictate conditions and Iran will surrender. In short, they’re out of their frickin’ cotton pickin’ minds. The Obama-Kerry policy of engagement with Iran *could* result in the sort of country that most Persians want. If nothing else, it deters them from getting nukes for at least 10-15 years.

There’s a lot of instant expertise on nuclear matters flying around the internet. I may be married to a scientist but, in the great tradition of Speaker Boner, I’m not one myself. Unlike most deal opponents, I don’t pretend to understand the details. The reaction from nuclear experts and the scientific  community seems to be positive thus far:

Jeffrey Lewis was so eager to read the Iran nuclear deal that he woke up at 3:30 am California time to pore through all 150-plus pages of the text. Lewis is a nukes super nerd: He’s the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and also runs an excellent arms control blog networkand arms control podcast and has a regular arms control column in Foreign Policy. He is the person to talk to on this.

When Lewis and I first spoke, in early 2015, he was skeptical, as a lot of arms control analysts were. He was skeptical that the US, world powers, and Iran would ever reach a nuclear deal. And he was skeptical that if they did reach a deal, it would be good enough. But when the negotiators released the “framework” in April, describing the broad strokes, Lewis came away impressed and happily surprised — but with some caveats and some unanswered questions.

I called up Lewis to see what he thought of the final deal. His assessment was very positive: Asked to grade the deal, he said, “I would give it an A.”

The knee jerk nuke jerk response is obvious: what the hell do they know? Many of them are scientists like that damn hippie Moniz. We don’t trust them because they’re on university faculties and read books without pictures in them. I suspect at least a few of the knee jerk nuke jerks wouldn’t trust Jeffrey Lewis, who was quoted above, because he has the same name as the Bravolebrity and star of Flipping OutI wonder if he has a sassy, mouthy equivalent to Zoila in his lab?

Zoila & Jeff

Now that I’ve gone off on another digressive tangent, back to the knee jerk nuke jerks. Their opposition to the pact is based on fear. The irony is that they’re more afraid of giving peace a chance than of going to war including brogressive hero, Senator Aqua Buddha. This is insanity. It’s time to stop the madness and give peace a chance:

Headline Of The Day: Space Edition

I just spent way too much time trying to embed the image the WaPo has on this blog post by Rachel Feltman but it was not to be. It’s still a great headline and I’m pretty sure that it’s intentionally humorous. Ms. Feltman is a funny science chick.

Uranus might be full of surprises

Guess I should have said that it was tongue in cheek.

I finally figured it out via the strange magic of the Tweeter Tube.

My life is  complete. I’ll just bugger off now.

Saturday Odd & Sods: Let’s See Action

the-who odds--sods

It’s been a turbulent week. The South Carolina lege passed the “take the damn flag down bill” thereby proving me wrong. I thought it wouldn’t happen but I don’t mind being wrong on this one. In New Orleans, Mayor Landrieu threw deep on Confederate symbols asking for even more sweeping changes than I’ve advocated in this space. I hope the Council takes its time on some of these proposals so we get it right.

It looks as if Greece, the EU, and its creditors have reached a tentative deal that isn’t much better than the one rejected by the voters last Sunday. In this instance, I’m not glad to be right. I thought the Syriza government was staging a drama and would cave and that’s what appears to have occurred. Expect more turbulence in the streets of Athens: the Greek Left knows how to throw a demonstration. If I were a cabbie, I wouldn’t go anywhere near Syntagma Square if you catch my drift.

This week’s theme song takes this feature back to its Whovian roots. No, not this Dr. Who:

Peter Capaldi as Dr. Who

I’m talking about THE WHO. And, yeah, I know it’s not on Odds & Sods but Let’s See Action fits the moment, especially since it was first recorded by Pete Townshend as Nothing Is Everything (Let’s See Action.) We begin with Pete’s version from his homespun and charming first solo album, Who Came First, followed by the Who playing it live, which is always action packed:

After the break, I will prove that nothing *is* everything.

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