Masks: the Golden Rule is not a sign of weakness.

I’ve said this before (in fact, I’m using the same photo as last time), but it’s worth repeating. The latest run of the University of Washington’s coronavirus model shows 363,000 deaths by the end of December, with the death rate hitting 2,900 a day by then–a horrible projection for what might happen in January.

But if we can raise the rate of mask-wearing, especially indoors, that number of deaths falls by 86,000. Given that more than 200,000 people have already died, that means the number of new deaths is cut in half. Simply by biting the bullet and wearing masks. (Note, I may not have these figures exactly correct; this was breaking news on TV a few minutes ago, and I didn’t have time to grab a pen. But I’m close enough.)

Mask wearing is not a sign of weakness. It’s not even something you do for yourself. It protects you some, but it works best if the people around you are also doing it.

Mask wearing is something you do primarily for others.

If they reciprocate, THAT protects you. But even if they don’t, it sends a signal of strength. “I care.” Why is that so controversial?

It’s the Golden Rule in action.

It’s that simple.

Science Is Not Red Tape: A Full(er) Look at Convalescent Plasma

Yesterday, President Trump, in an effort he described at one point as part of a plan to cut governmental red tape, announced that the FDA has given an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19.

It was a controversial move because only a week earlier, the FDA had refused to grant such authorization. Its sudden about-face—especially since Trump himself was the one to announce it—makes it look as though the agency bowed to political pressure on the eve of the Republican National Convention.

Convalescent plasma treatment, as most people now know, uses blood plasma infusions from people who’ve recovered from a disease to treat people newly infected with it. The idea is that antibodies from the donor will help the recipient’s immune system get a head start on the disease, reducing its severity. It’s not a new concept: it was used as far back as 1918 to fight the Spanish Flu.

After initial promising results in small-scale trials, the FDA approved it for experimental use, setting up a program by which thousands of people were able to give it a try.

In the process, a team led by Michael Joyner of Mayo Clinic realized that they could collect data from 35,322 patients at 2,807 medical centers around the country to see just how well the treatment worked and, more importantly, how best to use it.

This is the study that drew all the attention. You can read it on medrxiv.

Even the most cursory glance reveals one important thing: it was never intended to be a definitive analysis of whether the treatment worked. The gold standard for such studies is the double-blind placebo-controlled trial, in which there is a large control group that gets a placebo instead of the treatment. In this case, everyone got the treatment and the Mayo team simply collected data.

What they found was interesting, though it was misreported by both the President and most of the press. What he said is that the treatment cut the fatality rate by 35 percent. That is not actually what the study found.

Continue reading Science Is Not Red Tape: A Full(er) Look at Convalescent Plasma

Trump, Lincoln and Rosa Parks

For all his flaws, Donald Trump has been handed the opportunity to go down in history on the same page as Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson.

The two are, of course, very different Presidents, separated not only by political party, but 100 years of history. In 1862, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. And 103 years later, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

To the extent history lurches toward justice in big, widely spaced steps, those were probably the two biggest lurches in racial justice in American experience.

But to all appearances, America is poised to make another big lurch forward. The details are still being worked out, but polls show that 84 percent of Americans support the protests, at least to some degree–a level of agreement rarely seen about anything.

And yet, even today, Trump was defending choke holds as often being “innocent and perfect” and suggesting he was a better racial-justice president than Abraham Lincoln, apparently based on the economic surge that blessed his first few years.

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Are we finally reaching a moment of truth on race?

As an older white guy, I’ve been unsure what to write about the present situation in America. Much of the online and news space does, and should, belong to people of color and Millennials. They are, and should be, the future. In fact, I am increasingly impressed by how today parallels events from 55 years ago.

Continue reading Are we finally reaching a moment of truth on race?

Why a Mask IS a Political Statement…Just Not a Partisan One

Unless you’ve had the news turned off for the past week, you know that the Mask Wars are on, with a lot of people suggesting that wearing a mask marks you as a Democrat while not wearing one marks you as Republican.

And superficially, there’s something to that. We have a President who declines to wear a mask in public and who not only taunts Joe Biden for wearing one, but at a recent press conference shamed a reporter for being “politically correct” when the reporter refused to take off his mask at the President’s request.

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Covid-19 & the Emperor’s New Clothes

We all know the story of the emperor’s new clothes. In it, the emperor is hoodwinked by rogues who take his money and make him…nothing. “Nothing” that his advisors, fearful of offending him, declare to be the finest finery in the land.

Then, the emperor dons the non-existent robes…and a little child calls him out, exclaiming, “But the Emperor has nothing on at all!”

Except…The original fable, by Hans Christian Andersen, is a little more complex.

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How to Make COVID-19 Evolve to Become Less Dangerous

Donald Trump says that even without a vaccine, COVID-19 will eventually fade away. And amazingly, the science says he might be right…though not if we follow his plan for reopening the country.

The science in question is evolutionary virology.

It says is that under certain circumstances viruses will evolve into less virulent forms. In fact, this might even be what happened to the 1918 Spanish Flu…though not until after it killed tens of millions of people.

Let me explain.

In order to be an evolutionarily successful, virus can’t just infect one person, they have to jump from one person to another. They can do that by making us cough, giving us diarrhea that contaminates other people’s food or water, or giving us sores that shed virus particles onto anyone or anyone we touch.

I.e., they make us sick.

But if they make us too ill, too quickly, they don’t get much chance to spread because we either collapse into bed, away from other people, or make others leery enough of catching the disease that they take suitable precautions.

Continue reading How to Make COVID-19 Evolve to Become Less Dangerous

Trump v. Female Reporters (and why he won’t wear a mask)

* Trump loves a strong visual. Image from The White House. Public Domain.

President Trump, as is his wont, preempted the news cycle today by abruptly ending a press conference after a testy exchange with CBS reporter Weijia Jiang and CNN’s Kaitlan Collins. But most of the press is over-simply describing what happened.

If you didn’t see it, it began when Jiang, who was born in China but has lived in the U.S. since age 2, asked why Trump insists on seeing COVID-19 testing as an international competition.

Trump sidestepped the question, then fired back, “Maybe that’s a question you should ask China.”

He then turned to Collins for the next question. But Jiang, wasn’t done, and Collins let her ask a very pointed follow-up: “Sir, why are you saying that to me, specifically, to ask China?”

It was a very good query, but Trump dismissed it as a “nasty question. ” He then he tried to skip over Collins to take a question from a different reporter.

But Collins wasn’t having it, and tried to ask her question anyway.

“No, that’s OK,” Trump said. (If you’ve not noticed, the “OK” part is one of his ways of dismissing people.)

“But you called on me,” she protested.

At which point Trump abruptly ended the press conference and walked out.

The reporting on this tends to say that he stormed out. But from the video, it appears that he was very much in control.

He wasn’t storming out. He was punishing the press crew for tolerating two uppity women. The message was very clear: if the press pool continues to let such women challenge him, he will punish them all, like a grade school teacher punishing the entire class when one person acts up. (I don’t know if they still do that, but that was a staple of my childhood.)

My guess is that his base saw it that way, too: as Trump, the alpha male leader firmly taking control…over women who don’t know their place.

Which brings me to my second point. Why doesn’t he wear a mask?

Because, now that everyone else visiting the White House, including the press corps, is required to wear masks, Trump as the only unmasked person looks bold, decisive, and very much in charge.

This was extremely evident in the video of him putting down Jiang and Collins. Their masks made them them look timid, weak, and partially faceless. Trump, unmasked, was the only complete human image in the video, and as such, again, very much the alpha male.

Please don’t read this as saying I approve. I don’t. Rather than being an actual leader and leading by example, he’s trying to project an image of leadership–and not a kind of leadership I approve of, anyway.

But the image of Trump unmasked and full-faced makes its point extremely dramatically, and whatever else you say about Trump, the man knows TV showmanship.

It is a clearly deliberate visual designed to reassure his base, while subliminally making a strong point to the few remaining independents.

The False Controversy of Vote by Mail

*Image credit: Chris Phan of himself using a vote-by-mail dropbox (a stamp-free alternative to USPS), via Wikipedia Commons,.

Yesterday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order converting California’s November election entirely to vote-by-mail.

It’s a politically controversial decision, almost guaranteed to be contested in the courts.

It has also been described by CNN, Vox, and probably others as making California the first state to automatically send mail-in ballots to all registered voters.

Apparently, these news outlets never heard of Oregon. We’ve been conducting all of our elections this way for 20 years. In fact, one of my next projects is working my way through our spring ballot, which is crammed not only with primary campaigns, but important local issues.

The only thing that’s different about California’s vote-by-mail program is that Newsom did it by executive order. We did it by a voter-approved initiative all the way back in 1998.

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The Corruption of Critical Thinking

This post is not directly about politics or COVID-19. But it should be, which is why I’ve tagged it for both.

When I was teaching at California State University, Sacramento in the late 1980s, the Cal State system was trying to increase the focus on classes that emphasized critical thinking.

If there was an official definition, I never saw it, but my department made it clear that the environmental studies law-and-public-policy classes I taught were exactly what they wanted.

I ran these classes not as lectures, but as discussions based on assigned readings, and my biggest goal was to challenge the students to think about the readings’ implications, rather than just taking them at face value.

One of my favorite moments was a discussion in which one of the students flipped whatever I was saying at the time back on itself and pointed out something I’d overlooked. “That’s what you taught us to do,” he said, when he realized how well he’d hoisted me by my own petard.

I don’t remember what grade he got for the course, but for that day, he definitely got an A+.

Since then, however, I’ve found that critical thinking is all too often replaced by shorthand substitutes.

Continue reading The Corruption of Critical Thinking