Dancing in the streets

If you ever think you are not doing a good job, just remember, people are not literally dancing in the streets because you are leaving.

The same can’t be said of Trump.

When the Biden/Harris win was announced it led to partying in the big cities all across the US.

LA Times have some great photos from Los Angeles.

USPS workers often took part in the celebration, which this Mashable piece shows.

New York knows Trump the best, and they probably celebrated the hardest – see the coverage at NY Magazine – Intelligencer

Outside the US, there were also celebrations: Fireworks in London, church bells in Paris as Biden win celebrated abroad

On a personal level, I cannot begin to express the joy and relief I felt when I saw the results, and the pleasure I took from seeing the anxiety turn into happiness in my facebook and twitter feed.

Culling the Danish mink

It is a story that has gotten some traction in international media, but which might have been overlooked by people focused on the US election.

The Danish government has ordered the culling of all mink in Danish mink farms.

Denmark is the biggest mink fur producer in the world, so this is a multi-million dollar industry that is getting wiped out.

The reason for the decision, which I am sure wasn’t taken lightly, was that the mink poses a health care risk – more precisely, they are a source of new mutations of the corona virus – some with worrying characteristics. Or as BBC explains it:

Mink kept in large numbers on mink farms have caught the virus from infected workers. And, in a small number of cases, the virus has “spilled back” from mink to humans, picking up genetic changes on the way.

Mutations in some mink-related strains are reported to involve the spike protein of the virus, which is targeted by some, but not all, vaccines being developed.

“If the mutation is on a specific protein that is being currently targeted by the vaccine developers to trigger an immune response in humans then it means that if this new virus strain comes out of the mink back into the humans, even with vaccination, the humans will start spreading it and the vaccine will not protect,” Dr Peyre told BBC News.

While the culling is going on, the region of Denmark where the strain has been observed in humans, has been shut down. People have to stay in their municipalities, avoid gatherings, and all bars, restaurants and cafés have been closed. An effort to test everyone in the region (approximately 280,000 people) has begun.

Some politicians in the Danish parliament, especially those in opposition to the government, has questioned whether the measures are necessary, but it is worth noticing that the only scientist in the Danish parliament, Stinus Lindgreen, has come out in clear support of the measures, stressing the need to react quickly to ensure this doesn’t turn into a greater problem.

Currently, there is negotiations going on about how to compensate not only the people directly affected, but also people who are indirectly affected by the culling and the shut down of the region.

 

A great relief

Like most other people, I have been in a state of anxiety for the last of couple of weeks due to the US presidential election. When there wasn’t a decisive result on election night, it didn’t exactly help my anxiety. When my brother called me a couple of hours ago, and told me that the news media have called the election for Biden/Harris, it lifted a considerable weight of my chest.

The pattern of the election results followed what was expected, the first few releases of counted votes would bring Trump strongly in front, but as more populated areas, and especially the mail-in votes, got counted Biden would surge, and take the lead.

What we hadn’t expected, was how long it would take for the surge to overtake Trump’s lead, and thus how long time it would take before the election could be called, and by how slim margins.

Biden currently set to get 306 votes in the electoral college, but some of them will be won with razor thin margins – in Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania, Biden is leading with less than 1% of the votes. These numbers are expected to increase, but not into huge margins.

A few thoughts:

First of all, thank you to everyone who fought so hard for Biden to win. It could have been easy to become complaisant after the polls showed Biden well ahead, but people didn’t stop up, but instead fought to get people registered and interested in voting.

As an outsider, it is incredible to me that the margin of victory is so small – especially as it looks like Biden got at least 4 million votes more than Trump, which in a normal democracy would leave little doubt about the results. I guess the US presidential election system shows its ugly side once again.

I see a lot of people claim that the razor thin victory was because it was Biden, and not someone more progressive, like e.g. Bernie Sanders. It is very hard to say anything meaningful about such a claim, but I think it is important to point out how large Trump’s support was. As it stands right now, he is the candidate who got the second most votes ever in the US presidential election, only beaten by Biden. He got a million more votes than Obama in 2008, and more than 8 million more votes now than he got in 2016.

I really have a hard time seeing anyone matching Trump’s results, and I find it impressive how much better Biden did. I think any other Democratic candidate would have failed.

This doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t rather have had a different, more progressive president, but I think such a candidate wouldn’t have had broad appeal, which was necessary to win this election.

Speaking of necessary for winning, it is important that the Democrats fight voters suppression. Stacey Abrams did this in Georgia, with such great results, that the state might turn blue (fingers crossed) and that the two senate races are going into run-offs.

And speaking of the Georgia run-offs – these two elections are extremely important for the Democrats effort to take over the Senate. Put simply, the Democrats needs to win both of these races in order to take the majority in the Senate, which is the only way that Biden and the Democrats can introduce any progressive ideas.

 

The iceberg theory of sexual harassment

Danish politics is right now rocked by Morten Østergaard, the leader of the mid-center party Radikale Venstre, stepping down due to a 10-year old case of sexual harassment. The case that led to him stepping down, was the report of him groping a female member of parliament from the same party when she first became a member of parliament, 10 years ago. It came out when the party decided to have a 24-hour session, where people could call in and report or talk about past cases of sexual harassment. This is part of the party’s attempt to change the sexist political culture in Denmark.

A lot of people have of course focused on the so-called irony of the leader having to step down due to the very problem the party is trying to fight. Which of course shows that people really don’t get the whole concept of trying to change the culture.

Morten Østergaard has himself explained that he stepped down not because of the old incident, but rather due his handling of the case after it came out, trying to claim it had been handled internally, without admitting it was him who had done it.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of people attacked the woman, Lotte Rod, who stepped forward, claiming that it was a coup – apparently in coordination with Sofie Carsten Nielsen, the woman who took over as leader of the party, even though Lotte Rod didn’t support her as the new party leader. They also make a great point of it being a very minor transgression (an unwanted touch) which in no way should lead to such drastic results.

I, on the other hand, was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

You see, I have developed something I could call the iceberg theory of sexual harassment (note, I am not using theory in the scientific way here). It goes something like this: Any credible report of sexual harassment about a person or organization, hides a equal or larger number of unreported cases. Unreported in this case, might not be internally, but definitely not known to the general public/surroundings.

The iceberg theory is based on empirical evidence, but is also based on the simple fact that people who are unwilling to respond boundaries in one case, is likely to not be willing to respect boundaries in other cases. This is true for sexual harassment, and it is true for things such as sexual assaults and rape (see e.g. Repeat Rapists on Campus, which explains that repeat rapists are responsible for a majority of rapes). Do note, that I am not claiming that people who commit sexual harassment will go on to commit sexual assault or rape, but that the same type of mechanisms are in play.

On the organizational level, it has been shown many times that an organization that accepts sexual harassment in one case, has also accepted it in many other cases.

And of course, the other shoe also dropped in the case with Morten Østergaard, who admitted that there was also a complaint about him from 2016. This time, from a 21 year old intern. This was apparently not know to the other members of parliament for the party, which is quite likely due to legal reasons.

Is this the last case? Only time will tell, but it certainly did show that his decision to step down was the right one, and that there is a lot of work left to change the political environment. Both in Radikale Venstre, where the process has started, but also in the other political parties, which to a large degree seems either to ignore the problem or to deny that there is one.


Note, there is comment moderation switched on, which means that if you haven’t had a comment approved before on this blog, your comment will be put into a queue until I approve it. I will try to check regularly for new comments, but I am somewhat away from my computer most of this weekend, so it might take a little time before I notice and approve the comment.

It should go without saying that sexist, bigoted and slanderous comments won’t be approved.

The very real cost of racism in human lives

There is a very important article in Slate that everyone should read.

Racism Is a Pandemic

When two colleagues and I started examining infectious mortality rates during the early 20th century, we were looking for regional differences in how the United States handled influenza, tuberculosis, and other kinds of infections. Of course, we were especially interested in that era’s deadly pandemic. The 1918 flu had killed on a scale that’s hard to fathom: an estimated 50 million people worldwide, and half a million in the U.S.

To get a detailed look at infectious disease mortality in that era, we digitized and carefully checked old public health records, linked them to census population estimates, and categorized the causes of death. We didn’t believe the results. We discovered that white mortality during the 1918 flu pandemic was still lower than Black mortality, up to that point, had ever been. This wasn’t only true in the South, but in every region of the United States. This wasn’t about regional public health—it was about racism.

[…]

This spring, while recovering from my own COVID-19 infection, I wondered whether the same thing would still be true today. I found it unfathomable that the disaster unfolding around me that spring in New York, where my parents live and where I had become sick, could bear any resemblance to more typical life in the United States. And yet, thinking about how the 1918 results had stunned me, I wanted to see for myself. As life ground to a halt in the midst of another cataclysmic pandemic, how did the toll of this one compare to that of the more ordinary, ubiquitous catastrophe? Will white mortality during the coronavirus pandemic still be less than what Blacks experience routinely, without any pandemic? I began to work out equations and search for data.

[…]

If the Black population did not experience a single death due to COVID-19, if the pandemic only affected white people, Black mortality in 2020 would probably still be higher than white mortality.

This is a thought experiment. In reality, of course, COVID has hit Black populations hardest, and the inequality in death rates is likely to greater than it has been in many years. Racism is making Black Americans, along with indigenous and immigrant populations, most vulnerable to the pandemic. But the hypotheticals give us an important perspective on the reality: Racism gave Black people pandemic-level mortality long before COVID.

And it is racism that is killing Black people. “Mortality modelers” like me know that there are an awful lot of reasons one person might live longer than another. But when we see that one group in a society consistently dies at younger ages than another, we can look for trends. America excludes Black people from mechanisms of generating wealth, consigns them to the worst schools, confines them to neighborhoods with more pollution and more poverty, targets them with routine violence by state authorities, and treats them with suspicion and hostility when they seek medical care. There is no mystery in those early deaths.

We all know the devastating cost of COVID-19, yet as the article makes clear, the cost of racism on the Black communities is as high, or even higher, year after year.

This has to change. As the article states:

It is time we honestly confront the magnitude of racial inequality in the United States: a pandemic’s worth of death, every single year. Once we do that, our question about radical proposals to combat racism should shift from what is politically palatable to, simply, what will work.

Honoring RBG, a surge in donations to the Democrats

After the news broke about the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Democratic campaigns and organizations have raised record numbers in donations. It is clear that the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has galvanized the support of the Democrats and the opposition to Mitch McConnell. Since the death, the fundraiser to defeat Mitch McConnell has raised more that 17 million dollars from more than 200,000 donators.

Fundraiser to Defeat Mitch McConnell Raises $13 Million Overnight After Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Death

A fundraiser to defeat Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell in the Kentucky Senate race has raised over $13 million overnight and continues to rapidly increase since the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Update 4:00 PM: Since publishing at 9:51 AM PT, the campaign has now raised over $17 million from nearly 200,000 donors.

[…]

The campaign called “Get Mitch or Die Trying” is led by ActBlue, a non-profit that funds left-leaning and progressive groups. Donations to the campaign are split among candidates in races in key swing states where Republicans are defending seats and could be at risk of losing a majority, including Colorado, Maine, Iowa, Alabama, Michigan, Texas and Kansas.

An tweet from Tommy Vietor, founder of Crooked Media, the organization between the campaign, shows how stark the effect of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the campaign was

This is not the only group seeing a rise in donations after her death.

Democrats shatter ActBlue’s donation records after Ginsburg’s death

Friday after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death was announced — $6.2 million — than in any other single hour since ActBlue, the donation-processing site, was started 16 years ago.

Then donors broke the site’s record again in the 10 p.m. hour when donors gave another $6.3 million — more than $100,000 per minute.

The unprecedented outpouring shows the power of a looming Supreme Court confirmation fight to motivate Democratic donors. The previous biggest hour, on Aug. 20, when Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke on the final night of the Democratic convention, saw $4.3 million in donations processed, according to an ActBlue spokesperson.

Before noon on Saturday, donations to Democratic causes and campaigns on ActBlue since Justice Ginsburg’s passing had topped $45 million.

According to this US Today article, the donations kept coming

Record-breaking donations pour in from the left after Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death

Record-breaking money poured in from the political left to Democratic candidates following the death Friday of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as Democrats braced for a nomination fight ahead of the presidential election and looked to build momentum for a Senate takeover.

[….]

The progressive-backed ActBlue — a donation-processing site that helps Democratic candidates, committees and organizations raise money — reported more than $95 million raised between the time Ginsburg’s death was announced and Sunday morning Eastern time.

The donations to both Get Mitch or Die Trying and ActBlue are spread across candidates, especially in close races, so even if it is highly unlikely that McConnell is going to loose his race, his behavior after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg might be the final push that is going to cost the Republicans not only the presidency, but also the senate – and maybe even a few governorships.

Let’s mourn Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I woke up to the horrible news that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, 87 years old.

As probably was the case for most of you, I immediately start thinking about the consequences of her death – i.e. what horrible candidate Trump would think up, how the Democrats could fight that, and what the consequences would be of that. This is of course, important, and if you want to hear some good thoughts about that, I recommend listening to the Opening Arguments podcast special episode, made just after the hosts learned about her death.

But I also think it is important that we pay proper respect to Ruth Bader Gindburg, or Notorious R.B.G. as she was often referred to on the internet. She was a icon of feminism and civil rights, and should be remembered for her role in fighting gender inequality in the US.

Before becoming a judge, she worked at the ACLU, and they have released an obituary of her.

In Memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court justice who first rose to national prominence as an ACLU lawyer fighting for equal rights for women, has died at 87 years old.

She began Harvard Law School as a young mother and one of only nine women in her class, and became the architect of a legal strategy to eradicate gender discrimination in the United States. She modeled her approach after that of Thurgood Marshall on race discrimination, planning for a series of cases at the Supreme Court, each precedent paving the way for the next that would further expand rights and protections. In 1993, she joined the court as an associate justice, and over the decades became a cultural icon beloved for her vision and passion in defending the rights of women.

As the obituary makes clear, RBG’s impact came from not just her work as a justice on the US Supreme Court, but also from her work before becoming a justice.

This is also the point of the obituary of the Guardian

Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed America long before she joined the supreme court

The most important feminist lawyer in the history of the American republic has died. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a supreme court justice and singularly influential legal mind, was appointed by Bill Clinton in 1993, the court’s second-ever female justice, and served for nearly 30 years. She passed away due to complications from cancer on Friday. She was 87.

Strategic, contemplative and disciplined, but with a passion for the feminist cause that is rarely admitted into the halls of power, Ginsburg established an impressive legal legacy long before she became a judge. Over the course of a two-decade career as a lawyer before her appointment to the DC circuit court of appeals, she successfully argued cases that expanded civil rights law and 14th amendment protections to women, undoing a dense network of laws that had codified sex discrimination in all areas of American life. After she was elevated to the nation’s highest court, she found her own views moving left as the institution was pushed to the right. Her career was defined by courageous dissents that stood up for the principle of equal justice and kept alive the promise of a more free and fair America.

In the coming days, where the death of Ginsburg undoubtedly will expose the hypocrisy of McConnell, it will be all too easy to forget to mourn Gindburg the person, and not just mourn and feel angry at the consequences of her death. She doesn’t deserve that. She deserve to be remembered as the force of good that she has been through her life.

Rest in power Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Migrant workers hit hard by pandemic

If there is one thing you can be sure of, is that every time a pandemic hits, it is the poorest among us that suffers the worst. COVID-19 is no exception. And it is clearly demonstrated in Singapore, where the poorest people are, as often is the case, the migrant workers.

Covid-19 Singapore: A ‘pandemic of inequality’ exposed

Once lauded for its containment of the virus, Singapore’s success crumbled when the virus reached its many foreign worker dormitories, something activists say should have been seen coming a mile off.

Now months on, Singapore is reporting single figure daily cases in the local community. People are going back to work, cinemas have reopened and laughter can be heard coming out of restaurants again.

But many of Singapore’s lowest earners remain indoors, facing uncertainty.

The dormitories are overcrowded, with too few facilities for the number of people living there. A ripe place for a virus to spread rapidly, and so it has done.

COVID-19 cases in Singapore

COVID-19 cases in Singapore (image source: BBC)

As the above image of COVID-19 cases in Singapore in general versus among people living in dorms shows, the difference is stark. A lot of the differences is that the people in the dorm are quarantined until they have been tested. Or as the BBC article explains

The authorities decided that the dormitories would have to be sealed off.

Around 10,000 healthy migrant workers in essential services were taken out to other accommodation – a skeleton staff to keep the country running.

But the majority were trapped in the dorms – some not even allowed to leave their rooms – while mass testing was carried out. Infected workers were gradually removed, isolated and treated.

It was a remarkably different experience to the lockdown the rest of the country was going through, with shopping allowed, daily exercise encouraged and every type of outlet offering delivery. These people were well and truly locked down, with only basic meals delivered to them.

“Once the lockdown was in place, we were not allowed to come out of the room. We were not allowed to go next door too,” Vaithyanathan Raja, from southern India, told the BBC.

This is an inhuman way to treat people, and it makes it a certainty that everyone in a dorm would get infected if anyone in it, is infected.

We have seen similar things happen in US jails and ICE detention centers. I would guess that it has also happened among the many migrant workers in India, who were severely affected by the sudden shutdown of India.

It seems like the pandemic are forcing some employers in Singapore to provide better places for foreign workers. Hopefully this will last. And hopefully, it will lessen the impact of the next pandemic.

We need to dismantle the myth of the genius programmer

After writing the headline, I realized that there are actually two myths around genius programmers – the one I am going to address in this blogpost, and a myth surrounding the importance of genius programmers in teams, which I might have to address some other time (short hint: teams are more important than any individual).

Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours at the Emergent Works 2020 Summer showcase where people who were part of the mentee program at Emergent Works showed what they had learned over the summer. It was really impressive, and shows how a good mentor can help you learn a lot in a short time.

During one of the presentations, one of the mentees mentioned that one of the most important things he had learned, was that you don’t have to be a genius to be a programmer, and mentioned that that had always been his impression before.

Since I have been working in the tech field for a couple of decades, I tend to forget how people think of people in the field, so this comment really made me think about the perception many people have of people in the field. Especially people who don’t really know anyone in the field. And it is true, there is the whole idea that to be a programmer, you have to be a genius.

This impression is perpetuated by the stories we get out of the tech field. About the big successes, generating multi-million fortunes for the founders and early employees. Here people involved, mostly young white men, are usually presented as geniuses, that have done something that no normal person could have done.

The truth is, this is just a myth. A damaging myth.

There are obviously a level of skill involved, but a lot of it has to do with connections and the sheer dumb luck of being at the right place at the right time.

In reality, the tech field is not characterized by these people. Most people who work in the tech fields are not geniuses, but rather ordinary people who have learned a particular skill set. Not necessarily an easy skill set to learn, but one that most people can learn if they have the chance.

It is also important to remember that many people who work in tech don’t program, but fulfill other roles, such as testers/QA, business analysts, program managers etc. Here the skill set needed is different, and again something most people can learn.

In a time where we desperately need more people to go into tech, we need to dismantle this myth of having to be a genius to work in tech. We obviously welcome geniuses, but most people, also those working in tech, are ordinary people. We need to show everyone that tech is a viable path, even if you haven’t grown up with a computer, even if you don’t spend all your spare time on programming.

Note, that I am not arguing that working in tech is necessarily easy. It is a field that is constantly changing, and where you need to put some effort into keeping up. But this is true for many other fields as well, and no one claims that you have to be a genius to work in those. Instead people agree that you have to put in some effort to getting into the field, and in staying in the field.

So, in other words, the myth of having to be a genius to learn to program, or to work in tech, is one that needs to go. We need it to go, because it is a barrier for people who are well qualified to work in the field, but get turned away by the belief that it requires something extra-ordinary of people. This needs to end.


A note on Emergent Works. It is a wonderful organization, which describes itself as:

Emergent Works is a nonprofit software company that trains and employs formerly incarcerated people.

The organization has a special focus on Black and Latinx people, since they are so over-represented in prison and under-represented i n the tech industry.

If you have money to spare, consider helping them with donation. If you are in a leading role in a US tech company, consider hiring them for software development. If you work in tech, and are willing to use some of your spare time, consider becoming a mentor.

The mother of all super spreader events

One of the things we learned early about COVID-19, was that a lot of the cases comes from so-called super spreader events. Events where a lot of people got infected, and then spread the virus after going home.

So far, the biggest super spreader event has probably been the Atalanta-Valencia Champions League match in February, which is thought to have pretty much been the reason for the rapid spreading in Italy. It could probably be considered a number of super spreader event. The actual football match at the stadium, where a lot of people got infected, but also the many gatherings of people watching the game, where many people undoubtedly got infected.

Back then, people at least had the excuse of not knowing any better. The virus was not yet well known in Italy, and few cases, if any, had been identified. This changed rapidly after the match, where Italy became one of the worst hit countries.

The same excuse cannot be made by anyone now, especially not in the US, which is one of the worst hit countries.

This is one of the things that makes this year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally such a baffling event. Who in their right mind would think it would be a good idea to gather nearly half a million people during a pandemic? Many of these people not even doing the simplest measures, e.g. masks and social distancing, to avoid the spreading of the COVID-19 virus.

Sadly someone obviously thought it was a perfectly acceptable idea, and allowed the event to go ahead.

Now, a study, The Contagion Externality of a Superspreading Event: The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and COVID-19 (pdf), has evaluated the results of the rally, and have estimated that it has resulted in up to 219,000 infected people since the start of the rally, which is approximately 19% of all cases in the US during that period. Due to the diverse geographical origins of the participants of the rally, the spreading is not just in South Dakota where the rally took place, but in the surrounding states as well.

On top of looking at the spreading of the virus, the paper also estimates the financial costs to society. The paper estimates that the rally has cost more than $12B so far.

In other words, the human and financial costs of the rally is truly staggering, and is probably only going to grow, as time goes on.

Will this event be a lesson for other organizers and local authorities? One would think so, but sadly there is nothing in past behavior to indicate that this will be the case