There goes Ed Yong, being massively pessimistic

He’s also being scientifically accurate, realistic, and honest, which is the scary part.

Rudderless, blindsided, lethargic, and uncoordinated, America has mishandled the COVID-19 crisis to a substantially worse degree than what every health expert I’ve spoken with had feared. “Much worse,” said Ron Klain, who coordinated the U.S. response to the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014. “Beyond any expectations we had,” said Lauren Sauer, who works on disaster preparedness at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “As an American, I’m horrified,” said Seth Berkley, who heads Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “The U.S. may end up with the worst outbreak in the industrialized world.”

He also has some suggestions for what the country needs to do to improve, not that our current leadership will care.

This is all kind of wrecking me. I’m home, totally alone, not meeting anyone, and having video contact at most with my family and students, which means I’m banging around in an empty house fretting. I definitely need to go read a book (not World War Z) or watch a movie (no zombie flicks) or play a game (dang, I don’t have much in the way of games on my computer) or something just to keep from turning into an obsessive ranting bearded prophet of doom. It may be too late.

Who has the worst take on the pandemic?

It goes without saying that it’s the conservatives, but let’s be more specific. Not so specific as your Aunt Madge who sends you suggestions to drink bleach on Facebook, but a source that aggregates all the nonsense. I think I could make a case that The Federalist is at least among the worst offenders.

That site right now is full of bullshit trying to downplay the coronavirus concerns. For instance, here is a poli sci student arguing, in a rambling incoherent mess of an article, Is Social Distancing Saving Lives Or Ruining Them?. He’s reluctant to give a straightforward answer, but you can tell where he’s leaning.

The current response is quickly driving the United States into a recession, which will result in a great deal of misery for tens of millions of people. Again, balancing lives against money sounds harsh, but everyone does so — and must do so — whether he is conscious of the fact or not. Not to mention, a recession also means higher poverty rates, which lead to higher mortality rates.

More is at stake than lives and money: namely freedom. Even for those of us who are by no means libertarian, the increasingly draconian measures put in place across the nation, especially in California, to isolate people and prevent them from moving at will are raising serious questions about whether Americans are in a dress rehearsal for tyranny.

Which is worse, being dead or living in a country in a recession? Gosh, the jury is out on that one, but maybe a recession, which would lead to higher mortality rates? Yeah, higher mortality rates are worse than lots of people dying.

OK, that guy is just an ass. But what about this rather surprising post from a medical doctor. He has a solution that he thinks wouldn’t hurt the economy so much — it’s always about “The Economy”, you know — a treatment that would solve everything: How Medical ‘Chickenpox Parties’ Could Turn The Tide Of The Wuhan Virus. Yeah, give everyone the disease right away, that’s the ticket! Well, not everyone. Let’s have Voluntary Infection parties in which young people who are most resistant go to some site and mingle and let everyone pick up the disease. He even suggests cruise ships as enticing locations to get people to participate in voluntarily getting a disease that might only kill one or two percent of them.

Hmm. How many doctors and hospital beds are available on your average cruise ship?

The idea would be to ramp up the numbers of immune people very quickly, maximizing the possibility of herd immunity. He hasn’t thought much about how we would cope with massive numbers of sick people all at once. Sick working people. Sick doctors. All intentionally confined to a few locations.

You know chicken pox parties were never a good idea, right? There’d always be some kids who’d die. I wouldn’t be one to claim that’s an acceptable price to pay, but apparently this one MD thinks it’s brilliant.

But I will say that his idea is novel, and for once it’s nice to see a proposal to infect and kill a significant number of young whippersnappers, rather than suggesting that my generation needs to die to protect the economy. It’s still an incredibly stupid idea, to which the only reasonable reply is…OK, boomer.

I was wrong about something. The MD who authored that article about voluntary infection is not an MD. He pretends to be one, but is actually a conservative businessman who is not licensed to practice in his state despite his claim.

“That would be misleading the public,” a startled member of the Oregon Medical Board staff told VICE. “In Oregon, that is a violation of the Medical Practices Act. That would have to be investigated.”

Par for the course for The Federalist.

Never ever follow the recommendations of ghouls

Where did all these ghouls come from? I don’t remember all these ghouls cheering on the zombies in the apocalypse stories.

So now we’ve got Dennis Prager declaring that people must die in order to win a “war” against the coronavirus.

History shows that we have been willing to lose many to protect our way of life … [if we valued lives] we wouldn’t have fought the Nazis, the Japanese fascists…that attitude that the only value is saving a life, that attitude leads to appeasement. It must. It leads to cowardice. No one can die? Then it’s not a war.

That makes no sense. People are dying, and our goal is to take action to prevent people from dying, but if we don’t sacrifice human beings to the virus, it’s “appeasement”? I really don’t get it. The analogy to WWII doesn’t work at all, and is he really arguing that it would have been cowardice to not allow Nazis to gas people? It would have been really brave to stand back, upper lips stiff, as human beings were murdered, I guess.

I thought our goals would be really clear in a pandemic. It’s not a war, it’s a rescue mission. We should try to prevent people from dying and the disease from spreading. We’re not looking for cannon fodder.

Glenn Beck is still broadcasting, although I haven’t heard as much from him lately. Just as well, he’s joined the pandemic death cult full throttle.

I would rather have my children stay home and all of us who are over 50 go in and keep this economy going and working, even if we all get sick, I would rather die than kill the country. ‘Cause it’s not the economy that’s dying, it’s the country.

It’s a bit of a muddled message. We have to sacrifice our old people to keep the economy going, but it’s not the economy that’s dying. OK then, what is dying? The country. But what is the country?

I used to think our country had a clear meaning — it was stated in our founding documents, even if it wasn’t always practiced.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Oh, right. The people are the country. I think the whole point of a democracy is to establish a framework for people to flourish and practice self-determination as much as is possible. We had this other president four score and seven years later who was also quite clear that this was supposed to be a “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. There have been times when people have been asked to sacrifice their lives to maintain that framework — and also times when they’ve been asked to sacrifice their lives to oppress others — but in general, this country we’re supposed to fight for is a nation of people. Asking people to willingly and gratefully succumb to a disease we’re trying suppress “for your country” makes no sense. Dying does not stop the virus. Asking people to give up on isolating themselves helps spread the virus, the opposite of what we should want.

None of these rationalizations by Prager or Beck makes any sense, because they don’t have a clear concept of what the country is. To Prager and Beck, “country” is synonymous with “Dow Jones Industrial Average”, and that’s what they want me to die for. America is a country where the working people will drag themselves into infectious masses in order to keep the wheels of industry turning, working until we die at our labors. They don’t think beyond keeping the doors on businesses open now, without concern for how those businesses will function when the workers are dead, or prostrate with illness, or permanently lung-scarred. Don’t fall for it.

Shouldn’t we all know by now that Prager and Beck are as dumb as two buckets of testicles, and realize that their advice is the opposite of what we should do?

(I want you to know that it would have been really easy to illustrate this post with a photo of a bucket of testicles, but I decided to spare everyone that graphic. Just keep in mind that Prager and Beck really are that revolting.)

Exciting! News! From the Spider Lab!

Well, I found it exciting anyway. One of the problems I’ve faced in my new research on local spiders is that I can’t tell two species apart, Parasteatoda tepidariorum and Parasteatoda tabulata. Even the expert sources I consult usually discriminate by dissecting their genitals, which is not useful for me, since I want to study live animals and embryos. There is one suggestive hint, though: P. tabulata builds funky little nests in their webs in the wild, while P. tepidariorum apparently does not. It’s a behavioral distinction, and I have no idea how definitive it is, but at least it’s an angle.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to see nest building in the lab. I’ve tried throwing in miscellaneous office debris, like stuff from a whole punch and a paper shredder, but they never pay attention to it. Maybe all of my lab animals are P. tep? Maybe I’m providing the wrong kinds of nest material? I dunno.

So yesterday, in a forlorn, half-assed try, I noticed all the fine wood shavings in the containers for wax worms, their food, and I sprinkled a few small shavings in the cage for one of the new generation of spiders, not yet named, and went home. I’d spread them around, and even avoided the place where she was currently nesting (spiders have preferred spots to hang out in).

Today, presto…she had gathered the majority of shavings into one central place, and had built a nest. Isn’t it beautiful?

You can’t see her in there, because she’s hiding. You can see her brown egg sac, near the top center of the nest. I’ve also highlighted the cobweb by misting it with water. I guess I was just failing to give them the correct home-building materials before.

This is excellent news! Now I have to give all of the spiders in my colony some wood shavings, and see if they fall into two groups, nest-builders and non-nest-builders. I have a student who proposed studying this distinction this summer, if that still happens in this age of pandemic, and one thing we’ll have to try is a nest construction time-lapse — that really was assembled overnight, so it’s speedy, but it was done in the dark, so we’ll have to play with cameras and lighting to see if we can observe it.

The bad news is that when Tabitha — she has a name now — dies, we’re going to have to dissect her and observe her genitals very closely, to independently confirm her species.

Otherwise, though, this is so exciting! Thrilling, even! All the spiders get wood shavings! Everyone gets wood shavings! You can have wood shavings! Come on, you’ve got to admit that complex nest construction behavior in an invertebrate is fun stuff, even if it’s totally unsurprising, given that spiders have always been elaborate builders.

P.S. You might actually be able to see a bit of spider anatomy poking out in one place, but I’ll leave it as an exercise for you to Find the Spider.

Bampa in the house

One anchor of sanity I still have is that I have a FaceTime call with my wife every night. Or, rather, I call my wife’s phone, which my granddaughter Iliana monopolizes immediately.

Sometimes, she sees me and immediately yells “Momo!”, which is how she pronounces “Elmo”. I have an Elmo puppet and she likes to say hello.

Sometimes, she says “Ca’!”, which means I have to go hunt down the cat. Our cat never obligingly curls up in my lap, she’s always off somewhere else, so I have to wander around the house to find her, and then when she sees me coming with the phone, she runs off to hide. Iliana associates me with a cat, though, so I have to track her down.

And sometimes she just shouts “Bampa!” like she’s happy to see me. Then I’m expected to follow her around as she shows off her toys. Or rather, Mary has to follow her around keeping her in view. I might get one or two sentences with Mary on these calls. That’s OK, we grandparents have a moral duty, and I aim to fulfill it.

Which America?

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has endorsed noble self-sacrifice as a reason to prop up the economy.

No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.

I want to, you know, live smart and see through this, but I don’t want to see the whole country to be sacrificed, and that’s what I see.

How brave. I would just ask, which America? The one all America loves? What’s that?

The America that is trying to heal scars of slavery, that believes in giving everyone an equal opportunity, that supports the dignity of labor with unions, that respects the rights of other people outside our borders, and that welcomes new immigrants? That’s the America I grew up with. It was a pretty good promise of an America, flawed but at least we had some ideals, and while we fell far short of meeting them, there was a hope of change.

Or does he mean the America of overpaid CEOs, healthcare run for the profit of insurance companies, white nationalists, border camps, stolen children, drone strikes, greed and inequity? Because I’m not willing to risk my life for that America. I want that America to die, not me. We should be honoring our grandparents rather than treating them as disposable, to help Wall Street bankers.

I think Patrick misspoke. He meant to say the capitalism that all capitalists love, not America.

Please do go die for your “America”, Lt. Gov. Patrick. That will help me as I live for mine.

Christians are selfish, awful people

While other people are isolating themselves to slow the spread of the epidemic, Michigan Republicans pushed through an exemption to allow churches to have gatherings of 50 or more people.

Meanwhile, in Florida, this pompous ass is encouraging his congregation to hug each other and promises that he’ll never close his services.

Before you say Darwin award, keep in mind that the purpose of all this quarantine stuff is to reduce the chances that community medical infrastructure isn’t overwhelmed. These selfish assholes are going to kill other people outside their church.

The only way to avoid that is if we add a further restriction to that church exemption: sure, you can gather in loud Jebus-whoopin’ crowds and hug and slobber all over each other, on the condition that we get to lock you in, and you don’t get to come out until the worst of the pandemic is over. I’m sure the Lord will protect you.