The difficulty of gauging Trump’s strength

I predicted that once Donald Trump was out of office, his ability to draw large crowds to his rallies would diminish as people wearied of hearing the same stuff over and over again. It looks like I was wrong. He has been holding allies like the one in Iowa that drew a large audience. Since this is the first state to vote in presidential primaries, his visit was seen as an indicator that he plans to run again. He spoke for almost two hours, devoting much of it to the well-debunked claims that he only lost the election due to fraud. The fact that so many people would devote such a large amount of time to attend an event and listen to him saying what he has said many times before shows that his hold on the Republican party remains strong.
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Atheists, agnostics, and Catholics are the most supportive of vaccines

Although the anti-vaccine and anti-mask protestors get a lot of media coverage, a new survey from the Pew Research Center finds that a majority of the American public (by a margin of 62% to 37%) see the health benefits if the Covid-19 restrictions as worth the costs, even though the restrictions have “hurt businesses and economic activity and keep people from living their lives the way they want”. But many also fear that the worst is yet to come.

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Overreacting to publicity hounds

The media tends to focus on controversies, which is fair enough. After all, ‘news’ is what is out of the ordinary. What is annoying is when they lazily treat some idiotic statements by a few people as representing sentiments more widespread than they actually are. This is even more irritating when the people making the statements are known publicity hounds who clearly make absurd statements hoping that they will garner some headlines.

Take this recent headline from an Associated Press story titled Big Bird backlash: Vax lands even Muppet in political flap about the beloved Sesame Street character saying that he got the vaccine that is now given to children.

The word ‘backlash’ suggests widespread reaction. What is the evidence of it? Just senator Ted Cruz along with an obscure Fox News contributor describing it as ‘government propaganda’ and ‘brainwashing’ and ‘twisted’.

There are some politicians who simply crave to be in the headlines: Cruz, Marjorie-Taylor Greene, and Lauren Boebert to name just a few. They will respond with something that is inflammatory to anything has the slightest chance of igniting passion among the loonies of the right. If it does, they pat themselves on the back for succeeding. If it doesn’t, there is always something new that will come along the next day.

The publicity hound monster is insatiable and one has to stop feeding it. But the 24/7 news cycle is like these publicity hounds in that it also craves attention and needs content that will provide it. So we have a symbiotic relationship between attention-seekers on both sides.

The ultimate gated community – in space

Now that we have people going to space just for the hell of it and if they can afford it, there are some plans to open a space hotel in the year 2027 in the form of a rotating wheel (a la 2001) to simulate gravity to about one-sixth of the Earth’s.

As the first of its kind, Voyager Station is slated to be a luxury resort designed to accommodate 280 guests and 112 crew members, complete with a restaurant, a bar, a concert hall, a gym and even a cinema.

After blasting off from Earth, guests will arrive at a central, zero-gravity docking hub. From there, elevator shafts will carry them outward to a chain of “habitation modules” arranged around the circumference of the circular station. It’s only there, at the edge of the wheel, that the centrifugal force will be strong enough to keep guests and their surroundings firmly grounded.

Wandering the 24 modules, which come in at 125,000 square feet total, they’ll find all the aforementioned amenities of this resort in the sky.

On its website, the company urges potential clients to get in on the action: “Be one of the first humans to vacation on a luxury space station. Make history as one of the first humans in history to own real estate in orbit.” As if it were promoting any old property in Aspen or Palm Beach, the site advertises short- and long-term leases for “luxury villas, commercial, retail and industrial space” — pun perhaps intended. They’re already in negotiations with booking agents, Alatorre says.

Yes, finally the very wealthy will be really, really free of the presence of the hoi polloi, their ultimate dream.

If you want more information, you can check out the website.

While I can see this maybe becoming reality at some point, 2027 seems highly unlikely.

Be skeptical about callous bystander stories

Some readers may have seen the story about a woman who was raped on a SEPTA commuter train in Philadelphia while other people on the train either did nothing or even took videos of it. I found this hard to believe and felt that there must be more to the story and so suspended judgment. Now later accounts suggest that the initial account of callous bystanders is incorrect and that the story is more complicated.

Some of us may remember the awful story back in 1964 of Kitty Genovese, who was murdered on a street while people living in the buildings reportedly ignored her screams. That story turned out to be not true but created an enduring myth about callous bystanders.
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Somber milestone

Yesterday saw the tally of global deaths from covid-19 pass the five million mark. This is a staggering number. The number of people who have been infected is close to 250 million, which is over 3% of the world’s population.

These are likely to be undercounts since they depend upon accurate diagnosis and reporting. We may have to wait for a more accurate count of deaths when they calculate the excess mortality. By comparing the number of deaths during the period of the pandemic and subtracting from it the number of people who died during a similar period before the pandemic, that will give us a different, and hopefully more accurate, estimate.

Moral hypocrisy on full display

The US government is outraged, just outraged, that the Myanmar military government has engaged in torture and is demanding that those responsible be prosecuted.

The U.S. State Department expressed outrage and demanded an investigation on Friday after The Associated Press reported that Myanmar’s military has been torturing detainees in a systemic way across the country.

The United Nations’ top expert on human rights in Myanmar also called for strong international pressure on the military. And lawmakers in Washington urged Congress to act in the wake of AP’s investigation, which was based on interviews with 28 people, including women and children, imprisoned and released since the military took control of the government in February.

“We are outraged and disturbed by ongoing reports of the Burmese military regime’s use of ‘systematic torture’ across the country,” the State Department said, using Myanmar’s other name, Burma. “Reports of torture in Burma must be credibly investigated and those responsible for such abuses must be held accountable.”

AP’s report, which included photographic evidence, sketches and letters from prisoners, along with testimony from three recently defected military officials, provides the most comprehensive look since the takeover into a highly secretive detention system that has held more than 9,000 people. The AP identified a dozen interrogation centers in use across Myanmar, in addition to prisons and police lockups, based on interviews and satellite imagery.

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Covid among older people

Being an old person myself, I am somewhat attuned to news items about how the pandemic is affecting that age cohort. It is well-documented that the virus has far more serious effects on older people and that the vaccine is their best bet to avoid serious illness and death. It is infuriating that so many older people have succumbed to the misinformation about the vaccines and not taken them.

David Leonhardt of the New York Times reviews the statistics. He says that while the number of cases and deaths are declining nationwide, it could have been much better among the older population.
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The long-term side effects issue

One of the lesser-publicized objections to taking the covid-19 vaccines is the fear that side effects may appear after many years. This is, on the surface, a more plausible cause of concern since the vaccines have been around for less than a year and we do not have any data on what effects it might have after periods longer than that. So it is not surprising that some people feel that the verdict is not yet in on long term safety.

But scientists say that this fear can be allayed by explaining how vaccines work. The fact that the vaccines provide immunity for long times, sometimes for life, is not because they stay in the body that long. After triggering the immune response and creating antibodies to the virus, they quickly degrade and go away.
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