Live In It

I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment.

Joan Didion (1934-2021)

This week’s featured post is “Closing Out a Dismal Year“.

This week everybody was talking about the pandemic

Even for people expecting a Christmas/Omicron surge, the numbers this week have been frightening. The 7-day average for new cases per day in the US rose to 214K, up 83% from levels that were already surging two weeks ago. (The record is 251K on January 11. At the current rate of increase we’ll break it in a few days.)

Hospitalizations (71K, up 8%) and deaths (1328, up 3%) are not rising as fast, but it’s still uncertain whether that is the normal time lag or an indication that Omicron is less dangerous, at least for the vaccinated.

The other ominous thing about the increase is that (like the original Covid infection), it’s concentrated in a few big cities: The national average is 65 new cases per 100K per day, but Miami-Dade County has 276; Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) 262; New York City 231; Washington D.C. 186. As we’ve seen before, a surge that starts in the cities doesn’t stay there. Like fashions, infections in the cities eventually reach the countryside.

One hopeful possibility is still speculative: Maybe there’s a reason for Omicron to be more contagious but less deadly.

[T]he [Hong Kong] study also found that Omicron is significantly less effective than previous strains at multiplying in the lower-lung tissue. This might suggest a different disease profile for Omicron. Upper-respiratory-tract infections typically cause colds and sore throats, while lower-respiratory infections are more likely to cause pneumonia. The finding might also suggest a mechanism for greater contagiousness: Virus particles in the upper lung region are less likely to cause severe disease but more likely to be expelled when people talk or sing or just breathe.

The toll on healthcare workers is particularly worrisome.

Many workers who persisted through the first year of the pandemic have departed jobs because of burnout and anxiety. And with the Omicron variant pushing case numbers up dramatically, the caregivers who remain are getting infections, too, straining staff levels in unpredictable ways.

If you wonder why healthcare workers are throwing in the towel, read this Reddit account that claims to be from a doctor who has practiced for 30 years. (I know there’s no way to verify Reddit posts. You just have to read it and judge its credibility for yourself.)

He says the last straw was being physically assaulted by the wife of a Covid patient who had just died alone, because the family refused to wear the masks that hospital rules required for visitors. The wife blames the doctor for her husband’s death, because he used real anti-Covid medicine rather than hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.

“I will never treat a patient again,” the doctor writes.

Israel has a more aggressive attitude towards vaccines than the US does. Rather than wait for clinical evidence that a fourth shot helps with Omicron, Israeli authorities are going ahead with a recommendation. Israel believes that early booster shots blunted its Delta wave.

The Covid surge snarled holiday air traffic, as flight crews called in sick.

Globally, airlines have canceled about 5,700 flights on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the day after, according to FlightAware. That includes about 1,700 flights within, into or out of the United States.

and January 6

Merrick Garland’s former professor Laurence Tribe is worried that his former student is not rising to the challenge of the times: holding former president Donald Trump and his top-level co-conspirators accountable for their attempt to keep Trump in power after he lost the election. Writing in the NYT with two former prosecutors, he says:

Based purely on what we know today from news reports and the steady stream of revelations coming from the House select committee investigating the attack, the attorney general has a powerful justification for a robust and forceful investigation into the former president and his inner circle. … And yet there are no signs, at least in media reports, that the attorney general is building a case against these individuals — no interviews with top administration officials, no reports of attempts to persuade the foot soldiers to turn on the people who incited them to violence.

… To decline from the outset to investigate would be appeasement, pure and simple, and appeasing bullies and wrongdoers only encourages more of the same. Without forceful action to hold the wrongdoers to account, we will likely not resist what some retired generals see as a march to another insurrection in 2024 if Mr. Trump or another demagogue loses.

and the new space telescope

The most powerful telescope ever, the James Webb Space Telescope, was launched into space on Christmas.

NASA now faces “30 days of terror” as the telescope travels a million miles out to Lagrange point L2 (the place behind the Earth where terrestrial and solar gravitational fields cancel out orbital acceleration), and unfolds its mirrors and sun shields. Everything has to work: Unlike its predecessor, the Hubble, the Webb will operate well beyond the range of current manned vehicles.

“This telescope is not designed to be a serviceable mission,” Heidi Hammel, an interdisciplinary scientist on the James Webb Space Telescope project, tells Inverse. “So we’re designing it to work, not to send it up and try it.”

After deployment, the Webb will need months of calibration, so we probably won’t see images from it until summer.

But if everything works, the Webb will stretch the bounds of astronomy: It will tell us about the atmospheres of planets in other solar systems (including detecting possible signs of life), and will see light that has been in transit for billions of years — essentially looking into the universe’s distant past.

In the case of cosmology, JWST will be able to detect redder wavelengths than any Great Observatory before it, thereby looking further back in space and time. The proposed COSMOS-Webb project, for example, aims to explore the universe 400,000 to 1 billion years after the Big Bang, back when the first stars were just starting to shine, by examining the same patch of sky as the famous Hubble Deep Fields.

and whether Build Back Better is dead

Last week, Joe Manchin’s announcement that he couldn’t support President Biden’s Build Back Better bill brought months of negotiations to an end. But BBB is a big collection of stuff, so the next question is: Is there anything in there that Democrats can still pass?

E. J. Dionne makes the case for guarded optimism.

and 2021

The featured post takes aim at two year-in-review articles: one that tries to be funny but isn’t, and another that tries to be serious and ends up being ridiculous. But I did enjoy this one: the NYT’s “The Year in 41 Debates“, which recalls what we argued about this year.

Some of the questions are abstract, like “What does it mean to be woke?”, while others point to specific events, like “Should Obama get to celebrate his birthday?” and “What happened to Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend?”

The NYT doesn’t make any judgments about whether these topics were worth the attention they got, it just remembers them. Put together, the 41 questions bring 2021 back (in all its glory and silliness) like few other year-in-review articles can.

The New Year brings a minimum-wage increase to 21 states.

and you also might be interested in …

Here’s the best summary of the difference between the parties: Democrats want to protect school children from mass shootings. Republicans want to protect them from books.

Fox News is outraged that a Texas teacher would publicly mock book-banners with a Dr. Seuss parody.

While we’re talking about parody, McSweeney’s “Ayn Rand Writes Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer” is priceless, particularly to anybody who read as much Rand as I did in my misspent youth. Do you think being left out of reindeer games would have bothered Howard Roark?

South Africa’s Bishop Desmond Tutu died yesterday. Joan Didion on Thursday. Edward O. Wilson this morning.

Apparently God told an Evangelical woman to intrude on the conversation of two young female friends to warn them about the dangers of lesbianism. Because the small god Evangelicals worship often makes mistakes like that.

Right-wing rhetoric against Dr. Fauci is getting increasingly violent.

Referring to tabloid-style surprise interviews, [Fox News host Jesse] Watters said in a speech that activists should “ambush” Dr. Fauci with adversarial questions that he deemed “the kill shot.” Describing the imagined effect of such a filmed confrontation, Mr. Watters added: “Boom! He is dead! He is dead! He’s done!”

And that’s another major difference between liberals and conservatives: Liberals embarrass their enemies with merciless Dr. Seuss parodies, while conservatives fantasize about “kill shots”.

I have no doubt that CNN or MSNBC would have fired any host who used similarly violent language during the Trump administration, but Fox News is not disciplining Watters in any way, reasoning that his kill-shot image is merely “metaphoric”.

No one disputes that, but the talking heads at Fox would never accept such an excuse from a liberal commentator at another network.

I mean, in 2017 nobody believed comedian Kathy Griffin had literally cut off Trump’s head, but she was not only fired from the CNN New Year’s Eve special, but spent two months on the federal no-fly list. The right-wing media still hates her; New Jersey’s Shore News Network could barely contain its glee in announcing this August that she had lung cancer.

Sarah Palin is trying to become relevant again by going full anti-vax. One reason I say the GOP has passed the point of no return is that no one thinks they can become relevant on the Right by speaking truth and being reasonable.

Another police conviction shows that the times might be changing. Police officer Kimberley Potter was convicted of first-degree manslaughter Thursday. In April, she killed Daunte Wright near Minneapolis when she mistook her gun for a taser. She’ll be sentenced in February. A typical sentence is about seven years. CNN analyzed:

“Three to five years ago, this would be a full acquittal, not even a concern over a mistrial. So the fact that we are now seeing more accountability for officers — the idea they are not above the law, that if they do the crime, they do the time,” criminal defense attorney Sara Azari said Thursday after the conviction. “It’s definitely not systemic change, but it is definitely a change in trend.”

Former Governor Andrew Cuomo won’t be charged with sexually harassing a female police officer in his security detail. The prosecutor found the allegation of inappropriate touching to be “credible, deeply troubling, but not criminal under New York law.”

A attorney for Cuomo charged that NY Attorney General Letitia James pursued the investigation for political purposes, a quote that I’m sure will be ammunition for Trump to attack the NY state investigation into his shady financial dealings.

Reuniting the immigrant families Trump separated is proving to be harder than it sounds.

The agency that was supposed to oversee Trump’s illegal hotel lease never really looked at the ethical or constitutional issues.

Doctor Historianess educates conservatives about freedom of speech.

#jaredschmeck was totally within his rights to say Let’s Go Brandon. But I’m within my rights to say Jared Schmeck is a total asshole. See how that works?

Frank Bruni argues against using adverbs that commonly modify gay, such as openly or flamboyantly, terms which are almost never paired with straight.

When milestones are being chronicled and a succinct qualifier is in order [as when Pete Buttigieg was described as “the first openly gay cabinet secretary” to acknowledge the probable existence of closeted gay secretaries in the past], I indeed vote for “out” over “openly.” And otherwise? If a person’s sexual orientation or identity is specifically and indisputably relevant to a given article or conversation and isn’t a secret, call that person simply “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” “trans” or such. Let the “openly” be implicit.

The Satanic Temple continues to point out the distinction between free expression of religion in public spaces and Christian supremacy. Their installation at the Illinois State Capitol of a baby Baphomet next to a Christian nativity scene has outraged Christians, who say that it “should have no place in this Capitol or any other place”.

But if you want a Christian nativity scene at the Capitol without any Satanic expression, then you don’t want religious freedom. You want Christian supremacy.

Personally, I would get rid of both displays. In America, government is a secular institution.

and let’s close with something musical

I suspect huskies evolved shortly after wolves and humans started singing together.

And can’t we all sympathize with this dog, who wants to stay mad, but can’t resist joining in on her favorite song?

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  • reverendsax  On December 27, 2021 at 2:30 pm

    I think you are right about everything. Hope your wife agrees.

  • janinmi  On December 28, 2021 at 12:03 pm

    I bet a box of Bibles that that evangelical woman thought those two teens were gay because one of them had a “male” hairstyle. Talk about being so locked into a stereotype that one might as well be taped inside a box. *smh*

    Thanks, from a Sibe (everyone else calls them Huskies; there’s at least one other Husky breed [Alaskan] so I call Siberians Sibes to distinguish) person now living with cats (I’m too old to keep up with Sibes now) for the song-fest videos. That sound Sibes make is somewhere between a wolf howl and a hound bay, unique to the breed and always a delight to hear for me. A Sibe *will* argue with you, as the first video shows. I love them to distraction. ❤

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