Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 2nd, 2020

Trump Has Sabotaged America’s Coronavirus Response

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Laurie Garrett writes in Foreign Policy:

When Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), declared the Wuhan coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern on Thursday, he praised China for taking “unprecedented” steps to control the deadly virus. “I have never seen for myself this kind of mobilization,” he noted. “China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response.”

The epidemic control efforts unfolding today in China—including placing some 100 million citizens on lockdown, shutting down a national holiday, building enormous quarantine hospitals in days’ time, and ramping up 24-hour manufacturing of medical equipment—are indeed gargantuan. It’s impossible to watch them without wondering, “What would we do? How would my government respond if this virus spread across my country?”

For the United States, the answers are especially worrying because the government has intentionally rendered itself incapable. In 2018, the Trump administration fired the government’s entire pandemic response chain of command, including the White House management infrastructure. In numerous phone calls and emails with key agencies across the U.S. government, the only consistent response I encountered was distressed confusion. —not just for the public but for the government itself, which largely finds itself in the dark.

When Ebola broke out in West Africa in 2014, President Barack Obama recognized that responding to the outbreak overseas, while also protecting Americans at home, involved multiple U.S. government departments and agencies, none of which were speaking to one another. Basically, the U.S. pandemic infrastructure was an enormous orchestra full of talented, egotistical players, each jockeying for solos and fame, refusing to rehearse, and demanding higher salaries—all without a conductor. To bring order and harmony to the chaos, rein in the agency egos, and create a coherent multiagency response overseas and on the homefront, Obama anointed a former vice presidential staffer, Ronald Klain, as a sort of “epidemic czar” inside the White House, clearly stipulated the roles and budgets of various agencies, and placed incident commanders in charge in each Ebola-hit country and inside the United States. The orchestra may have still had its off-key instruments, but it played the same tune.

Building on the Ebola experience, the Obama administration set up a permanent epidemic monitoring and command group inside the White House National Security Council (NSC) and another in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—both of which followed the scientific and public health leads of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the diplomatic advice of the State Department.

On the domestic front, the real business of assuring public health and safety is a local matter, executed by state, county, and city departments that operate under a mosaic of laws and regulations that vary jurisdiction by jurisdiction. Some massive cities, such as New York City or Boston, have large budgets, clear regulations, and epidemic experiences that have left deep benches of medical and public health talent. But much of the United States is less fortunate on the local level, struggling with underfunded agencies, understaffing, and no genuine epidemic experience. Large and small, America’s localities rely in times of public health crisis on the federal government.

Bureaucracy matters. Without it, there’s nothing to coherently manage an alphabet soup of agencies housed in departments ranging from Defense to Commerce, Homeland Security to Health and Human Services (HHS).

But that’s all gone now.

In the spring of 2018, the White House pushed Congress to cut funding for Obama-era disease security programs, proposing to eliminate $252 million in previously committed resources for rebuilding health systems in Ebola-ravaged Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Under fire from both sides of the aisle, President Donald Trump dropped the proposal to eliminate Ebola funds a month later. But other White House efforts included reducing $15 billion in national health spending and cutting the global disease-fighting operational budgets of the CDC, NSC, DHS, and HHS. And the government’s $30 million Complex Crises Fund was eliminated.

In May 2018, Trump ordered the NSC’s entire global health security unit shut down, calling for reassignment of Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer and dissolution of his team inside the agency. The month before, then-White House National Security Advisor John Bolton pressured Ziemer’s DHS counterpart, Tom Bossert, to resign along with his team. Neither the NSC nor DHS epidemic teams have been replaced. The global health section of the CDC was so drastically cut in 2018 that much of its staff was laid off and the number of countries it was working in was reduced from 49 to merely 10. Meanwhile, throughout 2018, the U.S. Agency for International Development and its director, Mark Green, came repeatedly under fire from both the White House and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And though Congress has so far managed to block Trump administration plans to cut the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps by 40 percent, the disease-fighting cadres have steadily eroded as retiring officers go unreplaced.

Klain has been warning for two years that the United States was in grave danger should a pandemic emerge. In 2017 and 2018, the philanthropist billionaire Bill Gates met repeatedly with Bolton and his predecessor, H.R. McMaster, warning that ongoing cuts to the global health disease infrastructure would render the United States vulnerable to, as he put it, the “significant probability of a large and lethal modern-day pandemic occurring in our lifetimes.” And an independent, bipartisan panel formed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies concluded that lack of preparedness was so acute in the Trump administration that the “United States must either pay now and gain protection and security or wait for the next epidemic and pay a much greater price in human and economic costs.”

The next epidemic is now here; we’ll soon know the costs imposed by the Trump administration’s early negligence and present panic. On Jan. 29, Trump announced . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The US …   what can one say?

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2020 at 7:29 pm

How Trump is destroying the civil service and bending the government to his will

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The US turned out to be much more fragile than expected. George Packer writes in the Atlantic:

When donald trump came into office, there was a sense that he would be outmatched by the vast government he had just inherited.

The new president was impetuous, bottomlessly ignorant, almost chemically inattentive, while the bureaucrats were seasoned, shrewd, protective of themselves and their institutions. They knew where the levers of power lay and how to use them or prevent the president from doing so. Trump’s White House was chaotic and vicious, unlike anything in American history, but it didn’t really matter as long as “the adults” were there to wait out the president’s impulses and deflect his worst ideas and discreetly pocket destructive orders lying around on his desk.

After three years, the adults have all left the room—saying just about nothing on their way out to alert the country to the peril—while Trump is still there.

James Baker, the former general counsel of the FBI, and a target of Trump’s rage against the state, acknowledges that many government officials, not excluding himself, went into the administration convinced “that they are either smarter than the president, or that they can hold their own against the president, or that they can protect the institution against the president because they understand the rules and regulations and how it’s supposed to work, and that they will be able to defend the institution that they love or served in previously against what they perceive to be, I will say neutrally, the inappropriate actions of the president. And I think they are fooling themselves. They’re fooling themselves. He’s light-years ahead of them.”The adults were too sophisticated to see Trump’s special political talents—his instinct for every adversary’s weakness, his fanatical devotion to himself, his knack for imposing his will, his sheer staying power. They also failed to appreciate the advanced decay of the Republican Party, which by 2016 was far gone in a nihilistic pursuit of power at all costs. They didn’t grasp the readiness of large numbers of Americans to accept, even relish, Trump’s contempt for democratic norms and basic decency. It took the arrival of such a leader to reveal how many things that had always seemed engraved in monumental stone turned out to depend on those flimsy norms, and how much the norms depended on public opinion. Their vanishing exposed the real power of the presidency. Legal precedent could be deleted with a keystroke; law enforcement’s independence from the White House was optional; the separation of powers turned out to be a gentleman’s agreement; transparent lies were more potent than solid facts. None of this was clear to the political class until Trump became president.

But the adults’ greatest miscalculation was to overestimate themselves—particularly in believing that other Americans saw them as selfless public servants, their stature derived from a high-minded commitment to the good of the nation.

When Trump came to power, he believed that the regime was his, property he’d rightfully acquired, and that the 2 million civilians working under him, most of them in obscurity, owed him their total loyalty. He harbored a deep suspicion that some of them were plotting in secret to destroy him. He had to bring them to heel before he could be secure in his power. This wouldn’t be easy—the permanent government had defied other leaders and outlasted them. In his inexperience and rashness—the very qualities his supporters loved—he made early mistakes. He placed unreliable or inept commissars in charge of the bureaucracy, and it kept running on its own.

But a simple intuition had propelled Trump throughout his life: Human beings are weak. They have their illusions, appetites, vanities, fears. They can be cowed, corrupted, or crushed. A government is composed of human beings. This was the flaw in the brilliant design of the Framers, and Trump learned how to exploit it. The wreckage began to pile up. He needed only a few years to warp his administration into a tool for his own benefit. If he’s given a few more years, the damage to American democracy will be irreversible.

This is the story of how a great republic went soft in the middle, lost the integrity of its guts and fell in on itself—told through government officials whose names under any other president would have remained unknown, who wanted no fame, and who faced existential questions when Trump set out to break them. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2020 at 6:18 pm

And Covid-19 is rushing in

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Adam Wren writes in Medium:

There’s been a huge amount of talk about the coronavirus on social and traditional media. Our governments are telling us not to worry, with a few key points being repeated:

“It’s just the flu”.

“The mortality rate is only 2%.”

“Only 3000 people have died so far”

“The only people dying are the old and people already sick”

If you’re young and healthy, what is there to worry about?

It turns out, an awful lot. Let me explain:

The main risk of the coronavirus outbreak isn’t that you’re going to get sick and die, it’s that so many people are going to get sick so quickly that our healthcare services and infrastructure are going to be completely overwhelmed.

Let’s look at the virus, it’s called SARS-CoV-2. The illness is called COVID-19.

This is the information we have so far, based on multiple sources:

Incubation period: 2–14 days 1

Transmission Methods:

  • Respiratory droplets (coughing, sneezing) 2
  • Fomites (infected clothes, furniture, sheets, hair, skin, vehicles, tools) 2
  • Fecal-Oral (ingesting infected fecal matter, flies landing on your food, touching your mouth with your hand after contact with a public door handle) 3
  • Possible airborne (different from droplets, airborne can be carried by dust in the air) 4
  • The Virus may persist on surfaces for up to 9 days, on some surfaces up to 27 days 5

R0 is a measure of how infectious a virus is

  • the R0 of the flu is 1.28 6
  • the R0 of SARS-CoV-2 is assumed to be between 1.4 and 3.8, potentially much higher 7

Symptoms

  • Fever 8
  • Cough 8
  • Shortness of breath 8
  • Mean time from illness onset to hospital admission with pneumonia is 9 days 9
  • 20% of patients require hospital treatment 910
  • 20–32% of patients hospitalised required intensive care for respiratory support 9
  • Some people are completely atypical

Death Rate

The worrying parts: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2020 at 6:00 pm

Spring is creeping in

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As you can see, the cherry trees have come awake and are blossoming. This is a side street near my current apartment, and this row of blooming cherry trees is replicated all over Victoria. What is not so evident is the wet pavement and overcast sky, with occasional showers. No walking today.

I say “my current apartment” because I’ll soon move to a new neghborhood in Victoria: James Bay, a neighborhood rather clearly set out (unlike this neighborhood) before automobiles became the dominant planning criterion. In James Bay, planning favors pedestrians, one reason I didn’t go there much (because it’s not nearly so car-friendly are other neighborhoods). But since I am going to be primarily a pedestrian, it’s nice to have a close neighborhood with a large variety of good stores within easy walking distance.

The move will be over the course of the next several weeks. There’s no great rush, and I don’t even have occupancy of the apartment for another two weeks. But blogging may become less frequent until I’m settled again.

I’m looking forward to this. Because I’ve been car-oriented in my housing choices, I’ve not lived in the kind of small neighborhood that James Bay exemplifies for a long time — possibly since I left the small (pop. 2400) town in which I was raised.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2020 at 1:31 pm

Posted in Daily life

The Recommended Daily Added Sugar Intake

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I don’t understand why people find it difficult to avoid eating refined sugar. It seems simple to me: if a food contains refined sugar, do not put it into your mouth. What’s the problem?

Still, obviously the problem exists and people in general seem to have the idea that they have no choice but to eat refined sugar. Still, the fact remains that, save for those who are threatened with bodily harm if they do not eat refined sugar (which in itself causes bodily harm, so they’re between a rock and a hard place), people do have a choice.

This brief video illustrates the strength (and total lack of ethics and moral values) of the sugar lobby:

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2020 at 11:34 am

How hard will robot overseers push workers?

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Josh Dzieza writes in The Verge:

On conference stages and at campaign rallies, tech executives and politicians warn of a looming automation crisis — one where workers are gradually, then all at once, replaced by intelligent machines. But their warnings mask the fact that an automation crisis has already arrived. The robots are here, they’re working in management, and they’re grinding workers into the ground.

The robots are watching over hotel housekeepers, telling them which room to clean and tracking how quickly they do it. They’re managing software developers, monitoring their clicks and scrolls and docking their pay if they work too slowly. They’re listening to call center workers, telling them what to say, how to say it, and keeping them constantly, maximally busy. While we’ve been watching the horizon for the self-driving trucks, perpetually five years away, the robots arrived in the form of the supervisor, the foreman, the middle manager.

These automated systems can detect inefficiencies that a human manager never would — a moment’s downtime between calls, a habit of lingering at the coffee machine after finishing a task, a new route that, if all goes perfectly, could get a few more packages delivered in a day. But for workers, what look like inefficiencies to an algorithm were their last reserves of respite and autonomy, and as these little breaks and minor freedoms get optimized out, their jobs are becoming more intense, stressful, and dangerous. Over the last several months, I’ve spoken with more than 20 workers in six countries. For many of them, their greatest fear isn’t that robots might come for their jobs: it’s that robots have already become their boss.

In few sectors are the perils of automated management more apparent than at Amazon. Almost every aspect of management at the company’s warehouses is directed by software, from when people work to how fast they work to when they get fired for falling behind. Every worker has a “rate,” a certain number of items they have to process per hour, and if they fail to meet it, they can be automatically fired.

When Jake* started working at a Florida warehouse, he was surprised by how few supervisors there were: just two or three managing a workforce of more than 300. “Management was completely automated,” he said. One supervisor would walk the floor, laptop in hand, telling workers to speed up when their rate dropped. (Amazon said its system notifies managers to talk to workers about their performance, and that all final decisions on personnel matters, including terminations, are made by supervisors.)

Jake, who asked to use a pseudonym out of fear of retribution, was a “rebinner.” His job was to take an item off a conveyor belt, press a button, place the item in whatever cubby a monitor told him to, press another button, and repeat. He likened it to doing a twisting lunge every 10 seconds, nonstop, though he was encouraged to move even faster by a giant leaderboard, featuring a cartoon sprinting man, that showed the rates of the 10 fastest workers in real time. A manager would sometimes keep up a sports announcer patter over the intercom — “In third place for the first half, we have Bob at 697 units per hour,” Jake recalled. Top performers got an Amazon currency they could redeem for Amazon Echos and company T-shirts. Low performers got fired.

“You’re not stopping,” Jake said. “You are literally not stopping. It’s like leaving your house and just running and not stopping for anything for 10 straight hours, just running.”

After several months, he felt a burning in his back. A supervisor sometimes told him to bend his knees more when lifting. When Jake did this his rate dropped, and another supervisor would tell him to speed up. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Go faster?” he recalled saying. “If I go faster, I’m going to have a heart attack and fall on the floor.” Finally, his back gave out completely. He was diagnosed with two damaged discs and had to go on disability. The rate, he said, was “100 percent” responsible for his injury.

Every Amazon worker I’ve spoken to said it’s the automatically enforced pace of work, rather than the physical difficulty of the work itself, that makes the job so grueling. Any slack is perpetually being optimized out of the system, and with it any opportunity to rest or recover. A worker on the West Coast told me about a new device that shines a spotlight on the item he’s supposed to pick, allowing Amazon to further accelerate the rate and get rid of what the worker described as “micro rests” stolen in the moment it took to look for the next item on the shelf.

People can’t sustain this level of intense work without breaking down. Last year, ProPublica, BuzzFeed, and others published investigations about Amazon delivery drivers careening into vehicles and pedestrians as they attempted to complete their demanding routes, which are algorithmically generated and monitored via an app on drivers’ phones. In November, Reveal analyzed documents from 23 Amazon warehouses and found that almost 10 percent of full-time workers sustained serious injuries in 2018, more than twice the national average for similar work. Multiple Amazon workers have told me that repetitive stress injuries are epidemic but rarely reported. (An Amazon spokesperson said the company takes worker safety seriously, has medical staff on-site, and encourages workers to report all injuries.) Backaches, knee pain, and other symptoms of constant strain are common enough for Amazon to install painkiller vending machines in its warehouses.

The unrelenting stress takes a toll of its own. Jake recalled . . .

Continue reading.

The US seems to be sliding into dystopia. Read the entire article. From later in the article:

It was Henry Ford who most fully demonstrated the approach’s power when he further simplified tasks and arranged them along an assembly line. The speed of the line controlled the pace of the worker and gave supervisors an easy way to see who was lagging. Laborers absolutely hated it. The work was so mindless and grueling that people quit in droves, forcing Ford to double wages. As these methods spread, workers frequently struck or slowed down to protest “speedups” — supervisors accelerating the assembly line to untenable rates.

We are in the midst of another great speedup. There are many factors behind it, but one is the digitization of the economy and the new ways of organizing work it enables. Take retail: workers no longer stand around in stores waiting for customers; with e-commerce, their roles are split. Some work in warehouses, where they fulfill orders nonstop, and others work in call centers, where they answer question after question. In both spaces, workers are subject to intense surveillance. Their every action is tracked by warehouse scanners and call center computers, which provide the data for the automated systems that keep them working at maximum capacity.

At the most basic level, automated management starts with the schedule. Scheduling algorithms have been around since the late 1990s when stores began using them to predict customer traffic and generate shifts to match it. These systems did the same thing a business owner would do when they scheduled fewer workers for slow mornings and more for the lunchtime rush, trying to maximize sales per worker hour. The software was just better at it, and it kept improving, factoring in variables like weather or nearby sporting events, until it could forecast the need for staff in 15-minute increments.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2020 at 10:36 am

Last in the shaving cream series: Dr. Selby’s 3X Concentrated Shaving Cream

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Truthfully, Dr. Selby’s seems more like a very good soap than a shaving cream, but whatever you call it, the lather it produces is extremely nice. I used my Rooney Style 2 Finest, and I have to say I enjoyed the feel of the lather-loaded brush, quite different from the feel of a synthetic. The Rooney had much more texture and individual bristle-resilience that gave it a pleasant but hard-to-describe tacticle sensations — analogous to crunchiness in food, if that makes sense. I’m now interested in getting back to badger after becoming accustomed to “Plissoft” style synthetics. I suppose I simply like variety.

The Stealth was a good choice, polishing off the two-day stubble with no effort at all, and then a good splash of Diplomat finished the job. All this was around 4:45am — had to take The Wife to the airport. It’s a rainy day, so far.

I’m very pleased at the trend in my fasting blood glucose. The combination of a whole-food plant-based die and Nordic walking has take the readings down to a whole new level.

5.5mmol/L is 99mg/dL, and that is a “normal” reading for fasting blood glucose level. I don’t know whether any of my readers have type 2 diabetes, but it is likely — it’s now a common disease. If you do, consider adopting a whole-food plant-based diet and see what happens. This brief article might be of interest.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2020 at 7:59 am

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