/data/universe/

June 4, 2020

The mental space I had been using for COVID-19 has been entirely displaced by responding to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery; the subsequent protests; and local and national police response.

Like so many white Americans, I often ignore the degree to which our nation and its institutions embody white supremacy culture, to my own benefit.  For this reason I did not anticipate the violence with which police officers across the country would respond to these protests.  This Twitter thread–obviously disturbing–compiles hundreds of videos of police aggression against unarmed, peaceful protestors, continuing a sordid history that stretches back to our nation’s founding.  Especially despicable has been the deliberate targeting of credentialed journalists.  It is a moral travesty that some would respond to these actions by those sworn to protect and serve with whataboutism about looting and property damage.

I have taken the long-overdue opportunity to connect with local news sources, to learn more about Seattle’s history of police misconduct, to begin engaging with advocacy to reduce police use of force, and to lay the groundwork for greater anti-racist action in my own life going forward, even when this moment passes.

May 28, 2020

Whether due to lockdown fatigue, or skepticism, or confusion, or misinformation, or a sense that the threat has ebbed, more people in the area seem to be trying out social gatherings.  Mostly with some nod to social distancing, but the threat feels more distant and solidarity more tenuous.  Even in California and Washington, lockdowns are being eased.

Maybe there’s some truth to that?  Better scientific studies are starting to emerge, with news both good and bad.  In particular there is an idea circulating that a few “super-spreader” events are driving most of the transmission.  Japan’s strategy to focus containment efforts on preventing superspreading (in combination with mask wearing and other norms) seems to be workingunlike Sweden’s lockdown-free approach.  Perhaps Seattle’s COVID spread began later than initially believed for that reason.

Still, mask wearing and  curtailment of some activities will certainly necessary to prevent a death toll that has already topped 100,000 Americans.  (Remember when the IHME model’s revision of predicted deaths down to 65,000 was taken as “proof” that models were useless?)  But cries for “freedom” and “the constitution” seem to be growing louder–an argument with a long history.

Even as states reopen, the economic effects continue to linger.  Identity thieves have filed tremendous numbers of fraudulent unemployment claims, particularly in Washington State–even my department chair was victimized.

New topics are starting to elbow their way to the forefront of the news, with protests over the killing of George Floyd and others spreading nationwide.

May 18, 2020

Stasis is the status these days.  Somehow we’re halfway through May, and only the later sunsets provide any sign of change.  We have found a routine, mostly, and while every few days the kids need a new diversion they have mostly accepted our new rhythms.  Gratefully the kindergartner is not fighting school so hard, and has finally started to pick up a little reading.

Things happen, of course–or maybe more accurately, things don’t happen.  Heartbreakingly, we had to tell my brother we didn’t think it was prudent to fly to his wedding in July.  Plenty to second guess there, but going to the airport feels like going to the moon right now.  I got my first haircut at home.  Summer camps are out.  More conferences are cancelled, now in the fall.  Academics are starting to embrace virtual colloquia.  Seattle schools are sending surveys about “alternate learning approaches” for the fall.

This heartbreaking article compares how politicians and public health officials in Seattle cooperated–and those in New York tragically did not.  It shows how persuading Microsoft and Amazon to send its workers home early–and keeping schools open late–helped establish public acceptance of the drastic measures needed.  The implications of our failure to establish similar messaging nationally are left to the reader…

The depressing fact is that the US lockdowns failed to suppress the epidemic–but other countries have succeeded.

Nevertheless, restrictions are being relaxed, even here, as we learn more about the spectrum of risks.

There’s still plenty to be mad about, but I feel like I am saturated on anger and have moved into resignation.

But we have had an unusually pleasant spring, it’s light past 9:00 pm now–so there’s time for a bike ride or some work in the yard after the kids are in bed.  And so we continue onward.

May 5, 2020

Every technical person that I know has been alternating between incredulity and despair over this tweet by the White House Council of Economic Advisers (!!!) that contains a totally bogus, unmotivated cubic curve fit that creates the illusion that deaths will just “go to zero” in mid-May.  We put people in jail for less egregious falsifications.

New visualization tools from the FT.  Have log scales been obscuring how bad things are in the US?

WH is considering winding down its coronavirus task force: the plan is to have no plan.

May 4, 2020

I’ve been pushing on a time-sensitive work project, which has mostly kept me from reading or thinking too much about the news.

That’s mostly been for the best, as the implications of the current situation are not good.  Despite all of the social distancing efforts, case counts in the US aren’t declining, they are plateauing.  The news seems to be accepting this as a “new normal,” with no real acknowledgement that we could try to find a way forward that is somewhere between “like before” and “total lockdown.”

Gradual (or full) reopenings are happening in some places, though, and somehow folks still don’t grasp that that means that case counts and deaths will increase again over the next month.  It boggles my mind, but it seems like a lot of folks have have become… less informed? about infectious diseases over the last two months.  As the aphorism goes,

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

While thankfully children seem mostly unphased by COVID, they still carry the virus at comparable levels to adults–which has unfortunate implications for school resuming.

A telling profile about what happens when even the best scientists lose their epistemic humility…

Sweden is starting to look worse.   (Though plenty will continue to argue the point on the Internet.)

Some research results are showing promise, which highlights another reason to flatten the curve.  How tragic would it be to end social distancing prematurely, only to have improved treatments become available soon thereafter?

At least this was funny.

April 26, 2020

Weekdays and weekends have a lot in common these days.  But there are some differences.

Weekdays have some tension built in: starting with schoolwork.  Our oldest is in kindergarten, so the detailed learning standards and lesson plans emanating from the school district feel like overkill–but we still want him to improve his reading and writing in particular.  Unfortunately he is a strong-willed child, with many ideas of his own, few of them involving worksheets or pre-recorded lessons.

So as soon as breakfast ends my spouse cajoles him to the table while I secret the little brother downstairs to his room, where we try to while away an hour or maybe 25 minutes without too many meltdowns over thwarted desires to watch tractor videos on my phone.  Then back upstairs and all of us boys out to the muddy yard for a bit while Mom responds to all the messages that have come in regarding her latest piece of writing.

After that it’s time for me to squeeze in some work–usually a Zoom call or two, maybe some actual work if I’m lucky.  Typically there’s a chaotic half hour where we all try to eat lunch, then the youngest goes down for a nap, I work some more, and the oldest has some popcorn and watches Reading Rainbow with Mom.

At 2:30 I’m on kid duty again–time for a walk, if it’s not actively raining.  The walks are harrowing–typically both kids are pushing stuffed animals in strollers, crashing into neighbors’ plantings, running ahead or falling behind, and just generally not walking quickly down the center of the sidewalk contemplating real estate as father would prefer.

The nadir of the walk is when we find ourselves at the bottom of a hill, with a steep half-block to walk beside a still-busy street.  Everyone is tired, Dad’s nerves are shot, there’s no shade here–recriminations abound.  Sometimes Slack on my phone starts buzzing away with work messages I can’t respond to.

After arguments, threats, carrying we reach our yard once again.  The kids run rampant, crashing from front yard to back at high speed and volume while I stare vacantly at our decaying fence, wondering if it is going to fall over before I have time to fix it.

At 3:55 pm “watching time” is announced and the children sprint inside, to be wrestled through handwashing before getting seated in front of the iPads.  On good days this will absorb them through dinner, and I can take a couple of late-day calls, respond to the ever-growing email backlog, maybe do some work–or perhaps read a few more depressing headlines on Twitter, to paste into a file for later inclusion in that night’s blog post.  On average days after a bit the youngest will start demanding a different show every two minutes.  On other days the oldest will close his iPad far too early and either start pestering his brother or running in circles around the house.

In any case, soon enough it’s dinner time, which at least has all of us at the table.  There’s not much to talk about that everyone doesn’t already know, and usually I can’t finish my meal before the kids are done and bouncing off the walls again, but it feels good to have the end of the day in sight.  Then it’s bathtime, the oldest goes to bed, and one or the other of us goes off duty while the other puts the youngest down.

The days are getting longer, so if it’s my night off I might go do projects in the yard or go for a walk through the neighborhood or a short bike ride.  Then there are dishes and laundry to do, various sugary treats to be consumed away from children, and screens to attend to before realizing that once again we’ve stayed up too late and it’s past time for bed.


When you can’t in good conscience go anywhere or do anything, weekends are not so different.  But somehow removing schoolwork and my job makes everything so much easier. We do more things together all four of us, because we’re not trying to synchronize my ever-changing schedule of Zoom calls with mental health breaks for my spouse.  In the early afternoon 3/4ths of us usually get a nap, and I might take the oldest for a bike or scooter ride as well.  In the late afternoon during watching time I get the dishes out of the way, and maybe read a book for fun.

I’m grateful we have the flexibility we do, and am glad that the kids (the oldest in particular) have adapted to this new routine reasonably well.  There are some perks: I’ve gotten much more enjoyment out of the spring weather than normal, we’re doing more projects around the house than ever, and it’s been special to have so much time with the youngest right now–he’s stringing together hilarious new sentences all the time.  But every day feels like Groundhog Day, and I hope there is more variety in our future soon.

April 22, 2020

Finally starting to feel some mental health impacts–my motivation is dragging as life starts to turn into Groundhog Day.  Other parents feel the same

The sheriff of the next county over from us says he’ll start refusing to enforce stay-at-home orders.  Great, I’m sure all the sheriffs with radical ideas about their constitutional role will make thoughtful, evidence-based public health decisions for us.

Emerging seroprevalance studies are making it clear that only a tiny minority of the US has been exposed–we are a long way from any kind of herd immunity.

Eviscerating the self-justifications for fleeing during a pandemic.

The first study of that “wonder drug” suggests it led to a substantial increase in fatalities…  This shouldn’t have been a culture war question, we should all be rooting for treatments that work while demanding rigorous evidence that they do…

Estimating “excess mortality” to find potentially unaccounted COVID fatalities.

Don’t call service workers heroes while leaving them in peril.

A fiscal tsunami is coming for state and local governments.

So much for the feds “leaving it up to the governors.”  Are the red states opening early trying to avoid the massive unemployment rolls?

Might saliva give us better tests?

Get a rough haircut now, or wait for a couple more weeks for backordered scissors?

April 20, 2020

Several days of emotional rollercoaster here.  Saturday the long stretch of isolation finally started to get to me, particularly as hopes of seeing family began to seem more distant.  Sunday had a few happier moments (and yet more nice weather); but then today we are met with yet more dispiriting news.

“Reopening” protests continue to proliferate.  Seeing this picture of a crowd in Olympia, WA brought me despair, thinking of all the sacrifices that have made here in Washington State that are being undermined.  Even more frustrating is that—while many in the picture may contract Covid due to behavior like this—many others not at the protest may also fall ill due to the increased contagion.  Libertarianism fails to grasp that pandemic response reveals mutual interdependence and requires collective action, not individual choice.

Governors in the South (Georgia, Tennessee, and elsewhere) are now reopening their states, led by media and not by science.  My in-laws live in Tennessee…

The science remains uncertain, in any case.  The first serological antibody studies are coming out of California, to hot debate about statistics esoterica.  All eyes are on Sweden, which has taken a much less restrictive approach and claiming success–but is it premature?

There are rumblings at work about trying to get “some work” going again.

Something about Seattle: basically the whole city is under the approach path to SeaTac airport, so over the years I’ve gotten used to the sound of jets at all hours of the day and night.  The last few weeks have been much, much quieter–but did I imagine a surge in planes landing today?

If masks are becoming politically coded, that’s a terrible outcome as they may provide one of the best ways to approach some kind of normalcy again in the near term…

If this latest immigration suspension survives the courts, what will it do to my many colleagues who require regular visa renewals?

April 17, 2020

This news has shaken me as much as anything has recently.  It seems to me now inevitable that there will be widespread, uncontrolled resurgence. Some states are prematurely relaxing restrictions; others still haven’t imposed them.  Active defiance of lockdown orders is appearing, amplified by partisan media.  Mix in the terrible economic impacts and inflammatory rhetoric, and I fear civil unrest becomes a real possibility.

It seems like many won’t take this seriously until someone they are close to is dying–and by then it is far too late.

April 15, 2020

Stimulus money arrived via direct deposit today.  I’m grateful that we can direct it to others who need it more.

Once again for those in the back: it’s not the flu!

Right-wing protests demanding that the country be re-opened are beginning to pop up around the country.  It’s hard to accept that things aren’t just one day going to be back to normal.

I fear we are about to have the worst of all worlds: squandered opportunities to prepare in the ramp-up, an economically destructive lockdown, and then a chaotic and uncontrolled reopening that in one month leads to widespread resurgence.

The rationalist “probabilistic reasoning” crowd tries to understand their own underreaction to the looming pandemic.  But humans just don’t reason with Bayes’ Theorem day-to-day–especially if there are implications we’d rather avoid.

Humor helps.