Distraction

Herd Immunity For Thee, Daily Tests For Me


From the keyboard of Surly1
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on May 19, 2020

"There is no genius there, only a damaged human being playing havoc with our lives."

 ― Jay Rosen  


The Trump Administration has decided to embrace the herd immunity strategy as a means to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. Oh, they haven't told you. There was no formal announcement– nothing so honest. The same stratagem once presented as an option to Boris Johnson as a means for the UK to deal with the raging infection, then rejected as altogether too expensive in terms of human lives and strain to the NHS, has been embraced by the Trump administration as policy. Superseding their own previous public guidance, Trump has exhorted state governors to "open up" their states, and encouraged armed gaggles of low-T cosplayers to take to the streets to demonstrate for their own impending illness and demise.

Meanwhile, in the last weeks, a Trump valet and a spokesperson for Mike Pence were diagnosed as Covid-19 positive. Trump's primary concern was messaging: the idea that the notion of Covid-19 stalks the White House would undercut his message that the outbreak is waning and states should begin reopening. Re-election is job one, and re-opening the country is the foundation upon which that effort will be built.

Even though you still can't get a test after several months, the White House has been deploying rapid-result tests for the virus, including testing members of the press corps. Thus, testing for me but none for thee.

Thousands are dying each week, the economy is cratering, and the jackal in charge has no idea what he is doing. All that matters is his impending re-election campaign, and it doesn't really matter how many thousands of muppets have to shoveled into the incinerator to achieve that.

And Trumpsuckers love him for it. Quoted in The Guardian, here's Lee Snover, a Republican party chair a key Pennsylvania swing county, who lost her father to Covid-19, and whose husband was hospitalized with the disease:

“It spread through my entire family,” Snover said.

Trump stands accused of driving up the coronavirus death toll by downplaying the public health threat and urging the country to “reopen” too quickly. But Snover does not see the president as having failed her family.

“I don’t think people give him enough credit,” she said. “If you think about what a businessman he was, and how much he loved that booming economy, do you know how hard it was for him to shut the country down? That was hard. So I give him credit for that.”

At times it has appeared that the pandemic, which has already taken at least 90,000 lives in the United States and wreaked havoc with the economy, would also destroy support for Trump, and his chances for reelection. But interviews with longtime Trump supporters in Northampton county indicate the extraordinary durability of backing for the president among his base.

Trump has punted responsibility to state governors, saying they are "on their own." He has abdicated the roles of leadership, planning and unified purchasing that might be the useful functions of the federal government, while retaining the right to second guess any decision they make. 

Trump makes much of the fact that the US had administered the most tests (11.5M as of this writing), but only a little over three percent of the total population. We learned this week that, despite swaths of the country shutting down for two months, the U.S. is barely further along in terms of testing, and experts say that there's no realistic way to return to normal without doubling or tripling the number of tests administered every day.

So why are we not further along? Where are the tests? They went to Jared:

Kushner, it turns out, is reportedly one of the people directly responsible for the country's extreme delays in rolling out tests when the outbreak started. That's according to the Financial Times, which recently published a deep-dive into the Trump administration's chaotic and denial-plagued coronavirus response. One of Donald Trump's confidants, who's regularly in touch with the president, put the blame squarely on Kushner, saying, "Jared had been arguing that testing too many people, or ordering too many ventilators, would spook the markets and so we just shouldn’t do it. That advice worked far more powerfully on [Trump] than what the scientists were saying. He thinks they always exaggerate."

So if you are one of the numerous Americans who still can't get a Covid test, thank the smooth-cheeked porcelain-doll Dauphin and Trump scion. Jared's fecklessness is given proper shrift in an article by George Packer in the June Atlantic that details how this country's wan response to the pandemic has revealed a beggar nation in utter chaos:

Like a wanton boy throwing matches in a parched field, Trump began to immolate what was left of national civic life. He never even pretended to be president of the whole country, but pitted us against one another along lines of race, sex, religion, citizenship, education, region, and—every day of his presidency—political party. His main tool of governance was to lie. A third of the country locked itself in a hall of mirrors that it believed to be reality; a third drove itself mad with the effort to hold on to the idea of knowable truth; and a third gave up even trying…

And the "purest embodiment of political nihilism is not Trump himself but Jared the "Disruptor:".

In his short lifetime, Kushner has been fraudulently promoted as both a meritocrat and a populist. He was born into a moneyed real-estate family the month Ronald Reagan entered the Oval Office, in 1981—a princeling of the second Gilded Age. Despite Jared’s mediocre academic record, he was admitted to Harvard after his father, Charles, pledged a $2.5 million donation to the university. Father helped son with $10 million in loans for a start in the family business, then Jared continued his elite education at the law and business schools of NYU, where his father had contributed $3 million. Jared repaid his father’s support with fierce loyalty when Charles was sentenced to two years in federal prison in 2005 for trying to resolve a family legal quarrel by entrapping his sister’s husband with a prostitute and videotaping the encounter.

Imagine that Thanksgiving dinner.

So when his father-in-law became president, Kushner quickly gained power in an administration that raised amateurism, nepotism, and corruption to governing principles. As long as he busied himself with Middle East peace, his feckless meddling didn’t matter to most Americans. But since he became an influential adviser to Trump on the coronavirus pandemic, the result has been mass death.

In his first week on the job, in mid-March, Kushner co-authored the worst Oval Office speech in memory, interrupted the vital work of other officials, may have compromised security protocols, flirted with conflicts of interest and violations of federal law, and made fatuous promises that quickly turned to dust. “The federal government is not designed to solve all our problems,” he said, explaining how he would tap his corporate connections to create drive-through testing sites. They never materialized. He was convinced by corporate leaders that Trump should not use presidential authority to compel industries to manufacture ventilators—then Kushner’s own attempt to negotiate a deal with General Motors fell through. With no loss of faith in himself, he blamed shortages of necessary equipment and gear on incompetent state governors.

To watch this pale, slim-suited dilettante breeze into the middle of a deadly crisis, dispensing business-school jargon to cloud the massive failure of his father-in-law’s administration, is to see the collapse of a whole approach to governing.

But for those of us who live out here in flyover country, it's back to normal. Open the beaches, open the bars, open the barber shops, and second wave be damned.


Writing in Pressthink, journalism observer Jay Rosen gets it exactly correct– Trump's plan is to have no plan:

The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible— by telling the governors they’re in charge without doing what only the federal government can do, by fighting with the press when it shows up to be briefed, by fixing blame for the virus on China or some other foreign element, and by “flooding the zone with shit,” Steve Bannon’s phrase for overwhelming the system with disinformation, distraction, and denial, which boosts what economists call “search costs” for reliable intelligence.

Stated another way, the plan is to default on public problem solving,and then prevent the public from understanding the consequences of that default. To succeed this will require one of the biggest propaganda and freedom of information fights in U.S. history, the execution of which will, I think, consume the president’s re-election campaign. So much has already been made public that the standard script for a White House cover up (worse than the crime…) won’t apply. Instead, everything will ride on the manufacture of confusion. The press won’t be able to “expose” the plot because it will all happen in stark daylight. The facts will be known, and simultaneously they will be inconceivable

Not only is the plan to have no plan, but to question the objective reporting og events. Part of the non-plan to "prevent the public from understanding the consequences of that default" is to question the numbers. Last week Deborah Birx loudly said that 'there is nothing from the CDC that I can trust' in a White House coronavirus task force meeting. Hers was the first sortie in a wholesale assault on the methodolgy used by the CDC and others in tabulating the death toll. How long before Hannity, Limbaugh and the other attack dogs of the right join in the attack?

The truth seems to be that Birx and others fear that the CDC's data-tracking system was inflating coronavirus statistics like death rates and case numbers. Recent research indicates that COVID-19 deaths have been severely undercounted, both in the US and around the world, particularly in the early stages of the pandemic. Texas reported its highest single-day increase in new COVID-19 cases as restaurants, salons, and cinemas open to the public, And in other early-opening states, GOP Governors are actively cooking the books in their respective states. 

Even now, if you are one of the ghouls who checks the daily totals (and I am), a gap has opened up between the statistics reported by the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering, and the Worldometers web site. After tracking together for the last several months, the Johns Hopkins numbers are running behind the Worldometers numbers. Whether this is a momentary anomaly or represents a symptom of a greater discrepancy, I cannot tell.


How about the costs? Meanwhile, New coronavirus cases in Germany almost tripled within 24 hours — less than a week after the country started reopening — as it considers an 'emergency brake' to reinstate harsher lockdowns. We are also told thst Texas is showing a spike in cases. Hard to tell what is happening in the New Confederacy, as Governors and state Health departments slow-walk the numbers and play statistical games to change the subject. But time will tell; it always does.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere. He lives a quiet domestic existence in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary. Descended from a long line of people to whom one could never tell anything, all opinions are his and his alone, because he paid full retail for everything he has managed to learn.

Too Much Internet Crack

Off the keyboad of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

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Published on From Flmers to Farmers on May 1, 2015

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I hate to say it, but it looks like I've been degraded to having to write what might be called a filler/fluff piece.

If you haven't already read my first post to this blog, Distraction, Surveillance, Peak Oil and the End of the Internet, then let me quickly point out that I spent five and a half years mostly not using the Internet (you can read about that in the post if you'd like). But since I've gotten back online (about a year and a half ago), my ability to concentrate and work on my manuscript – be it sitting down for several hours to read a book or work with pen and paper – has been decimated and has been getting progressively worse.

It's all pretty much come to a head these past couple of weeks, particularly as I've become rather active in trying to get this blog out there to up its numbers. In the process, the spare iPhone 4 which I was recently given (of which I don't have a SIM card inside) has been getting souped up with an ever-growing trove of APPs to accommodate all this. On top of my email APP (which, admittedly, doesn't make my "phone" vibrate too often), I've got an APP to connect to cPanel (to access my website's control panel), an APP to code from my "phone" just in case my site needs quick fixing (I do not own or want a computer to do that from), an APP to check out my website's analytics, an APP for my recently made discovery of Reddit, and I just signed up to Skype a month ago to do my first podcast interview and so now have an APP for that as well.

On top of that all I've also got an Amazon APP, an eBay APP, banking APPs, Trade Me and Gumtree APPs, library APPs, a Twitter APP, a Soundcloud APP (to listen to Doomstead Diner podcasts) and more. Seeing how I don't have a phone number and can only be reached by email, I was kind of required recently to get APPs for WeChat and LINE (the Asian equivalents of WhatsApp, if you even know what that is – and if you don't, I'd suggest not bothering to find out). But let me tell you, this is not APPtastic.

What I was supposed to be doing the past while, on top of working on my manuscript, was writing a post on democracy and fossil fuels, and another about my new little pet theory on collapse. But it just wouldn't happen. As both of them got put off for another day, and another day, and another day, I ended up, well, here. Deadline time with neither of the posts having gotten anywhere beyond their titles being written on the top of a page.

I've read Nicolas Carr's book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, so I'm quite aware of what's going on here. Simply put, my brain's gone into hyperactive mode and I'm in constant need of stimulation. What doesn't help is that I'm prone to devouring information, and so quite capable of being an info-junkie. I've been reading up and up and up on the latest goings on with Greece and the Eurozone, the proxy war which it seems the US started with Russia, the oh-so-ever imminent collapse of the petrodollar (okay, I usually skip those articles now), a multitude of various other shenanigans, and how they're all tied in to the fracking bubble, peak oil, and, simply put, energy. And just as the drama never stops, nor do the stories and facts and figures and data and so forth. Sometimes I get the sinking feeling that I've replaced film and television for the soap opera of geopolitics.

Anyway, upon reading the comment section of John Michael Greer's blog just a couple of days ago, I came across a link to an article called Why Can't We Read Anymore? by Hugh McGuire. It was a good read, pretty much along the lines of those already mentioned by Carr in The Shallows. As was reiterated for me, what's going on is that each new hit of information sets off a rush in my brain which makes me "feel good." And wanting to continually "feel good," I incessantly end up clicking that next link, re-checking my analytics, scouring for updates of whatever kind, etc. In other words, this trove of information via the Internet is my crack, and with my newfound iPhone, a very accessible source of crack at that. However, even though I'm completely aware of what's going on, there seems to be little I can do to refrain from taking that next hit.

Anecdotes aside, neuroscience studies have shown that new information incites a surge of dopamine to the brain. Seeing how the brain is very "plastic" and can be readily "reprogrammed" (even in old age), give it enough of those dopamine hits and you change it at a biological level. That is, it gets used to the "feel good" sensation of all those dopamine hits and so increasingly craves them and compels you to seek them out.

In other words, for the past year and a half (and especially the past four months since I've gotten that SIM card-bereft iPhone) I've been remapping the neural pathways in my brain to seek out dopamine hits. A vibrating "phone" notifying me of a new email? Bring on the dopamine! A check on my website analytics? Can you say dopamine!? A tweet of mine mentioning my lastest blog post has been re-tweeted? Hey look, more dopamine! Refresh those website's analytics again? Dopamine?

That all being said, I should point out that I can be a rather disciplined person and don't like pawning off my responsibilities and shortcomings on invisible goblins. Nonetheless, and as Carr put it in his article that preceded The Shallows, Is Google Making us Stupid?,

the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s [that] media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

Click, tap, click, tap, clickety-tap. While we're grippingly relayed prophecies by the techno-evangelists that all this hyperactivity and multi-tasking increases our productivity, the fact of the matter is that in various ways the opposite is the truth – such things as multi-tasking results in less and less getting done, and at lower levels of quality.

Granted, different people respond to different stimulants in different ways, so I don't state this as a general prognosis of everybody's situation. Nonetheless, I know I'm not the only one. As Carr also points out,

I'm not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I'm reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I'd spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That's rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I'm always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

So seeing how I need to get on with my "deep reading" so I can complete my manuscript (and get those blog posts done on time!), something needs to be done here. Although I've got a feeling that I will one day be quitting the Internet again, that's at least a few years away, and I certainly can't be doing that now.

Fortunately, mentioning my deteriorating abilities in passing to John Michael Greer on his blog's comment section the other day, I unexpectedly got some excellent advice: go on a media fast. So, upon tying up a few loose ends over the next week or so, that's exactly the middle path I'll soon be taking. On top of saying bye-bye to my analytics monitoring and vibrating notices during the day, and since I gave up film and television about a decade ago, this largely means abstaining from reading articles on the Internet. (I have however been giving a few mp3 listens to a song on my iPhone by my mate here in New Zealand, and since I haven't actually played a piece of music in about a decade either, I'll be scrapping that as well.)

I don't, however, know how long this is going to last for. Yes, I'll be missing out on all the petrodollar-boy's cries of wolf (the wolf does of course arrive, although I don't think that day is in the immediate future), but if I'm to gain some control over my mind's workings then I'm going to have to lay off all those clicks, taps, refreshes and vibrations for a while. Once I've got some control over myself again (and I guess "remapped" a few things up there), only then will I go about delving in again, within some sort of predetermined limits.

Fortunately, there's most certainly hope. As McGuire put it,

The shocking thing was how quickly my mind adapted to accommodate reading books again. I had expected to fight for that concentration – but I didn’t have to fight. With less digital input (no pre-bed TV, especially), extra time (no TV, again), and without a tempting digital device near at hand… there was time and space for my mind to settle into a book.

What a wonderful feeling it was.

I am reading books now more than I have in years. I have more energy, and more focus than I've had for ages. I have not fully conquered my digital dopamine addiction, though, but it's getting there. I think reading books is helping me retrain my mind for focus.

As a passing curiosity: If the fracking bubble pops and you're not on the Internet to read about it, does it still make a sound?

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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