Saturday, May 09, 2020

Weekend Reading: Here We Still Are Edition

It was a busy work week, particularly yesterday, which frankly kicked my butt. Petunia slept in which made me a little late getting to my computer and I'd barely finished my emails when I started 3 straight hours of meetings. I'd expected an hour break in the middle, but 10 minutes before my 9 a.m. meeting finished, someone sent me a message asking me to join a 10 a.m. meeting, and I already had an 11 a.m. The 11a.m. was a particularly intense meeting - we're gathering requirements for a new project with one of my customers, and the system we'll create will be used by two groups that do similar work but in different stages of the drug discovery process. Anyone familiar with drug discovery knows that this means the two groups have different tolerances for standardizing their workflow. (In general, the earlier in the drug discovery pipeline the work is, the more variable the workflow.) Their management wants them to merge their processes and we'll provide a system to support that. I can tell that their processes are similar enough that we can do it but extracting the common requirements is more challenging than usual, particularly since one group is suspicious of what they're being asked to do.

So anyway, I finished that meeting at noon pretty drained... and then had to rush around to get things set up for Petunia's 12:30 art class. She is enjoying the classes on Zoom, but can't completely set up for them on her own.

I ate my lunch answering questions from one of my colleagues via our chat tool and then somehow it was almost 2 p.m. and I was only on the second item on my to do list for the day. My husband came back in from the bike ride he'd taken after lunch wanting to tell me about possible rollerblading spots he'd found for me and I had to tell him I couldn't talk about it right then. Of everything I've had to give up since March, it is my Friday routine I miss the most. In the midst of a stressful Friday like yesterday I couldn't handle talking about what I could try to put in its place.

I think I need to find a time to take advantage of the fact that we're allowed to walk on our beaches!

Anyway, on to the links:

First up, something NOT about coronavirus: I started this Ezra Klein interview with Pramila Jayapal on my drive down to pick up art supplies for Petunia (via curbside service!) and finished it on a solo walk I took one evening. It is a really good conversation about the realities of the current situation in Washington and how progressives can get and wield power. If you don't want to listen to the podcast, here is an excerpted transcript.

Laura McGann's careful, detailed piece about reporting on Tara Reade's allegations is essential reading.

And something only somewhat about COVID-19: Caitlin Flanagan's beautiful essay about living with cancer.

If you'd like to be depressed about a different problem for a change: The lockdowns have cut world emissions... but not by enough. This really illustrates the limits of individual behavior changes in fighting climate change.

This is a really good interview with Peter Piot, a virologist who was one of the discoverers of the Ebola virus and has spent his career fighting infections diseases... and who caught COVID-19.

This map of when people in different parts of the country stayed at home is fascinating. My husband and I kept replaying it last night - we were surprised by how dark our region was even on March 1. There has been a lot of talk about the difference between NY and CA in this epidemic, and I wonder how much comes down to the different colors on that map on March 1. We were in no way under a stay at home order on March 1 - but we wonder if the outbreaks in Seattle and Northern California influenced people's behavior. I also wonder about the impact of what our Asian American population may have been hearing from friends and family in Asia. Along those lines: this article about the different outcomes in the Corona and Flushing neighborhoods in Queens is interesting.

Smartphone data shows that when Georgia opened up it got an influx of visitors from neighboring states. There are several counties in California that have not had big outbreaks and are pushing to open up earlier (or just doing it in disregard of the state orders). This article should give them pause. If you open, people will come. Some of those people may be infected, and now you have another outbreak.

This story about how people have died from COVID-19 in Florida is heartbreaking, but worth your time. So is the Faces of COVID Twitter account.

This Greg Sargent piece about Trump's focus on the appearance of normalcy is very good. One thing that scares me is the way mask-wearing and staying home are becoming partisan actions. I'm not talking about the state decisions to open or not, I am talking about the individual decisions of people about whether to wear a mask, go get a haircut, or go to a restaurant.

I see people pointing out that the Trump administration has no actual plan for restarting the economy, since they have no plan for the level of testing and contact tracing that would be needed to make people feel safe going about various activities. But I worry that they do have a plan: make going out to restaurants, etc., a marker of partisan identity so that a large number of people do start going out even though the best data we have indicates that is risky.

We don't really know how that will turn out. The available data about how SARS-CoV-2 transmits and our basic understanding of how respiratory viruses behave indicates that there will be an increase in infections. But we don't really know how big, because there is a lot we don't know yet. I worry that some in the White House and other Republican power centers are gambling on the increase in cases not becoming so large that it can't be ignored.

There is also a racial aspect. As Adam Serwer points out, once it became clear that in many places the epidemic is disproportionately sickening Black and brown people, some people stopped taking it so seriously. This is reprehensible. It also betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of how a respiratory virus transmits. As these people push for service businesses to open, the privileged people whose ability to work from home kept them safe so far will visit those businesses and start to become infected. Even those of us who continue to avoid restaurants and the like need to buy groceries... and some of us will get infected, too. It certainly won't be the first time our racism has hurt the entire country (evidence our current President....) but it is depressing nonetheless.

I know that some of the push to reopen is coming from real economic pain. I am also perhaps more sympathetic than many to the people who are just frustrated and bored with the situation and want to go back to doing the things they enjoyed. But I offer this tweet as warning:

We would do better to turn our energies towards addressing the suffering, both catastrophic and trivial,  in ways that minimize viral spread. One tragedy of this moment is that no one seems to have the bandwidth to do that because the inept White House response has created a situation where everyone has to spend their energy solving the same basic problems: how to get PPE, how to get tests, how to ramp up contact tracing... there is not enough time left to think about the ancillary but in the end equally important problems.

In science news:

Here is a small but encouraging study on using interferon beta in a combination therapy for COVID-19.

Ed Yong wrote a good piece about the reports of a "more infectious strain" of SARS-CoV-2. The short version is we don't have enough data on the mutation at the center of that story to say much about it.

Here's a good Twitter thread on the subject:

And as Derek Lowe explains, there is no reason to think that the mutation will interfere with any of the vaccines or therapeutics currently under development. It might turn out to matter - we don't know a lot of things yet! - but it is not something I'd waste time worrying about right now unless I were working on a vaccine or antibody project. This mutation has been known for a long time, so the scientists working on those projects have almost certainly thought about whether it is likely to impact what they are working on.

Also, yes people who get COVID-19 do seem to have immunity to it. What we don't know yet is for how long:

On to the things that made me smile:

Check out this girl Irish dancing to Megan Thee Stallion.

If you learned the Fifty Nifty United States song in school this will probably bring back memories as well as make you laugh:

The Ministry of Silly Walks in SLO!

Always look on the bright side of life....

They are beautiful dogs... but this is funny:
This thread is delightful:

So is this baby. Watch to the end for full effect!
Beautiful art:

Also beautiful:

Here is a beautiful bird:

Penguins go for a hike!

My favorite bunny picture of the week:

Happy weekend, everyone!


  1. Alexicographer3:39 PM

    Thank you for this post, it is wonderful. Love the birds' nests.

    Someone shared this link with me this week, I found it really helpful. Not my area, but the author (and the science linked) appear to be the real thing.

    1. I don't see a link? Did it get eaten by the spam filter maybe?

  2. Alexicographer5:26 AM

    Sigh. A more likely explanation is that I forgot to paste it. Trying again! .


Sorry for the CAPTCHA, folks. The spammers were stealing too much of my time.