Thursday, March 19, 2020

We'll be okay (I think)

The world's goin' crazy and
Nobody gives a damn anymore
And they're breakin' off relationships and
Leavin' on sailin' ships for far and distant shores
For them it's all over
But I'm gonna stay
I wouldn't leave anyway
I know that someday we'll find a way
We'll be okay
'Cause I'm your brother,
Though I don't even know your name
I've discovered that,
Deep down inside, you feel the same

~~ "Brother" by The Kinks

It's oddly elegant, isn't it? 
Back to Coronavirus today because that's about all the news that matters right now, isn't it? 

It is affecting every aspect of our lives. People are being laid off. Retirement accounts are essentially wiped out. We are probably already in a recession, and it's going to get worse in the immediate future. Cases and deaths are soaring around the world (at least it seems to be slowing down in China) and we have an emergency travel advisory in my county, meaning that only essential travel is warranted. Indiana schools are closed until May 2, and I wouldn't be surprised if the rest of the school year is canceled. 

Ray Davies' "we'll be okay" lyric seems a little overly optimistic right now. 

So I'm going to step back for a moment and get clinical on you all. It helps me to be rational and all science-y and junk and maybe it will help you, too. 

My friend Julie on Facebook posted about Indiv-1 calling this novel Coronavirus the "Chinese virus." She felt that this is a blatantly xenophobic "dog whistle" on his part, and I completely agree. I went into science mode, though. I commented that naming bacteria and viruses and other organisms are frequently based on where they were first found. Virtually all subspecies of Salmonella are named after the location where they were isolated. The Ebola virus is named after the Ebola River. There is Lassa fever, named after a city in Nigeria. There is Pontiac fever, something caused by the Legionella bacterium, named after a city in Michigan, and Legionella itself is named after the Legionnaires because that outbreak took place at one of their conventions. So I said that there is a longtime tradition of naming things after where they originated. It's not because microbiologists are racist, it's just a way we name and differentiate organisms, subspecies, and even diseases.

Hear me out. I wasn't done. I said that the 'big but' here is that Indiv-1 is obviously using this as a dog whistle to create racism and xenophobia. There are already incidents of racism against Asian Americans and Asian immigrants. He is trying to place the blame on someone, anyone, other than his own failed response. He needs a scapegoat, and he has decided that calling it the "Chinese virus" does the trick. The virus has a name: SARS-CoV2 and the disease it causes is called COVID-19. These are the scientific names, and calling it anything else is blatant prejudice and discrimination and designed to gin up hatred against others. Because that's what he and his rabid base feed upon. Like some kind of weird, racist vampires. 

After I posted that, I realized that I was being that pedantic bore who feels the need to comment at length. I shut up pretty quickly, but I felt the need to message Julie and apologize. She said essentially that that wasn't needed, and I appreciated that. I have friends who seek out my thoughts on various things, including scientific papers about it, and I am happy to respond to that kind of question if I can. It's what I did for most of my career and I know that people are wanting answers. I can come at it from a scientific bent and I will do my best to answer their questions. I'll write about it here when I want but I need to dial it down a notch when it comes to commenting on others' pages. I don't want to be "that person," you know? Ugh. I don't like that person! Don't be that, Beth! 

Back to the music. I thought of this song today when I thought, "The world's going crazy." I think it is a very nice song with a nice message. Viruses and bacteria and other beasties don't give a fuck about where you're from or what political party you belong to. They're here to fuck your shit up and they do what they can to do so. (There's a whole other topic about beneficial bacteria and about how crowded conditions and poverty result in increased outbreaks, as well as how certain populations develop defenses against infections ubiquitous in their communities, but that's a story for another day. One of the most fascinating to me is that Africans developed sickle cell anemia to fight off malaria...that parasite doesn't infect sickle cells. But again...a story for another day.)

The point is that this is a pandemic. It's bad. It's nationwide. It's global. They don't care about your goddamn SPRING BREAK, and I'm looking at you, KAYLEIGH. (I don't know a Kayleigh...just a generic name for some chick on spring break right now.) This is a worldwide problem and we are truly all in this together. The actions we take now can save lives. 

We're all brothers and sisters in this. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Veepin' at Nutwood

I like black and white
(Dreaming of black and white)
You like black and white
Run run away

See chameleon
(Lying there in the sun)
All things to everyone
Run run away

~~ "Run Runaway" by Slade

I'll get back to The Corona soon enough, but I thought I'd write about something more fun today: the 2020 presidential race! 

Hello? Hello? [taps microphone] Is this thing on? 

I need something to take my mind off of the looming apoxalypse (see what I did there?) so I'm going to indulge in a little speculation. This is always a fun exercise for me. While I don't recall if I went on record in 2008 predicting that Obama would pick Biden as his running mate, I believe I thought he was on the shortlist. However, in 2016, I did go on record to predict that Tim Kaine would be Hillary's pick, and I was correct. 

It looks likely that Joe Biden will be our nominee this year, so speculation has already begun about who his running mate will be. For a while, I had hopes that it might be our Mayor Pete: young, charismatic, some foreign policy chops, brilliant. In the latest Democratic debate, Biden put the kibosh on that, saying that he would choose a woman to be his running mate. (I suspect that Pete will get a Cabinet position in a Biden presidency, perhaps VA Secretary or even Secretary of State. He'd be great at either position.)

Okay! [clapping hands] So now we've narrowed it down to a woman. I've seen various pieces speculating on who it might be. Here is the shortlist (in alphabetical order):

Stacey Abrams (candidate for Georgia Governor)
Val Demings (Florida Congresswoman)
Michelle Lujan Grisham (Governor of New Mexico)
Kamala Harris (California Senator)
Maggie Hassan (New Hampshire Senator)
Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota Senator)
Michelle Obama (no title needed)
Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire Senator)
Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts Senator)
Gretchen Whitmer (Michigan Governor)
Sally Yates (former US Deputy Attorney General, appointed by President Obama)

Each of these women is capable and qualified to serve as a VP, but of course, there are many things to consider when narrowing down the field, and first and foremost should be whether or not the VP will be able to assume the presidency if necessary. But other considerations include their current position and whether their absence would be felt in the Senate or elsewhere; if they are currently in office, does their state have a Democratic Governor; name recognition; the nebulous "it factor" (i.e., charisma); ability to get along with and support the policies of the nominee; previous experience in government, at whatever level; a solid grasp of policies and politics in general. There are probably many other considerations, but those are the ones that immediately come to mind. 

Here are my quick thoughts on each of these potential candidates. And although this might be a little controversial, I am going to include their race, because I think that is part of the consideration here. 

Stacey Abrams: brilliant, charismatic, African American, ran a great campaign for Georgia Governor (and was robbed of the win by her nefarious opponent), gives a great speech.

Val Demings: also brilliant, former Chief of Police of Orlando, African American, outstanding in the impeachment hearings. 

Michelle Lujan Grisham: of Hispanic heritage, comes from a long line of politicians in New Mexico, but little name recognition.

Kamala Harris: outstanding in various Senate hearings, African American and Jamaican heritage, former AG of California, but that also includes lots of baggage about her policies as AG, ran for President and did well for a while, but it looks like there was some campaign mismanagement, sitting Senator. 

Maggie Hassan: low name recognition, sitting Senator, white. 

Amy Klobuchar: sitting Senator, tough debater, white, ran a pretty good campaign for President, a good record of getting things done in the Senate, weird stuff about how she treats her staffers. 

Michelle Obama: Seriously? Not going to happen. As much as I love her, I don't think she has any desire to be VP, let alone President. I think it's absurd that people are actually floating her name. Granted, a Biden-Obama ticket would be virtually unbeatable but...nope. Not happening. 

Jeanne Shaheen: sitting Senator, low name recognition, white. 

Elizabeth Warren: sitting Senator, brilliant policy chops, white, ran a great campaign for President, a fantastic debater who isn't afraid to go for the jugular, bad response to the ridiculous "Pocahontas" moniker bestowed upon her by Indiv-1. 

Gretchen Whitmer: great speaker, delivered a great Dem response to the most recent State of the Union address, white, seems to really have her shit together as Governor of my state's northern neighbor. 

Sally Yates: brilliant lawyer, not afraid to speak up, white, takes little crap from anyone. 

I can narrow this list down pretty quickly because I think Biden will choose a woman of color. He might not need to since his support among African Americans has been fairly broad and sustained. However, I really think that he will want to send a big "thank you" to that coalition for basically getting him the nomination. Especially African American women, who are the heart of the Democratic party. 

I think there is also a concern about choosing a sitting Senator because our goal is to not just keep the House, but also win the Presidency and the Senate. When someone chooses a sitting Senator or a sitting House member, they need to make sure that the state has a Democratic Governor or is a reliably blue state. 

Based on all these things, I had narrowed it down to two: Stacey Abrams and Kamala Harris. I think Abrams would be amazing and a great running mate, but I feel that Biden will choose Harris. I tipped to that choice today when I read this article from Jonathan Bernstein of Bloomberg. He advises that the best, safest bet is to choose a running mate who has won a statewide office and has been vetted by running a national campaign. That's Harris. Yeah, she has her issues, especially with her record as California AG, but I think she would be a formidable pick. Can you imagine her debating Mike Pence? I sure can. She is also a Senator from a reliably blue state with a Democratic Governor, and while I don't know what California's policy is, a special election or gubernatorial appointee, either way, her replacement will be a Democrat. 

(I also hope that he nominates Sally Yates as US AG.)

My prediction is that Biden's running mate will be Senator Kamala Harris. If I'm wrong, I'll eat a bug. (A tiny one, like a gnat.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Strange Days

Strange days have found us
Strange days have tracked us down
They're going to destroy
Our casual joys
We shall go on playing

~~ "Strange Days" by The Doors

For starters, I'd like to thank whoever it was who walloped the "president" over the head with a sledgehammer and finally got him to realize that this is a serious problem and we most certainly do not have it under control. It's about damn time! 

But for the entire time that he was denying that this was a public health emergency and his propaganda machine ClusterFox was telling people that it was a media hoax, his rabid followers were out there potentially carrying the virus and infecting others. As Austin Powers so eloquently put it, "That train had sailed." 

So that precious little RNA bundle known as the novel Coronavirus has been percolating and circulating and for all we know, tailgating, for a good seven weeks. And it took this idiot until two days ago to publicly say that it was an emergency. Baby jeebus wept. 

He finally told the truth about that, but since he's a compulsive liar, he can't stop himself from continuing to spread lies. He said that he didn't know that the pandemic team initiated under President Obama had been dismantled. "I don't know anything about that," he said. Of course, there is video of him saying that he made the decision because he sees no point in paying these people for "nothing," and if he needed them again, he'd just hire more people. 

Well, it doesn't really work that way, idiot. Surveillance teams must stay active and be funded in order to track emerging diseases. This stuff takes constant vigilance and research and you can't just set it all in motion by hiring people and trying to play catch-up. 

He is also now saying that he knew all along that it was a pandemic, even before the WHO officially declared it a pandemic. I doubt that he even comprehends the meaning of 'pandemic,' but this also a bald-faced lie, because guess what? There is plenty of video of him saying that this was all going to pass, no big deal, we'd soon be down to zero cases. ZERO. 

As of March 17, 2020, at 4 PM, the CDC lists the number of cases in the United States to be 4,226.

That's a lot more than zero. 

Even when he starts taking things seriously and starts taking steps to mitigate this crisis, he just can't stop himself from lying. Even when there's video. Baby jeebus is still weeping. 

States are finally trying to take matters into their own hands and taking steps to close things down in order to slow the transmission. I hope that will be enough but it remains to be seen. I have a sneaking suspicion that this virus is already fairly ubiquitous in the US after seven weeks of unchecked transmission. When widespread testing ramps up, we are going to see a massive, shocking, and downright scary increase in cases. Brace yourselves for that because it will make you think that it has exploded out of control. To be honest, that may have already happened. The better picture will come as we start to see the increase in new cases slow down.

I'm just trying to breathe, keep my sense of humor, and find joy where I can. Like every other person who can manage it, we will be hunkering down at Nutwood and doing our best to be like REO Speedwagon and ride the storm out. I'm sending solidarity to all my fellow healthcare workers who are going to be in it for the duration.

I've been seeing the word 'surreal' a lot lately. I honestly cannot think of a better word for it. In my 25 years in healthcare, I have never seen anything like this.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Moose out front shoulda told you

Closing time
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end

~~ "Closing Time" by Semisonic

Well, shit is getting real. 

Both Ohio and Illinois are closing down restaurants and bars for a couple of weeks, and the Mayor of Hoboken, NJ has instituted a curfew in addition to closing things down.

Closer to home, although Indiana has not taken that step or the step of closing all schools, South Bend has closed schools for a couple of weeks.  

Unfortunately, there are still some people who are not getting it. From a microbiologist's viewpoint, this is dangerously short-sighted. Although these steps might seem draconian and an over-reaction, I can assure you that we need to break the transmission chain. 

I understand that this will impact millions of people. I understand that people who are barely making ends meet are going to be hurting. However, the alternative is worse. I don't think people are truly understanding just how bad this could get. If our healthcare system is overwhelmed, people will not get needed treatment and people will die. 

This is where the federal government absolutely must pass a relief bill. We need to protect those workers whose lives will be upended by this. 

As I am writing this, the White House is having a press briefing. I am absolutely livid. This so-called "president" came out and his main concern is not with the people who are ill or dying, but his delight at the Fed lowering the interest rate. 

I just can't even anymore. What is wrong with him? He is an utter psychopath. He has no empathy. 

This was going to be a longer entry but I need to do some self-care right now because I need to bring my blood pressure down.