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Sunday, April 19, 2020

The most intense date on the American history calendar

Thus began another chapter in the history of asymmetrical warfare in North America.
As per Wikipedia, here's a selected list of the things that have happened on this date in American history:

1775 – American Revolutionary War: The war begins with an American victory in Concord during the battles of Lexington and Concord.

1861 – American Civil War: Baltimore riot of 1861: A pro-Secession mob in Baltimore attacks United States Army troops marching through the city.

1892 – Charles Duryea claims to have driven the first automobile in the United States, in Springfield, Massachusetts.

1927 – Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for her play "Sex."

1971 – Charles Manson is sentenced to death (later commuted to life imprisonment) for conspiracy in the Tate–LaBianca murders.

1985 – Two hundred ATF and FBI agents lay siege to the compound of the white supremacist survivalist group The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord in Arkansas; the CSA surrenders two days later.

1987 – The Simpsons first appear as a series of shorts on "The Tracey Ullman Show," first starting with "Good Night." 

1993 – The 51-day FBI siege of the Branch Davidian building outside Waco, Texas, USA, ends when a fire breaks out. Eighty-one people die.

1995 – Oklahoma City bombing: The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, USA, is bombed, killing 168.

2011 – Fidel Castro resigns as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba after holding the title since July 1961. 

2013 – Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev is killed in a shootout with police. His brother Dzhokhar is later captured hiding in a boat inside a backyard in the suburb of Watertown.

One can, with the right kind of Hunter Thompson-esque eyes, trace the path of the American gestalt through history in this list, yes? 

Also, some notable April 19 birthdays: Eliot Ness, Suge Knight, Jayne Mansfield, Ashley Judd and James Franco. 

Charles Darwin, who's having a moment these days as people attempt to naturally de-select themselves by not quarantining, died on this date in 1882. Aaron Hernandez, who references back to both Charles Manson and the Battles of Lexington and Concord, took his own life on this date in 2017. We also, in loving memory, note that Levon Helm passed on this date eight years ago. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The governor on Covid-19 testing

Saturdays are no-tie days for the gov. ((Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)
I thought this chunk of verbiage from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's briefing earlier today was worth posting, as he does a decent job of laying out the logic and logistical challenges behind the state's coronavirus testing plans, amid protests and calls to spring society from lockdown like right [expletive] now. (This is copy-paste of the "rush transcript" sent out by the governor's office later in the day, unedited by me.)

Andrew Cuomo:
Testing. Testing is the single most important topic for us to understand I think and it's important that we understand it. I spoke to one of my daughters last night who shall go nameless but she said to me, why do they all talking about testing? Which was sort of sobering. I think I'm communicating information and facts and my daughters are probably some of the most informed people on the situation given the hardship they endure being my daughters during this period of time. And she was like, I don't understand all of this about testing, which is again, it's a wakeup call to me. I think we're communicating. I think we're putting out this information. But you know people have lives to live even in this crazy time. But for me the best thing I can do in my position is to communicate facts to people so they have the information to make decisions. That's what I've been trying to do since day one. Here's the information, here are the facts, you decide, and I'll tell you what. I think the course of conduct should be given these facts, but here are the facts right before you tell me what you think. Just tell me the facts and then we'll get to your personal interpretation of the facts.

So facts on testing, because it is granular and it is a little boring, but it's also vitally important. Testing is how you monitor the rate of infection and you control for it and that is the whole tension in reopening. Everybody wants to reopen. You don't need to hold up a placard saying we want to reopen. Nobody wants to reopen more than me. Nobody wants to get the economy going more than me. Nobody wants to get on with life more than me and everybody else. We're all in the same boat. We all have the same feelings.

The tension on reopening is how fast can you reopen and what can you reopen without raising that infection rate so you go right back to where we were overwhelming the hospitals? The infection rate now is one person infects .9 other people. You can't infect .9 but it's basically one person is infecting one person. A tad less - and I don't even know if it's a tad less because I don't even know that the statistics are that accurate frankly.

So let's say one person now infects one person. That's where we are now. When that is happening the virus is basically stable. Where we were was one person was infecting 1.4 people and that's when you have outbreak widespread epidemic. We brought it down from 1.4 to .9. How did you do that? Those were the New York Pause policies. Close down business, close down schools, everybody has to social distance, everybody has to take precautions, masks, et cetera. But it worked and we went from 1.4 to .9. Wuhan says at one point they got down to .3 which is where you really start to see the numbers drop. But that's where we are.

The tension is when you start to open business you start to have gatherings, you put people on a bus, you put people on the subway, you put people in a retail store. Then you're going to see more infections. You see that infection rate rise and then you're going to be back to where we were. So how do you gauge this, right? How do you calibrate it?

That is all about the testing. And you have a very tight window. You're at .9 now. You can only go up to 1.2 before you see those hospitalization numbers start taking off again. You're talking about a very, very tight window that you have to calibrate and this is all without precedent so how do you actually do that intelligently? Well, you have to test and testing informs the calibration.

What is testing? Testing is you test. You test the person to see whether they are positive or negative for the coronavirus. There is also something called antibody testing but let's put that aside for a second. On the diagnostic testing, positive or negative, you test the person.

When you find a person who is positive you then trace. Trace, they call them detectives. You find the person and then you interview that person and find our who they came in contact and you follow that tree down. That's testing and that's tracing, when they talk about tracing.

Trace all those contacts and then you find the people who are positive. You isolate the positive people so they can't continue to spread.

Tracing requires an army. Literally an army. You would need thousands of people who just trace in the State of New York because any one person then leads to 10, 20 possible people who were infected. You have to trace all through those people. You find the positive person, you isolate them. The trick with testing is not that we don't know how to do it. We've done it better in this state than almost any other state, almost any other country. It's bringing this up to scale. These are private sector companies that are doing this. We have done a very good job in testing. The state has played a pivotal role in testing.

You look at New York and the number of tests we do. It's more than California, it's more than any other state. It's more than any other country. We have had great success in ramping up testing. We know how to do it. We know how important it is. We had that hot spot in New Rochelle, Westchester. It was the hottest cluster in the United States of America. We jumped on it and we jumped on it with intense testing and it worked. We still have an issue, but it's no longer a hotspot cluster because you do a lot of testing, you take the positives and you isolate them. The challenge is now bringing this up to scale. We did 500,000 tests in a month. That's great news. Bad news is it's only a fraction of what you need. The more you test, the more information, the more you can open society.

How does testing actually work? This, again, you have to know the facts otherwise this is all a blur and it becomes a he said, she said. There are about 30 private companies, large private companies in the country that are even international. Thirty large companies make equipment to test and they all have their own test. You have the ACME test, the this test, the this test, the this test. Well, those 30 companies have been selling their machines to local laboratories and that's their business. They make a machine, Roesch makes a machine. They then sell it to people. You have to buy their machine and they then sell these local labs their testing protocol because their test works on their machine. You buy the Roesch machine, you then have to buy the Roesch test from the Roesch Corporation. You buy the ACME machine, you then have to buy the ACME test from the ACME Corporation. They sell these tests to local labs.

We have about 300 local labs in our state who have bought these 30 types of manufacturers and 30 types of tests. Then every time the lab goes to run that test, if I'm running the ACME test, I have to have the ACME equipment and the ACME vial and the the ACME swab and the ACME reagents. What are reagents? When you take the swab, nasal swab, throat swab, you then test it with other chemicals. The other chemicals are reagents. Depending on what test you bought, they have their own reagents for every test. The ACME test has one set of reagents. The Roesch test has another set of reagents and you have to go back to them to buy these reagents. That's the basic chain. It gets very complicated very quickly because you have the national manufacturers who sold their machines to local labs. The local labs then need to go back to that manufacturer to run their tests. There's very little uniformity among the tests. You're trying to coordinate this whole private sector system. We have some public labs, the state has a Wadsworth Lab, but the real capacity is in these private labs.

So how do you bring this up to scale and how do you cut to the chase on this one? We called the top fifty producing labs in the state and said tell us what it takes to double your output, okay. And this is literally what they said. So there's no interpretation here. Most of them come back.

Sometimes they talk about the equipment, nasal swab, vial. But what you see is most of them are talking about, we can't get the reagents. We can't get these other chemicals that we need to test. Where do they get the reagents from? Their manufacturer who made the machine in the first place, okay. And they all say with the machines we bought we could actually be doing more if they would give us the reagents. That's the logjam that we are in. They bought the machine. They have the machine. They have the test but they need the reagents to do a higher volume of tests. When you go back to the manufacturer and say why don't you distribute more reagents, they say one of two things. I can't get more reagents because they come from China, they come from here, they come from here. We don't make them in the United States. Or they say the federal government is telling me who to distribute to.

And this is why I say you have the federal government involved in this situation, rightfully so, because the federal government is saying to Acme pharmaceutical, give X to California, give Y to Chicago, give Z to New York. These manufacturers are regulated by the federal government and the federal government clearly has a role in addressing this crisis. But, we need two things from the federal government. We need help on that supply chain, especially when it becomes international, and we need coordination and basic partnership. I get the state's role. We've been testing. I get this is hard. I get that it's difficult. I get that it's never going to be perfect. I get in this society there's going to be a blame game, and everyone's going to say, why didn't we have enough testing? It's the feds, it's the state. That's going to happen anyway, right. That's the world we live in. And I'm not asking for the federal government to come in and do any more than they need to do, but we do need their coordination and we do need their partnership.

And we also need from the federal government, we need funding. I get that we have to fund airlines. We have to fund this business. We have to fund small businesses. I agree a hundred percent, but you also have to fund state governments. And by the way, when you fund the state government, you're not funding a private business. We're not an airline. So you don't have an issue of should government really be giving tax dollars to this private entity. When you fund the state government you just are funding a state government to perform the functions you want us to perform, which is the reopening function. I get it. I'll do it. But I need funding. And when you fund a state government, you're funding small businesses anyway, and you're funding hospitals anyway, and you're funding schools anyway. And you know, the Republican doctrine used to be limited government and states' rights. I'm a good distribution mechanism to small businesses and hospitals and schools because I know what's going on in the state. But if you want to us reopen, we need funding.

National Governors Association is highly relevant because this is now all up to the governors. The National Governors Association is bipartisan. The chairman is a republican. I'm the vice chairman, I'm a Democrat. I'm the incoming chair person. We did a press release yesterday saying we need funding in this next bill. We need $500 billion for the states so we can do this reopening. Federal government yesterday sent 1.5 million cloth masks to New York State and I want to thank them for that. These are cloth masks that we can distribute to people to help implement our policy where if you're in public you have to wear a mask. It's not a surgical mask. It's a cloth mask manufactured by the Hanes corporation I believe. But we're asking people to wear masks. And this is going to be very helpful because we're going to have additional masks to distribute to the public.

Last point, personal opinion. This is not a fact. It's just my opinion. You can throw it in the garbage. The emotion in this country is as high as I can recall, people are frustrated, we're anxious, scared, we're angry. We've never been through this before and on every level this is a terrible experience. It's disorienting, it threatens you to your core. It makes you reflect on your whole life and it really has -- it's mentally very difficult, it's emotionally difficult, economically, it's disastrous. I mean the market goes down. Your retirement funds go down. You're not getting a paycheck. It is as tumultuous at times as we have ever seen. But in the midst of this, there is no time for politics.

How does the situation get worse, it gets worse quickly? If you politicize all that emotion. We cannot go there. That's why I work so hard when anyone raises any political agenda to me. I work so hard to distance myself from it. I'm not running for anything. I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to be governor of the state of New York until the people kick me out and then I'm going to go spend time with my family and that's that.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Recipe corner: Spicy turkeyroni

It kinda looks like this when it's done, but not exactly like this.
I have not made this in a while but my signature dish has to be spicy turkeyroni. Based on the beefaroni approach, it's actually almost good for you if you use whole-wheat macaroni and low-fat cheddar.

The components:

A package, about a pound they usually are, of ground turkey
One onion, diced
A green bell pepper, diced
A red bell pepper, diced
Couple two three cloves of garlic
A bag of shredded cheddar cheese
Two small cans or one big can of diced tomatoes
Not quite a whole box of whole wheat macaroni, cooked
Cajun seasoning - our beloved local grocery microchain, Adams Fairacre Farms, makes a good blend but I am sure others do too
Tabasco and/or Frank's hot sauce
Some olive oil, obvs.

The process:

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and get out a decent-sized casserole dish
  • Get as large a saucepan as you have and heat it up. Cook the turkey first, seasoning with a little salt and pepper, then scoop out and set aside.
  • Then saute the onions and peppers until they are cooked. Then dump in the tomatoes, crush in the garlic with a garlic crusher and add three to five to seven teaspoons of the Cajun seasoning. (The singing of the refrain of The Band's "Acadian Driftwood" should happen at this point.) Also add a few to several to numerous splashes of the hot sauce(s).
  • Let it heat up for a while, then you have a choice here - either put all the cheese in or save some for a cheese topping. Stir until the cheese is melted, then stir in the pasta. Then dump the whole thing into the casserole.
  • If you didn't top it with cheese, cover with aluminum foil, or the actual lid to the dish if you didn't lose that at some point in your life. If covered with cheese then put it in as it is. Let bake for about 25 minutes - with the cheese topping, you're looking for that to turn your preferred shade of brown.
  • Remove from oven, let cool and serve with whatevs - it pairs quite well with a nice box cabernet or Genesee Cream Ale.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Covid life: Going to Hannaford in Highland

From the News You Can Use Desk:

We needed stuff so I went to Hannaford in Highland today, at about noon. PPE was the best we could do - nitrile gloves and a bandana. The diagrams posted on Facebook on how to make a decent mask out of a bandana, plus hair ties and a coffee filter, did not really work for my head-shape so I just tied it around my face, cowboy-style. I wore a washable Mets hat and a hoodie; hood was on during the entire operation. I left my phone in my car and would have left the keys too, but then how would I have gotten back into the car? (No I don't trust people in Highland. I didn't trust people in Hyde Park - for good reason, considering where I lived. I don't even trust people in Milton. I wonder what goes on in the heads of people whom the police have to remind to lock up their stuff lest it get robbed. Maybe I yearn for that level of innocence and trust in the essential goodness of one's neighbors. Maybe I don't.)

The store was not crowded. A sign on the door stated that only 140 customers would be allowed inside at any one time but there was no person with a clicker or anything up front. Anyway, it didn't seem like there were 140 people in the store. No more of the bringing of your own bags - they're not allowed in the store, so it's back to the days of "would you like plastic or plastic?"

PPE use the last time I was there, almost two weeks ago, I would have guesstimated at 25 percent. More people today had it on, maybe a little less than half. (This figure includes store employees, who, like everybody else, either wore nothing or some mix of gear ranging between effective-looking and, umm, less so.) Social distancing was partially observed but those who know that store know that space is tight in there to begin with. Many center-aisle displays were taken out, presumably to allow for more distancing.

There were most things. No hand-san or toilet paper or disinfectant wipes, of course - we may never see those things again in our lives, it seems. Perhaps a future helpful Facebook post will describe how to make wipes out of old clothes and battery acid. No toilet paper either, but some paper towels. Canned soup was scarce as were (see above) coffee filters, but I am good for those so far. Sugar? Flour? Yeast? No, nope and not available. Pasta was very scarce. If you wanted to bake something with almond or coconut flour, they had you covered. But there were ample supplies of dairy, eggs and meat. (I am not the type to get up to go to the store at 8 a.m., so maybe they had more stuff then. You will need to check the Morning People of Southern Ulster blog for that kind of info.)

The employees seemed tired, more than anything else, and some displayed that kind of dark humor one often sees from people who are in dangerous situations for many days. A few were bantering back and forth about the possibility(?) of supermarket and other essential workers being cut a $5,000 check as "hero pay."

"Hero pay sounds better than sacrificial pay," a worker quipped.

I feel for these people, having to expose themselves to the virus for the kind of shit pay people in supermarkets make so we can all go and buy stuff for less. If they even get their $5K checks, it will be far less than they've earned.

Got checked out OK - social distancing was observed and it was a longer-than-pre-C-19-times wait as not too many people were there buying less than a metric ton of stuff. The plan to keep the credit card in a little plastic bag and just tap the thing was foiled as the thing would not accept the tap. So out of the bag and into the thing, another small quarantine broken in a world awash in broken quarantines of all sizes. The second I got out of the store I pulled down the bandana - it had gotten clammy and started to slip off my face at the end anyway. I did my level best to remove the gloves and put them in another little plastic bag; while doing so one of the gloves, bought some time ago for kitchen use, had a hole in it. Loaded up the car in a steady rain - yay - and went home. Left the nonperishables in the car so any viruses would perish over the next few days. Perishables were carefully wiped down - as an FYI be careful as battery acid does eat through some forms of common packaging - and put away.

Yes, if you must know, there was the taking off all of the clothes and putting them in the washer. I went to the bathroom, washed my face and hands with unusual attention to detail and then drank an Emergen-C as pro (or ante-?) phylaxis. Then I ate a little food and took a big nap.

The last time I went to the store I was anxious for about three days afterwards. I am now anxious, and expect to be for about another three days. Not helpful in anxiety mitigation was reading a Facebook account of the horror those dying of Covid-19 suffer before they pass. This is a weird time for us all, but one aspect of my own personal weirdness is my journalistic need to know this stuff pushing hard against my knowledge that knowing this stuff is bad for my mental health.

So, it's back to the Hunker Mode, concluding the 22nd (222nd? 22,022nd?) day thereof. 

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Ventilator blues, or assailing the Father Governor

"Hey Andrew Cuomo keep your hands off our ventilators!" (Photo by Dan Barton)

You know how it is: Everybody in this crisis is pulling together, until they aren't anymore. Just received this press release from Antonio Delgado's office:

KINGSTON, NY—Today, U.S. Representative Antonio Delgado (NY-19), Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus, NYS Senator George Amedore S46, Senator Jen Metzger S42, Senator Sue Serino S41, Assemblymember Kevin Cahill AD103, and Assemblymember Chris Tague AD102 released the following statement in response to Governor Cuomo’s executive order to move ventilators from upstate hospitals:

“We are aware of plans to shift ventilators from our upstate communities and are gravely concerned. Health care access in rural communities has long been under strain, and we know the apex of cases in upstate is around the corner. We stand ready to help our fellow New Yorkers, but moving needed ventilators from our region now would be devastating and counter intuitive to all data on the spread of COVID-19. We will continue to work together to do everything in our power to make sure folks in our region have every single thing they need to get through this health crisis.”


One of the truest things I remember hearing in college is Alan Chartock describing politics as "the authoritative allocation of resources." (I think he's still saying this but has dropped the "authoritative" part.) "Authoritative" in this case means Father Governor can order the National Guard to come take shit from people who do not think it's a very good idea at all to give said shit up.

UPDATE: Politics being "the authoritative allocation of scarce resources" is partially derived from the work of political scientist David Easton, but what he really wrote, in his 1953 work "The Political System: An Inquiry into the State of Political Science" was "Political science is the study of the authoritative allocation of values for a society."

At Sunday's briefing, the governor was asked about the ventilator shifts and opined upon it at length. Here's much of what he had to say - notably, the rush transcripts his office sends out are just his remarks, not the back-and-forth with reporters that take place after his remarks. It's a lot, but worth reading.

“The executive order … the concept here that people have to get is nobody can handle this alone. Nobody. The people of New York City cannot handle this alone, the people of Nassau can’t handle it alone, the people of Suffolk can’t handle it alone, the people of Westchester can’t handle it alone, people of Buffalo can’t handle it alone, people of Albany can’t handle it alone. Period. That is just a fact. This virus will overwhelm the resources of any single community. It’s also true nationwide. Our wisdom here in New York, our mental wisdom and our ethos is we’ll help one another. This surge flex, every day we sit there allocating among hospitals shifting gowns, shifting masks, shifting patients … that’s the only way we’re doing it, by shifting of those resources.

“We will come to a point where that wave will run right through the state and we’ll have to that for Albany, and Rochester and Syracuse and the North Country and the Hudson Valley — that is going to happen. And I guarantee the people of this state that as long as I’m governor of this state, we won’t lose a life if we can prevent it and we’re not going to lose a life because we didn’t share resources among ourselves. Anything anyone needs in Buffalo to fight this virus when it hits Buffalo, will be there. If it comes from Montauk Point and I have to get in the truck and drive it from Montauk Point to Buffalo, it will be there. That’s the way we’ve governed this state and that’s the way we’ve operated. That was our mentality post-9/11, that’s how this state’s operated for the past 10 years, and that’s how we’ll be going forward. Whatever any community needs, we will be there.

“Now I understand the fear — ‘what if I lend you my ventilator, what happens when I need the ventilator?’ — that was FDR and the garden hose, right? First of all smart is you don’t want your house to burn down so don’t let the neighbor’s house burn down. When the fire hits the neighbor’s house, it’s in your self-interest to put out the fire in the neighbor’s house. Not only is it the right community moral ethical thing, it’s the smart, practical thing. Why did Oregon send us a hundred ventilators? Because they’re very nice people, yes. Gov. Brown is a great leader. Why else? Because they see the fire spreading, and they say better we put out the fire before it gets to us. I’m sitting in New York right now and I see that fire coming up, I say let’s go put that fire out before it gets to us. But even if the fire gets to you, every hose in the state that can be sent to you because they don’t need it will be sent to you. And all we’re asking is for ventilators that you aren’t using now and you don’t foresee using in the foreseeable future.”

The governor went on to say that he has yet to take any of the 500 ventilators in Upstate in question but he does want to know where they are and how many are being used on a real-time basis, “if we need them.” He added that the ventilators are portable. “I don’t see any other operational model,” he said, other than moving equipment to the apex of need and then “redeploying” them to the next apex of need.

“We talk about the family of New York. I must have said that a million times,” the governor continued. “What does family of New York mean? Mutuality, cooperation, sharing, benefits and burdens. OK. This is the time the family has to come together. This is the time. Not just out of the spirit of love. Out of necessity. You cannot handle this without your brothers and sisters. You can’t.”

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The State of Local Journalism in the Hudson Valley - Foreword

What will follow is an assessment based on my personal perspective, which will by definition be both incomplete and idiosyncratic. Apologies in advance if I omit something or someone or if I just end up being completely full of it/wrong AF. Main post to follow soon.

Upper Lattingtown, N.Y.
In the 15th Day of Hunker Mode
Daniel P. Barton

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

A brief message

Photo by Theresa Thompson via Flickr
Here's a radical suggestion: People should vote for whomever the hell they want to. Trying to convince other people that they have a DUTY to vote for someone they don't want to vote for is both counterproductive and an offense to democracy. Rather than rail on social media against people who don't want to vote for the person for whom you think they ought, make a positive argument FOR your candidate. It may not have a very large chance of success, but it has a far greater probability of working than flinging shame at someone.