29 Jun 2020

Straight lines, exponential curves, and Covid-19

Well, we just passed a half-million deaths globally and 10 million confirmed cases; and in the USA 2.5 million (that's a quarter of all global cases) and are about to hit 125,000 deaths (about a quarter of global deaths). And we just got ourselves banned from travel to the EU because we can't get our shit together on this—watch for much of the rest of the world to follow suit. I've been tracking in a spreadsheet a variety of posted numbers[0] for the Covid-19 pandemic (because of course I have). For quite a long time now, the graph of the nationwide numbers has looked basically like this:

The Covid-related death rate (magenta dots, scale on right) started out as a clear exponential growth curve, then started to level off but never really got completely under control. The case rate (blue dots, scale on left, 20x the scale of the other one) started out with a slight exponential growth and then proceeded into the most linear line I've ever seen for a natural process. Seriously, I can hold an index card to the screen and touch every dot from 1 May through 20 June (which is the end date of the above graph). I could do the same trick from about 10 April through 1 May on a slightly steeper line.

Of course that line was not entirely natural. The shape of the death curve gives us some indication that the line of the actual case count must have been steeper at various points along the way—but many cases were kept from the confirmed count due to testing availability, false negatives, mild symptoms, and so on. Still, it was impressive how straight that line was over such a sustained period.

Then states started opening up. I mean, a lot of them never really closed properly in the first place, which is why we couldn't get this under control like so many other countries have. Some states (like Virginia) put the right kind of regulations in place but then explicitly refused to enforce them in any way, shape, or form, resulting in a big chunk of the population just ignoring them; others issued a "stay at home" order but didn't even bother to encourage masks or close public businesses. Nevertheless, a lot of Americans took the cue from "the state is open again" to go out as if nothing had changed. That really got going about three-ish weeks ago.

Which brings us to this. Same graph as before, updated through the 29th instead of the 20th:

The scales go a little higher, though they're still in a 20:1 relationship. The deaths have, for the moment, continued to level off. The cases, though; that surprising straight line that continued for more than a month and a half is definitely not in force anymore. If we're back to an exponential increase curve on this (Narrator voice: We are.), this is going to get Real Bad, Real Soon. And as before, the next 5-14 days' worth of confirmed cases have already been infected, so even if nationwide we somehow implemented perfect containment procedures instantly, the case count would still get visibly worse for at least another ten days, and the death count will start to ramp up a bit after that.

And this is still the First Wave. Buckle up, folks.

[0] From the Washington Post, which is in turn sourced largely from the JHU numbers.

"Within the Democratic Party... progressives share a political party with another group of people---the corporate neoliberals---who we disagree with on almost every single issue of substance." --Robert Cruickshank

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2 Jun 2020

A thought experiment.

Imagine for a moment that we did a big reset and said, ok, all cops fired. Rookies, vets, sergeants, chiefs, whatever, all of them. But while you're building up their replacements, you'll let back in any of them who had, even just once, reprimanded or reported or intervened when a fellow cop had been racist or abusive. Then the rest of the forces would have to get filled out with people who had never been cops before. This is a magical thought experiment so we can let them back in even if the intervention went unrecorded or if the reprimand were purely verbal; but it's not enough for them to have purely thought disapproving thoughts or told their spouse about it.

So here's the question: what percentage of the current American police forces get let back in, vs having to recruit new people? It's not a high bar, right?

"How many more gay people does God have to create before we ask ourselves whether or not God actually wants them around?" --Steve Simon

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1 Jun 2020

Inflection point

Several things are going on at the same time, precluding a pithy response to any of it. A short post only about violent protest, or about cops, or about looting, would have some implications that are quite the opposite of true. Here's the thing:

a) Black people—and others, but especially black people—have a lot, a *lot*, a *LOT* of grievances, with law enforcement in this country, and with the governing powers in this country, and with white people in this country. Legitimate grievances. They go back a long way: to 1968, to 1921, to 1896, to 1788, to 1619. Peaceful protest has never been exceptionally effective, and in recent years has been almost entirely ineffective, and so it seems we've made violent protest inevitable. Some famous guy had something to say about that.[0] It's been adding up for a long time, and possibly the day is coming soon where we pay the bill.[1] And yet, almost unbelievably, it seems that despite them having every reason to turn to violence, the looting and violence in the last few days has not (for the most part) come from the black community.

b) What we're seeing, in well-documented video form, over and over and over and over, in cities across the country, is that cops, faced with unarmed protestors holding them to account for their abusive violence, double down and resort to abusive violence. Cops have shoved a man walking with a cane, maced people walking along, pulled down a covid mask to mace someone, revved their cars and plowed into crowds of protestors, maced a child, and confiscated and destroyed supplies of milk and drinking water. They've shot rubber and/or pepper bullets at ministering clergy, credentialed reporters, and medics, as well as scores of nonviolent protestors and people who just happened to be walking by, in some cases causing blindness and other permanent damage. They've arrested reporters and photojournalists and absolutely flat-out lied about the circumstances, even though they had been broadcast on live TV. Following the law and complying with police commands grants absolutely no guarantee against being gassed[2], shot, or arrested (or all three)—something that POC have known for a long time but is coming as a surprise to much of white America. That one sheriff in Flint who stood with the protestors is getting held up as an example an awful lot, and every time he's the one held up it further cements what an outlier he is. It's not the protestors turning the protests violent. Over and over, it's the cops.

And they sure as hell didn't do that a month ago when it was white guys protesting. Not even one.

c) And then there's the looting and property damage. In Minneapolis, much of this has been occurring *miles* away from where the protest events were; and recurring reports, in many cities, are that the instigators and most or all of the perpetrators of property damage—smashing windows, burning buildings—have been white. And a lot of them from out of state. It's hard to know exact percentages but it's clear that a *significant proportion* of the damage we're seeing is coming from agents provocateurs trying to escalate the protests, white supremacists going into cities to use the protests as cover to destroy POC-owned businesses, and flat-out accelerationists who are explicitly trying to start a second civil war as such.

And, given the issues in the previous paragraph, a lot of people are—reasonably—worried that the police will not be working particularly hard to stop the agents provocateurs, the white supremacists, or the accelerationists; in some cases because they *are* agents provocateurs, white supremacists, or accelerationists.

And of course,

d) Let's not forget through all of this that we are still in a very delicate place on the pandemic curve. The protestors and cops are, fortunately, mostly wearing masks (although a lot of the looters aren't, go figure). And fwiw a lot of the protests look considerably more spread out than most of the ones I've seen before, if perhaps not to a full 6ft distancing. But there will inevitably be some spreading events as a result of all this. It's a heavy price, on top of all the other heavy prices everybody is paying here.

How the actual fuck do we dig out of this?

[0] Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. --John F. Kennedy

[1] As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it—whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash. ... Don't fool yourselves—it's all adding up, and one of these days we are going to pay the bill for it. --Harper Lee, "To Kill a Mockingbird" (Atticus Finch)

[2] NB: Tear gas is a chemical weapon, and since 1993 is banned in the field of combat; using it against an enemy would be a war crime. But it's legal to use against your own citizens. Hmmm?

PS. I'm referring to "cops" a lot here. That's papering over some differences, of course; Chauvin was the one that actually killed George Floyd, for instance, while his three fellow cops "only" watched without interfering. But that's a pretty thin distinction. All of the bad cop stuff I'm talking about, every single bit of it, would be *gone* if even half of the "not all cops" that I keep hearing about would speak up. But they don't.

"Riots are not the causes of white resistance, they are consequences of it." --Martin Luther King, Jr.

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