The Peeing Section

Some scattered thoughts today as we approach another weekend: My friend Evan pointed me to this study out of Yale on the use of “primary municipal sewage sludge” to identify a “leading indicator of COVID-19 outbreak”; I’ve previously mentioned studies and proposals related to the use of wastewater (that is, sewage) to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in a population, but this paper clarifies that viral concentration in sewage sludge (in which pathogens are concentrated more densely than in the wastewater itself)  served as a reliable leading indicator of the epidemic trend of both cases (which it led by seven days) and hospitalizations (which it led by three) during the recent outbreak of COVID-19 in the Greater New Haven area in Connecticut. Even more than social media analysis – given that this method depends on the empirical presence of the virus, albeit not in human bodies – such wastewater/sewage-sludge-based surveillance, if it can be performed in real-time, offers the most promising tool for early detection of which I’ve yet heard.

Think I’m done with Bill Gates for now, but remember, my modest efforts made zero impact and he’s still out there, along with many of his fellow billionaires, doing exactly what he’s been doing for years: Trying to reshape the world order in his own image and favor.

Twitter finally fact-checked the President on one of his countless lies, so of course, vindictive man-baby that the President is, he’s now “expected to issue [an] executive order to restrict social media takedowns.” Just as with Gates and remembering that the struggle against oligarchy and plutocracy is generational, we have to resolve that it’s not enough to vote this President out of office; we have to thoroughly dismantle the system and order that made him possible. Like the pandemic, his is a presidency that never should have happened, and only by failing, for decades, to take seriously the consequences of allowing developers to legally despoil municipal, state, and federal tax coffers (and, in the case of the President, also to “inherit a real estate company [and] illegally dodge taxes, scam […] customers, […] refuse to pay […] contractors,” commit at least dozens of sex crimes, do business with the mob, etc.) did we end up in this sad state. (Readers interested in more background on the President’s history as a New York City real estate developer might appreciate Sam Stein’s Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State.) The national embarrassment that is the man in the White House is a function, most immediately, of neoliberalism, and more broadly, of the failure, in this country, to reckon with the genocidal, slave-holding, white supremacist truths of our history. (Just arrived in my inbox, this Axios alert entitled: “Trump signs executive order targeting protections for social media platforms.”)

More from the Administration: The work of a crackpot “physicist-turned-epidemiologist” who has concluded that “there [is] no link between fine soot air pollution and premature death” a “finding […] drastically at odds with the consensus of medical researchers and with the evidence from nearly three decades of previous research” has “has helped provide the underpinning for the […] administration’s wide-ranging assault on environmental protection policy”; this pattern is exactly in line with the one outlined in Merchants of Doubt – the seminal book of science history by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway that examines “How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming” – namely, that of a right-leaning physicist leveraging supposed scientific expertise to make unverified (and untrue) claims in a scientific field with which he (all the major denialist figures profiled by Oreskes and Conway are men) has no experience, claims which, in turn, are embraced by opportunistic politicians and policymakers looking for scientific-ish/scientistic cover for their deregulatory agendas. Such dishonest and destructive abuse of our apparatuses of science and government are exactly what we have to beat back in the coming years and decades. (Merchants of Doubt is also a film for those to whom that medium is more palatable.)

On a slightly lighter note, I’d been musing to myself since March that Andy Byford must have had a laugh about the timing of his departure from the MTA. What a loss it was to our mass transit system that our egomaniacal Governor drove one of the world’s most gifted (and beloved) transit administrators out of New York, but I’m happy for Byford that he’ll now be running Transport for London. (I’ve not been able to read this paywalled New York Mag piece on the current interim president of NYC Transit, Sarah Feinberg, but the vampy pic with which it leads leads me to doubt its integrity; in private correspondence I had with Feinberg – who, when she was still only an MTA Board member, made a big show on this Second Avenue Sagas podcast episode of how open she was to rider questions and comments – she denied that Byford was forced out of the MTA or that his departure was, in any way, political. A few days later, she – a Cuomo appointee to the MTA Board, which Cuomo controls, as he does the whole, beleaguered MTA – was appointed interim president. Strange.)

Finally, Vijay Prashad has a good piece out for People’s Dispatch on the geopolitics of oil as relates to Iran, Venezuela, and China. I found the two paragraphs which follow especially striking:

It is incorrect to see the “rise of China” as a threat to the preeminent power of the United States. There is no appreciable “decline of the United States” in our time, since the United States remains the most powerful military force and remains in charge of the main economic institutions (mainly through the power of the dollar as a world currency and through the control of the International Monetary Fund by the US Treasury). Nonetheless, the United States is not prepared to tolerate the arrival of China as a second major economic pole.

China continues to indicate that it does not want conflict with the United States. The government has said repeatedly that it has no interest in escalation, and that it prizes stability. China’s manufacturing sector has grown considerably, and it remains the most powerful industrial country in the world. Attempts by the United States to reorganize the global supply chain in the midst of COVID-19 by cutting out China will not work in the short or medium term; the world economy relies upon Chinese manufacturing, and many countries will not tolerate a long-term embargo on China’s factories. It is this reliance upon China’s industrial power that has inaugurated a new bipolar—rather than unipolar—world order.

I’ve been critical elsewhere of Prashad’s overly generous assessment of the Chinese Government/the Chinese Communist Party, but as we witness dangerous and alarming escalation between the US and China – fueled no doubt by pandemic-driven presidential desperation in both countries, but especially by the careless, flailing attempts of our utterly unfit Commander-in-Chief to deflect responsibility for his cataclysmic failure to address the pandemic in this country – it’s imperative that we all strive to understand what’s actually at stake in this relationship, and what dynamics are in play, lest we inadvertently make ourselves useful idiots in service to the schemes of China Hawks in Washington.

As for the title of this piece, it’s drawn from Mehdi Hasan’s interview with the Yale epidemiologist Greg Gonsalves. Gonsalves was quick to point out that credit for the memorable analogy belonged to “Carlos Del Rio from Emory,” but be that as it may, as Hasan put it:

You’ve said that trying to control an epidemic in one part of the country, while not controlling it in another, won’t work. You’ve compared it to creating a peeing section in a swimming pool, because there is no such thing. Obviously, it wouldn’t work in a pool.

Obviously. “It wouldn’t work in a pool,” and it won’t work in our country, either. Other than January 1st, or any day since, there could be no better day for us to get our national pandemic-response act together than today.

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