Briefly Noted

Things Read, Seen or Heard

“This virus has humbled me as a professional and a person,” said Michelle Odden, associate professor of epidemiology at Stanford. “I did not think this level of failure in a federal response was possible in the United States.”

Earlier this year a meme made the rounds on the state of America, circa 2020. Unlike funny dances or songs or some sort of cancel culture takedown, those posting reflected on their life and times.

The conversation was tied to the Democratic primaries. Specifically, if primary voters would push Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren to the nomination; how far left was too far left for the general voting public; and why, curious beltway pundits wanted to know, were voters open to democratic socialism in the first place. In particular, they wanted to know why so many millennials supported these ideas.

To which a typical response looked a bit like this:

Bump up a generation to Gen-X and you had responses like this:

Life is not good and America is not great, economically speaking.

Which brings me to the Michelle Odden’s quote to the New York Times in their recent coronavirus epidemiologist survey.

Listen: “I did not think this level of failure in a federal response was possible in the United States.”

I don’t disagree with the sentiment, I do, however, with the degree. We’re missing a word. As in: I did not think this level of failure in a federal response was possible in the United States again.

So far this century we’ve had the dot-com crash, 9/11, the chaos and mismanagement of the Iraq war, an inept response to Hurricane Katrina, the financial crash, and now an incompetent COVID response that’s pushing us toward 300,000 deaths.

Go back in time to our post World War II glory years and we have what: civil unrest and assassinations in the sixties; the Vietnam War and the economic malaise in the seventies; escalating drug wars, mass incarceration and growing economic inequality in the eighties and nineties; decades long wage stagnation for the majority of Americans and a health care system that creaks along unable to care for vast populations in the Most Powerful and Prosperous Nation the World Has Ever Known™.1

This country is like a storied sports team resting on long past laurels. We were champions once, we swagger, before muddling through another period of mediocrity.

So no, the level of failure doesn’t surprise because it happens over and over again. Instead, it just leaves me frustrated that we can’t at least be competent. Unfortunately, we’re lead by a shameless Machiavellian conspiracy cult on one side and a group of incompetents on the other.

Somewhat Related: Mark Becker, former Chairman of Wisconsin’s Brown County Republican Party, writes about a conversation he had with Ron Johnson, that state’s Republican senator. The article is ostensibly about Johnson’s inability to publicly acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory (political suicide, he says) but an aside caught my attention.

Democrats don’t love our country, says Johnson, because they want to change it. “[Y]ou can’t love something you want to fundamentally change,” Johnson tells Becker.

I’m not a Democrat but I can flip this ignorance on its head: you can’t change something unless you truly love it.

  • I don’t mean to imply that the forties or fifties were halcyon golden days (see, race, gender). Instead, with some exceptions, it was a period where the country seemed to be able to come together for a prolonged period to achieve common goals.

More Notes

“We underestimate the stupid, and we do so at our own peril.”

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Ghost’s canine bots are the scary older brother of every other dog robot you’ve ever seen, and a good reminder that we’re getting increasingly efficient at finding ways to kill ourselves.

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For all its unknowns, the glorious constant of space is its surprises. For instance, when astronomers discovered what color it is.

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A technical glitch on a Chinese video streaming platform reveals a young, popular vlogger is actually a much older woman.

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An architect creates a seesaw at the US-Mexico border to show what happens on one side affects what happens on the other… Oh, and kids have fun.

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A spacecraft not much bigger than a loaf of bread is demonstrating that sailing the cosmos is a possibility.

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A letter sent fifty years ago from Charles Schulz to a ten-year-old boy shows how much hasn’t changed in American society and politics.

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A brain implant that transmits video directory to the visual cortex is allowing some formerly blind patients to see.

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As Los Angeles its green future, here’s a look at the light rail system it had over a 100 years ago.

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And now for something beautiful: the International Space Station crosses the sun.

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Welcome to the current state of deepfake videos where you could ask yourself how much more screwed could we be? And the answer would be, none, none more screwed.

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Those food shots you see on Instagram aren’t about eating what’s in the photo. Instead, they showcase the privilege of being somewhere where such food exists to begin with.

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