Downplaying ‘Deadly Stuff’
September 10, 2020
The Good News
- Here’s a story that will get you out of your shell this morning: Return of Myanmar’s smiling turtle is reason to be cheerful (Guardian)
- Their son wanted to see more Black book characters, so they created a business to provide them (WaPo, $). In search of new heroes, this family began real-life protagonists.
“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.”
Downplaying ‘Deadly Stuff’
(Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images)
President Trump knew in January about the coming COVID-19 crisis, how deadly the disease was, and how it is transmitted. He hid the truth from the American people, choosing instead to repeatedly ‘play it down’ before and after declaring a state of emergency in March. The source for this explosive disclosure was not anonymous — it was the president himself. Many more startling revelations appear in noted journalist Bob Woodward’s new book “Rage,” to be released September 15.
Woodward interviewed Trump 18 times from December 5, 2019 to July 21, 2020; the conversations were recorded with the president’s permission. On February 7th, Trump admitted he had learned that the virus was dangerous, airborne, highly contagious, “more deadly than even your strenuous flus,” and that he repeatedly played it down publicly. “This is deadly stuff,” Trump told Woodward, adding that COVID-19 was maybe five times “more deadly” than the flu.
The first confirmed COVID-19 death occurred on February 29th near Seattle; two weeks later Trump declared a state of national emergency. On March 19th, the president told Woodward: “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.” It’s suggested Trump was referring to a panic in the stock market, as an economic downturn could hurt his reelection chances.
As the pandemic proliferated throughout America, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the administration’s top infectious disease expert, is quoted telling others Trump’s leadership was “rudderless” and that his “attention span is like a minus number.” “His sole purpose is to get reelected,” Fauci told an associate.
Trump had received a top-secret intelligence briefing on the virus on January 28th. At that time, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told the president the virus would be the “biggest national security threat” of his presidency. O’Brien’s deputy concurred, telling Trump that this could be a national health emergency as big as the influenza pandemic in 1918; he also warned that in China, 50 percent of those infected showed no symptoms. On May 6th, Trump told Woodward he didn’t remember that briefing.
Trump has taken all the credit and none of the responsibility for his actions related to the pandemic, which has infected over 6.3 million Americans and killed more than 190,000. “The virus has nothing to do with me,” Trump told Woodward in their final interview in July. “It’s not my fault. It’s — China let the damn virus out.”
- How Trump fell into the Woodward trap (Politico)
- Should Bob Woodward have reported Trump’s virus revelations sooner? Here’s how he defends his decision. (WaPo, $)
(Socrates Baltagiannis via Getty Images)
- Devastating fires — believed to have been deliberately set — have destroyed Camp Moria on the island of Lesbos, Greece’s largest migrant facility. The overcrowded camp, designed for fewer than 3,000, held some 13,000 people. Those fleeing the burning camp were blocked by police from entering nearby towns, leaving many to sleep in fields.
- Authorities placed the Moria camp under quarantine last week after a Somali migrant tested positive for the COVID-19; there are now 35 confirmed cases linked to the site. Greece’s migration minister said the fires “began with the asylum seekers,” but some migrants said fire had broken out after clashes between migrants and Greek forces at the camp.
- Several blamed “far-right Greeks” for the blaze after the announcement of COVID-19 cases, and took photos of what they said were canisters used to ignite the flames. The Lesbos project coordinator for Doctors Without Borders said it was difficult to determine what had caused the inferno, with several different fires and protests erupting in the camp. “It’s a time bomb that finally exploded,” he said, adding that people had been kept in “inhumane conditions” at the site for years. (BBC)
- Disney’s remake of the popular 1998 animated film, Mulan, is not being given such a warm welcome the second time around. This is a live action version of the story was shot in China’s Xinjiang province where a million minorities, mostly Muslim Uighurs, are being detained, ostensibly for “reeducation.”
- In the film’s final credits, Disney thanks the public security bureau in the city of Turpan and the “publicity department of CPC Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomy Region Committee.” Turpan’s public security bureau runs China’s “re-education” camps, and the “publicity department” Disney names is responsible for producing state propaganda in the region.
- Many are critical of the studio’s decision to film in a place where the government is accused of serious human rights abuses. Mulan was already the target of a boycott called for by fans in some Asian countries after its lead actress, Chinese-born Liu Yifei, made comments supporting Hong Kong’s police for cracking down on pro-democracy protesters. (BBC)
Additional World News
- ‘The Lockdown Killed My Father’: Farmer Suicides Add to India’s Virus Misery (NYT, $)
- ‘Kill All You See’: In a First, Myanmar Soldiers Tell of Rohingya Slaughter (NYT, $)
- U.S. will withdraw thousands of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan (PBS)
- U.S. says blocking visas of some Chinese graduate students and researchers (Reuters). Students or spies? The US government isn’t taking chances.
- Hundreds of Americans Planted ‘Chinese Mystery Seeds’ (Vice)
- Facism falters: The Pandemic Was Supposed to Be Great for Strongmen. What Happened? (NYT, $)
- What Russia Really Has in Mind for Belarus (Foreign Affairs)
- The Land of the Rising Sun? After 2011 Disaster, Fukushima Embraced Solar Power. The Rest Of Japan Has Not (NPR)
- It Will Take More Than a Vaccine to Beat COVID-19 (New Yorker, $)
- America Is Trapped in a Pandemic Spiral (Atlantic, $)
- Coronavirus ‘second wave’ could strike this fall and crest after Election Day (WaPo)
- Boris Johnson pinning hopes on £100bn ‘moonshot’ to avoid second lockdown (Guardian)
Stereotypes Don’t Tell the Poll Story
- Although it defies what is normally stated about certain demographics in America, Pew Research data shows that millions of people don’t align with the party their race, ethnicity, or education would predict. Case in point: more than a third of President Trump’s support in 2016 came from non-Hispanic white Americans with college degrees (26 percent) and Asian, Black, and Hispanic voters (12 percent).
- On the other hand, about a quarter (25 percent) of Hillary Clinton’s supporters were non-Hispanic white Americans without degrees. While polls show white Americans without degrees aren’t as likely to vote for Trump this time, he could still win the Electoral College despite the poor marks given him for his handling of COVID-19 and his job performance overall.
- Why? Because the Black, Hispanic, and college-educated white voters who backed him in 2016 are largely still with him, particularly in key swing states. Despite Trump’s radical departure from previous GOP candidates in terms of personal style, voters haven’t radically changed their voting habits.
- The Americans who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 overwhelmingly backed Trump in 2016 (about 90 percent) and those who backed Trump in 2016 are overwhelmingly behind him in 2020 (about 94 percent). That fact helps explain how Trump won in 2016 and why he might still come back in 2020. (FiveThirtyEight)
- Other data sets paint a less optimist picture for the GOP: Why Demographics May Make Trump’s Reelection Tougher (NPR)
- What Black Lives Matter Has Accomplished (Atlantic, $)
- With new polls showing Florida very tight, a top Democrat explains what’s next (WaPo, $)
DOJ-ing Another Lawsuit
- Attorney General Bill Barr has made yet another unprecedented move to use the Department of Justice as a shield for President Trump, this time intervening in a lawsuit filed against Trump emanating from an alleged assault in the 1990s.
- Writer E. Jean Carroll accused Trump of raping her over twenty years ago. In 2019, Trump publicly denied the incident ever happened, saying he couldn’t have raped Carroll because she “wasn’t my type.” He also denied having ever met Carroll although the two were photographed together at a party in 1987.
- Carroll sued Trump for defamation and last month a state judge issued a ruling that would potentially allow her to depose the president prior to the November election. Carroll’s lawyers also requested that Trump be ordered to provide a DNA sample to determine whether his genetic material is on a dress Carroll said she was wearing at the time.
- On Tuesday, Justice Department lawyers sought to replace Trump’s private attorneys and move the lawsuit from state court to federal court, claiming Trump was acting in his official capacity as president when he denied ever knowing Carroll. Department lawyers cited the Federal Tort Claims Act, which gives federal employees immunity from most defamation suits.
- One of Carroll’s lawyers said that the department’s move to intervene in the case was a “shocking” attempt to bring the resources of the US government to bear on a private legal matter, and “shows even more starkly how far he is willing to go to prevent the truth from coming out.” The lawyer added that Trump had used the tactic several times to delay the defamation case, and for other legal matters. (NYT)
Additional USA News
- There are warning signs that America is in the early stages of insurgency. & Is Trump Planning a Coup d’État? (Slate, The Nation)
- Biden’ Their Time: The Left Secretly Preps for MAGA Violence After Election Day (Daily Beast)
- ICE on Skype: How video chat fuels the American deportation machine (The Verge)
- No, The Government Did Not Break Up A Child Sex Trafficking Ring In Georgia (HuffPost)
- Facebook engineer Ashok Chandwaney quits, slamming Zuckerberg’s stances on hateful and racist speech (WaPo, $).
- El Dorado, thanks to un niño: Gender-Reveal Party Is Blamed in California Wildfire (NYT, $)
- According to one dictionary, the word “algorithm” means “a procedure or set of rules for calculation or problem-solving.” The word dates from the early 19th century, but only more recently has it begun to permeate everyday discourse. Programming is basically a process of creating new algorithms or adapting existing ones. The increasing prevalence of algorithms today simply reflects the ubiquity of computers in our daily lives. As helpful as they are, algorithms can come with serious side effects. What happened in England last month is a good example.
- Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, A-level, and GCSE examinations had to be canceled. Instead of giving students the grades their teachers predicted, the grade standardization algorithm produced in 2020 by Ofqual was used instead. The algorithm — designed to combat grade inflation — downgraded over 35 percent of the results by one grade from what the teacher would have given, leaving lots of kids without the grades they needed to get into the university of their choice.
- To make matters worse, the proportion of private school students receiving A’s was more than twice as high as the proportion of kids receiving A’s in publicly-funded primary and secondary schools. The backlash was so severe the government caved and reversed the results. The algorithm that caused such furor was a classic example of the genre, in that it was deterministic and intelligible: it was designed to do a specific task and the logic it used could be understood and predicted by any competent technical expert.
- Machine-learning (ML) algorithms are radically different from the classical examples, which take some input and some logic specified by the programmer and then process the input to produce the output. ML algorithms don’t depend on rules defined by human programmers. Instead, they process data in raw form — for example text, emails, documents, social media content, images, voice, and video.
- Instead of being programmed to perform a particular task, they are programmed to teach themselves how to better perform a task. More often than not, the task is to make a prediction or to classify something. ML systems can produce outputs that their creators couldn’t have imagined, which means they are “uninterpretable” — their effectiveness is limited by the machines’ current inability to explain their decisions and actions to human users.
- In principle, that should limit their domains of application, but currently it does not. Because of its ability to make predictions based on observations of past behavior, ML technology is already so pervasive that most of us encounter it dozens of times a day without realizing it. ML algorithms learn your preferences and interests; they’re what’s showing you movies you might like on Netflix, things to buy on Amazon, or posts to read on Facebook. (Guardian)
- A Primer on Algorithms and Bias (FS) & A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human? (Guardian)
- Sid Meier: ‘I’m not sure I’d play Civilisation if it was released today’ (Independent)
- Are robots the answer to pandemic loneliness — or a moral trap? (Vox). Should you get Grandpa a bionic buddy?
- Chess (Yes, Chess) Is Now a Streaming Obsession (NYT, $). And it’s a pawnline sensation.
- How Can We Pay for Creativity in the Digital Age? (New Yorker, $)
- How to Escape From a Volcano Eruption (Wired). Hint: get moving.
- Son sells 28 years of birthday whisky to buy first home (BBC)
- Tusk-force: Old Male Elephants: Don’t Count Them Out (NYT $)
- Wild Boars Are Causing Havoc In Germany, But Humans Are Making It Worse (NPR)
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