• September 24, 2021

Exclusive: Getting down to the nitty gritty

 Exclusive: Getting down to the nitty gritty

Jack Dutton of Newsweek reports that just as COVID-19 cases in Florida are finally decreasing, that there are hundreds of active cases of the COVID-19 “Mu variant” that have been detected.

Florida is getting over its worst wave of the pandemic, where as many as 27,779 new COVID-19 cases were recorded in the Sunshine State in one day. On September 6 it recorded 10,162 new cases. Some 305 of its active cases are the Mu variant, according to data from the Outbreak.info website.

However, the Delta variant remains by far the dominant strain and Mu only accounts for 0.2 percent of the total cases in the U.S.

Dr. Jason Salemi, an epidemiologist with the University of South Florida, told Newsweek: “I am absolutely concerned about Mu. It’s likely now in well over 40 countries, cases of this variants have appeared all over the U.S., and it possesses mutations that suggest it has the potential to effectively combat what our immune systems are throwing at it.”

“If, in fact, the variant is capable of substantially reducing the effectiveness of vaccines in lowering the risk of severe illness…well, it’s one of those situations that we’ve been worried about.”

Megan Ranney of CNN has some bad news and good news about COVID-19 in the United States. Let’s excerpt the good news here.

Now, the good news.

Granted, not enough of us — in or outside the US — are vaccinated. Our younger children still can’t get their shots. But nonetheless, the sheer speed of vaccination — the fact that literally billions of people across the globe have had a first shot — makes this moment decidedly different. And things will continue to get better, as more people across the world have a chance to be immunized.
Another thing that we have going for us is that even in a Delta-dominant world, basic non-pharmaceutical interventions — including masking up, and improving ventilation — reduce transmission and illness. Given this clear science, it is inexcusable that we lack clear recommendations for schools and workplaces, while we know what to do to stop the spread.

I noticed a couple of other items of interesting medical news on the non-COVID front.

Isabella Cueto of STATnews reports that a team of international medical researchers have found that there is little evidence that medical cannabis significantly reduces pain in patients and that more data is needed..

Even as medical marijuana has been legalized in 36 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., health care providers and patients have had little guidance on when it’s appropriate to use, especially for chronic pain. Busse and his team set out to fill that gap, but found a limited pool of studies that met their criteria because of federal restrictions that make it difficult to research medical uses of cannabis.

Because of the limited data, the guidelines do not recommend the medical use of smoked or vaped marijuana. In analyzing the available research, Busse’s team found that only small percentages of participants reported “an important improvement” in chronic pain, physical function, or sleep quality while taking oral or topical cannabis treatments.

“So medical cannabis is not likely to be a panacea. It is not likely to work for the majority of individuals who live with chronic pain. We do have evidence that it does appear to provide important benefits for a minority of individuals,” said Busse, who is also a chiropractic doctor.

The guidelines advise clinicians to cater to the specific needs of their patients, and start with non-inhaled CBD products before adding THC or other mind-altering compounds into the mix. THC is one of the ingredients in cannabis that causes a feeling of being high, but it can also cause dizziness or other side effects that might be deal-breakers for some patients.

Angela Hart of Kaiser Health News reports that a “centerpiece” of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new health care initiatives will be mental health care and other social services targeting California’s homeless population.

Hunter’s long and complex list of ailments, combined with her mistrust of the health care system, make her an incredibly difficult and expensive patient to treat. But she is exactly the kind of person California intends to prioritize under an ambitious experiment to move Medi-Cal beyond traditional doctor visits and hospital stays into the realm of social services. Under the program, vulnerable patients like Hunter will be assigned a personal care manager to coordinate their health care treatments and daily needs like paying bills and buying groceries. And they will receive services that aren’t typically covered by health insurance plans, such as getting security deposits paid, receiving deliveries of fruits and vegetables, and having toxic mold removed from homes to reduce asthma flare-ups.

Over the next five years, California is plowing nearly $6 billion in state and federal money into the plan, which will target just a sliver of the 14 million low-income Californians enrolled in Medi-Cal: homeless people or those at risk of losing their homes; heavy users of hospital emergency rooms; children and seniors with complicated physical and mental health conditions; and people in — or at risk of landing in — expensive institutions like jails, nursing homes or mental health crisis centers.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is trumpeting the first-in-the-nation initiative as the centerpiece of his ambitious health care agenda — and vows it will help fix the mental health and addiction crisis on the streets and get people into housing, all while saving taxpayer money. His top health care advisers have even cast it as an antidote to California’s worsening homelessness crisis.

LZ Granderson of The Los Angeles Times writes about the groundbreaking achievement of Michael Williams’ “Omar” character on the HBO series “The Wire.”

But for people to accept the premise that the most feared man in one of Baltimore’s most dangerous neighborhoods was openly gay, the actor portraying him had to first breathe life into an asphyxiated version of Black masculinity. A version being snuffed out in most retellings of Prohibition America and the Harlem Renaissance, which scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. said was “as gay as it was Black, not that it was exclusively either.”

From Gladys Bentley and Ethel Waters to James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, the contributions of open Black LGBTQ people are present to this day, even though their sexual orientation and gender identities were shoved in the closet decades ago.

Over time, this whittling away of queer visibility filtered the work of Black LGBTQ artists solely through a heterosexual lens. It took something like Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son” and assumed the line “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” was solely about the impact of racism and not homophobia or a combination of the two.

That’s what made Williams’ work on the show as transformative as it was urgent.

Peniel E. Joseph writes for CNN on the same subject and that, too, is worth a read.

Philip Bump of The Washington Post digs into the data on that Wall Street Journal report on the trend of young men abandoning college educations.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that men have been “abandoning higher education in such numbers that they now trail female college students by record levels.” Data the newspaper obtained from the National Student Clearinghouse indicates that nearly 60 percent of those currently enrolled in college are women, compared with men at about 40 percent. This is not new to the pandemic specifically, but the coronavirus’s disruption of the economy and educational systems probably accelerated the trend, particularly in two-year schools.

The report spurred a flurry of commentary and examinations of patterns of enrollment. What was often missing, though, was full historical context. As it turns out, this is a fairly subtle change compared with how college attendance evolved over the past century. Or even over the past 50 years.

Consider the evolution of educational attainment since the mid-1970s, as reflected in the (now biennial) General Social Survey (GSS). The graph below (modeled heavily on a longer-term one from data visualization expert Gregg Liddick) shows the decreasing density in the population of those without any college education over the past five decades. (The graph shows three-year averages.) Now, most Americans, men and women, have at least some college experience. Then, only about a quarter did.

Ngo Minh Tric writes for The Diplomat that for countries like Vietnam, the idea of “choosing” whether to “ally” with China or the United States probably represents a false choice.

Last month, while U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris was visiting Vietnam, China announced the suspension of trade through the Lung Vai border gate in northern Vietnam, stranding hundreds of trucks which were bringing Vietnamese agricultural produce to China for several days. Vietnam’s agricultural industry suffered as a result. Over the years, Vietnamese goods destined for Chinese markets have repeatedly experienced such treatment. For example, in July and August, China also imposed import bans on Vietnamese fruit and agricultural produce, while it was still allowing agricultural produce to be transported from Yunnan into northern Vietnam.

The two incidents may not be directly related, but the image of the trucks backed up at the Chinese border reflects the fact that Hanoi faces many risks in confronting Beijing directly. In recent years, like many countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Vietnam has also become economically intertwined with China.

At the same time, China’s rise is causing many concerns to the ASEAN region and the wider international community, leading to an intensification of U.S.-China competition. The timed withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan frees up more resources with which the U.S. can compete with China. Washington is also seeking to deepen its cooperation with other partners in the Indo-Pacific, including ASEAN members, as part of that competition.

Southeast Asia nations are increasingly being placed in situations where they are forced to choose between the U.S. and China. This is alarming for these nations’ governments, given their dual dependence on the U.S. for security and China for trade and investment.

Zack Beauchamp of Vox reports on the rise and fall of the foreign policy doctrine of “liberal interventionism.”

Since the 1990s, a dominant military paradigm on the center left has been liberal interventionism: the notion that the United States has the right, even the obligation, to intervene in far-off countries to protect human life and freedom. Liberal interventionism emerged out of a specific constellation of events: the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of the US as the world’s lone superpower, and the genocides in Rwanda and the Balkans. It paired a morally righteous critique of US foreign policy with post-Cold War optimism about America’s ability to improve the world.

But in subsequent decades, the intellectual scaffolding propping up liberal interventionism took hit after hit.

9/11 was a key inflection point. The attack prompted leading liberal interventionists to marry their doctrines to the Bush administration’s war on terror, becoming some of the most prominent boosters for a disastrous war in Iraq waged by a Republican president. Later, the Obama administration’s experiences in Afghanistan and Libya reinforced lessons about the dangers of intervention.

More recently, an expansionist Russia and rising China raised questions about America’s capability to intervene in countries with competing influences. Donald Trump’s 2016 victory and subsequent attempts to overturn the 2020 election revealed urgent threats to liberal democracy — not abroad, but here at home.

As a result, the center of intellectual gravity among liberals has shifted.

With the approaching 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, I have been noting and reading some great commentary here at Daily Kos about that other Sept. 11 “attack.”

I found this memorable…and quite timely (even now)  and very long piece written by Seymour Hersh for The Atlantic in 1982 called “The Price of Power.”

By the mid-1960s, Chile had become widely known inside the American intelligence community as one of the CIA’s outstanding success stories. The Agency had managed to penetrate all elements of Chilean government, politics, and society, and took credit for ensuring that Chile remained a progressive democratic nation that—not so incidentally—encouraged American multinational corporations to do business within its borders. The extent of American corporate involvement was a source of constant debate in Chile, however, and emerged by the end of the decade as a critical political issue, pitting the Chilean right, with its support for continued American profit-taking, against the left, which organized increasingly fractious labor strikes and public demonstrations against the American firms. Chile was a world leader in the mining of copper, but 80 percent of its production—60 percent of all exports from Chile—was in the hands of large corporations mostly controlled by U.S. firms, most prominently Anaconda and Kennecott Copper. Profits for the American firms were enormous: during the 1960s, for example, Anaconda earned $500 million on its investments—generously estimated by the company at $300 million—inside Chile, where it operated the largest open-pit copper mine in the world. The most significant political threat to Chilean democracy, in the view of American policy-makers, was Allende, a member of the Socialist Party, who had unsuccessfully run for president in 1958 and 1964 on a platform that advocated land reform, nationalization of major industries (especially copper), closer relations with socialist and communist countries, and redistribution of income. National concern over the disparity of income was especially critical to Allende’s campaigns: by 1968, studies showed that the 28.3 percent of the Chilean people at the bottom of the economic scale took in 4.8 percent of the national income, while the 2 percent of the population at the top received 45.9 percent of the income.

In 1958, Allende had lost the presidential election by less than 3 percent to Jorge Alessandri Rodriguez, an arch-conservative who was strongly pro-business and was heavily backed by American corporations. Neither Allende nor Alessandri received a majority vote, and under the Chilean constitution the election was resolved in a run-off election by the Chilean Congress, which voted Alessandri into office. Despite CIA aid, Alessandri and his National Party steadily lost popularity over the next six years, and the presidential elections of 1964 came down to a battle between Allende and his radical forces and Eduardo Frei Montalva, a liberal representing the Christian Democratic Party, which was pro-American and far more favorable to business than Allende’s coalition.

Finally today: My therapist and I have been having a bit of fun at my mention that I wanted to get down to the “nitty gritty” on some personal subjects. I decided to investigate the term and, for example, discovered that there is some controversy about the origins of the word.

Reading further, I found that etymologists are not convinced about the slave-trade origins of the word ”nitty gritty.”

I also found this delightful video of Shirley Ellis’ 1963 hit “Nitty Gritty” featuring Bobby Banas gettin’ down (Is he “poppin’ and lockin’ decades before that became a thing?).

Everyone have a great day!

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