08.30.21

making sense of covid and the world

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:03 pm by Administrator

ten months ago, back on october 30, 2020, i had this to say about covid and the case reports of reinfection that i was studying:

i believe that the cases of reinfection suggest that viral evolution at key target sites is emerging fast enough that the population’s collective immune response cannot keep up. if you didn’t know already, this is the worst case scenario.

this doesn’t necessarily mean that we will see case fatality rates rise. it is true that some of the reinfections have been symptomatically much worse than the initial infection, raising concerns of a dengue-like “antibody-dependent enhancement”. but the patterns of morbidity across the globe don’t suggest that this phenomenon is widespread. what reinfection could mean though is that the populational prevalence of infection may no longer serve as a surrogate metric of herd immunity.

the implications for society and for the global economy could be significant. while many aspects of the service economy can be sustained to some degree under regulations of social distancing and masking, i believe that ongoing economic recovery actually depends on the ability of previously infected individuals to fully normalize their social interactions; and any inhibition of this will markedly reduce the capacity of key actors to network effectively. reinfection, in other words, puts the lid on any attempt to reopen society. and if reinfection proves to be widespread, a repeat and protracted lock-down won’t simply be a tool to slow the spread of infection; it will become our only realistic bridge to a vaccine.

on top of these anxieties about the implications of reinfection, i’ve recently become more pessimistic about a vaccine. if the virus really is evolving considerably enough to cause reinfection over a matter of weeks or months, then it seems unlikely that this coronavirus has a highly conserved target for vaccine-induced immunity. my prediction is that the initial vaccines under development may prove to be relatively safe but will not demonstrate a high level of efficacy; and what we will face in 2021 is the necessity of ongoing vaccine development, as we attempt to incrementally promote herd immunity through serial vaccines that target a variety of viral proteins across a multitude of circulating strains. that could be a painful process that drags across 24-36 months. and through all that time, human society will continue to evolve in tandem with the virus. we will not return to normalcy, as we understand it now.

we are coming to this realization: that we really do not understand this virus and what it is doing to us. we thought we knew how it would affect us and for how long—but we were wrong

fast forward 10 months, and we are facing a fourth surge of this infection. more than 30% of the infections in my region are in fully vaccinated people. yes, vaccinated individuals appear to be at much lower risk of hospitalization and death; but data suggest that once infected they are no less likely to transmit this virus to others. the vaccine is saving lives, but it is not guaranteeing herd immunity for the population. this is indeed the nightmare scenario; the novel coronavirus is continuing to evolve, and natural selection is promoting more transmissible variants faster than we can isolate and study them. we have no reason to believe that the delta variant is the last major hurdle of this pandemic. in all likelihood, it is just the beginning of a series of attacks and counterattacks we experience as the true magnitude of this war against an unconquerable virus becomes manifest.

perhaps one possible outcome of this is that we begin to face what looks like a year-round mild influenza, for which vaccinations are largely ineffective. in this scenario, host immunity is transient at best, while viral evolution across a large population with ongoing susceptibility remains rapid. covid becomes our “new normal”; it kills few but harasses many, and we learn to live with it, albeit it at a generally lower level of functionality and productivity.

the more ominous outcome might be serial shocks to societies around the world, as random variants demonstrate higher lethality. there’s good reason to believe that selected variants will be deadlier, given that transmissibility often correlates with higher rates of viral replication. if this is the case, then even without mandated lock-downs we will witness episodic and severe slow-downs in our economies and operations, as we experience ongoing and paralyzing workforce shortages related not only to the morbidity of a deadly variant but also to the fear of the disease.

it is depressing to consider that the end of this pandemic may not be within reach, and coming to this realization as a global society is very likely to force upon us a cultural shift as profound as any we have seen in the past century. however one might term it—the “90 percent economy”, the end of things past, the new and not-quite normal—it will force us to settle for less. less freedom. less travel. less certainty. less face-to-face relationship. after emergency relief funds dry up, there will be economic retrenchment. facing higher supply chain costs and declining consumer demand, companies will put less into capex. workers will face a job market with higher wages but also fewer guarantees and more strings attached. currency wars between nations will have higher stakes and dramatic political repercussions. in general, we’ll face a chapter in our lives when it appears that everyone is looking out for themselves. is this the crisis that will precipitate the “fourth turning”, as suggested by neil howe and william strauss? my base case is global stagflation. no one has ever accused me of being an optimist.

in the midst of all the crisis thinking we have recently engaged in as americans—embroiled as we have been in our vicious battles over masks and vaccines, on top of our underlying battles over police brutality, trumpism, immigration, and social justice—this darker and more introspective chapter of our story together is about to force a more probing inquiry into the fundamental issue that we have been trained to ignore, the issue that links all the dots we have failed to connect over these past years—our expanding inequalities in income, health, and wealth. covid, like the police and our wars overseas, has disproportionately killed BIPOC people in the united states, highlighting the fact that our systems, whether or not they reflect anyone’s individual intentions, are designed to persecute poor people of color.

there is a reckoning about this that is coming. it may not be a racial civil war; it may not be a revolt against our government. but i think that it will come in the form of a broken grid: bypasses to our usual forms of taxation, surveillance, and control, which will allow rank and file citizens to transact and create society in defiance of the institutions which preserve the privilege and wealth of our landed aristocracy. and in this context, the country will elect a populist leader who, unlike trump, will take up the cause of the poor and alienated underclass of this nation and attack the interests of those who have oppressed them. i see this in our imminent future. i see wealth taxes, desegregative policies beyond affirmative action, formal reparations, and anti-monopolistic interventions accelerating in the times ahead. it will not be communism—but it will be a true reckoning, as cathartic as it is overdue

08.23.21

afghanistan

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:03 pm by Administrator

i still remember arguing with a guy in my lab back in the winter of 2001 about going to war with afghanistan. he thought we should go to war because the taliban were responsible for state-sponsored terrorism. i pushed back and said that it would be overkill to invade a whole nation on account of a terrorist network that spanned the whole globe. moreover, i remember telling him that russia had already proven that a war against the afghanis was a fundamentally unwinnable war, and that the united states would not be able to successfully build and preserve a new regime in that part of the world. our conversation got heated, and it was one of the few times that i can recall myself actually yelling in anger at someone in public.

that was twenty years ago. i was opposed to the war in afghanistan, and later on i was opposed to our war in iraq, and after that i was opposed to our involvement in the syrian civil war. it’s not that i have been a universal pacificist. it’s just that i have opposed immoral and irrational warfare. for my part, i wanted us to get militarily involved in the mexican drug war as it rapidly escalated after 2007. that was an opportunity at intervention that could have saved tens of thousands of lives, stabilized a neighboring nation, and prevented an escalating refugee crisis that we are still unsuccessfully managing at our borders. instead we got involved in conflicts in asia and the middle east that had no achievable objectives and no chance of success.

seeing the footage coming out of afghanistan nowadays is thoroughly demoralizing and has weighed on my mood, as much as i try to focus on what is within my scope of control. the crisis that is unfolding now and the uncountable loss of life that will ensue over the next years of taliban rule is impossible to comprehend. it is deflating to consider that in twenty years of occupation, the united states succeeded only in identifying and propping up allies who will now be pursued and executed as collaborators. it is the capstone of a foreign policy failure just as profound as the vietnam war. and it is more evidence that the united states continues to operate within a cold war mindset that is already thoroughly defunct.

i absolutely supported president trump’s decision to withdraw from afghanistan, and i support president biden’s commitment to following through with this withdrawal. whether we withdraw tomorrow, next month, or next year, the outcome will be the same: persecution of our friends and allies in the country, as well as admission of our colossal defeat in afghanistan. the ones who truly deserve censure for this failed war are the bush administration, who began this illegal war as well as the debacle in iraq that followed. for all the gaffes and missteps that marked the trump presidency, there is no doubt in my mind that the eight years of george w. bush’s leadership were vastly more destructive to the United States and to the world at large. trump may have been tactless and indiscreet, but george w. bush was a warmonger who unnecessarily sacrificed the lives of american servicemen. i cannot think of any president in american history who more thoroughly discredited the country and harmed the nation

08.20.21

standing for something

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:24 pm by Administrator

we had a good meeting with our consultants today. for an hour, they provided incisive feedback on how we appear to our customers, how well we are equipping our staff, and how we can stand to improve. their recommendations were spot-on.

i began feeling a vague sense of chest pressure and a headache about halfway through the meeting, and by the end i felt some nausea as well. no, i wasn’t having a heart attack. i was just having my usual friday afternoon symptoms of stress and anxiety. here’s the hard fact: the work of continuous improvement is neverending. lean six black belts love that. but i kind of hate it.

here’s the thing i have learned through the years. people can talk the talk about leadership, and they can say that they’re committed to excellence, but unless they are consistently and thoroughly supported in that effort they will not be able to make good on that commitment. the neverending nature of continuous improvement requires deep perspective that is very difficult to maintain on an individual level. a highly effective team develops that perspective, and they allow it to reverberate and resonate. when one member loses the drive or the passion—which is inevitable—other members of the team sustain the journey and reengage that person who’s falling off the wagon. everyone falls off the wagon at some point.

the key to sustaining a path toward true excellence is the perspective on the journey. if all one focuses on is the next opportunity for improvement, there’s certainly opportunity for purposeful enthusiasm but perhaps little room for profound joy. the concept of a journey requires a constant memory of its beginnings, its many meanderings, and its discrete victories and triumphs. it also requires a real and palpable sense of destination. this is what a lot of improvement experts get wrong; they actually believe that the journey to excellence is neverending. improvement may be neverending; but the journey has a real destination. and it is the job of the team and specifically of the leaders on that team to turn what looks like a neverending process into a journey that has a real destination.

i’m burning out right now, and i’ve burned out in the past, and it’s always for the same reason. i lose sight of the journey that i am on. i don’t burn out because i’m working too hard; i’ve been overworked for most of my life, in my opinion. working very hard for an end that is pleasurable and discrete is what i call satisfaction. but doing any work at all in the service of a goal that is ambiguous, unachievable, or unrewarding robs the soul of satisfaction. work is rarely intrinsically pleasurable, unless it is part of a cadence or a rhythm that links to a destination that is unequivocally good. for work to be pleasurable, in other words, there must be a story about the work, and that narrative has to be compelling. when we stop telling the story to one another, and when we stop believing the story, the work that hangs on that story becomes meaningless. all of capitalism, society, and every team and organization at the foundation of society hinges on the telling of a story

08.17.21

gratefulness

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:40 pm by Administrator

i still remember the very first time i ran across m.s. merwin’s poem “just this”. i was a fellow in training at hopkins, and there in the waiting room of the attending’s office was a copy of the new yorker magazine. i leafed through the pages and found the poem, and i read it, and as i read it two, three, four times i fell apart inside. when i was sure that no one was looking, i tore the page out of the magazine and stuffed it in the pocket of my white coat, where i kept it for years. i hadn’t done something like that since my days as a horny teenager, when i tore a cindy crawford advertisement out of a vogue magazine at the public library.

every time i read that poem, it never fails to remind me of the very moment i am living which, in the context of the enormous breadth of this universe and the depth of its intricate history, simply cannot be grasped and therefore defies any real purpose or associated misery.

i remembered the poem this morning after reflecting on a recent conversation i had with old friends, who are suffering from chronic illnesses, severe pain, sleepless nights, and unrelenting deterioration. it was heartbreaking to imagine even for a moment what they have been experiencing, and yet what was even more striking to me was the gratitude that they feel despite these circumstances. they have lived full lives; they will not die young because they are old; they have beautiful children and uncountable happy memories. life has so touched them that they remain in wonder, despite the hardships and the very gruesome hours they must endure.

i have never experienced gratitude like this. the closest i come is when i appreciate the very paradox of my desperate mortal feelings, amidst the timeless and imperturbable patience of the universe that birthed me. when i am close to gratefulness, it is not on account of what i have seen and experienced but rather on account of the unknown and magical thing that lies before me: the moment about to be lived. the difference between the grateful version of me and the person that i am is a matter of belief. it is the very same thing that prevents me from being one who finds himself extraordinarily lucky in life. i am not thankful for the same reason that i do not feel lucky; i have little or no sense of how i ought to be or what i could have been, and thus i cannot look upon my circumstances as anything other than what is.

but there are moments like today when i really do wish i could be grateful. gratefulness can be overwhelming, and when it overwhelms the self it can extinguish pain. i have seen this with my own eyes, and it does seem wonderful

08.11.21

holding the ego when i think about my dad

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:43 pm by Administrator

though we’re solidly in midsummer and nothing has visibly changed in the world around me, i woke up this morning and felt a change in the seasons. i felt the change within me, as a movement from brightness and heat to a place of shadow and coolness. on my way to work this morning, i felt the shift in my outlook. the view of the mountains struck me with wonder. the passage of minutes felt heavier and more somber than usual. i found myself thinking about my dad, whom i have not seen now in more than four and a half years.

what i remembered today in some detail was how much he enjoyed a slice of cake that i brought to him from a restaurant in georgetown. it’s my favorite cake—a white chocolate macadamia nut cake. he found it so thoroughly delightful that he went on-line and ordered a whole bag of macadamia nuts. i know this because when i flew back upon news of his passing, just ten days after he had eaten that cake, i saw the package of nuts in the room by the kitchen. standing there in the house he had left and looking upon those macadamia nuts was a particularly sad moment in my life, an indelible memory upon which so many other memories now hang.

today, the reflection took a new turn. i suddenly imagined that i’d been able to give my father a different kind of life in his last years. instead of living far from him, almost estranged as we were, i had a vision of us together, living in a house on the coast by carmel. i was living an effortless, successful, and happy life, and my father was as well as he could be, waking up to an extraordinary view, doing yoga every day in his dutiful way, taking walks on the beach with his grandchildren. there was a lightness to the world, and i could feel all the trouble and suffering of my father’s life lifting from his body and his mind. my father could sense my happiness, and i could sense his relief.

as i saw these things transpire in a parallel life, i held myself—the ego that was entertaining these visions. i sensed in him something that i’ve never seen before: regret. have i regretted how my father lived his last years, in sickness and solitude? have i felt responsible through all this time for the ways in which our paths diverged, for the openness and optimism and devotion that i failed to have and to share with him? have i regretted that i was not the son i could have been, should have been, through all those years when i struggled through my own deep and unrelenting unhappiness?

i cannot pass judgment on myself, any more than i can judge him, the man who is just an idea to me now. but i’ll admit that the idea of our happiness together is a haunting thing, a hint of deeper sentiments that i have suppressed over time.

today, i think of my father and how much i am like him, and i also think of my son who is so much like me. the regret cannot be avoided really, given who we are

08.04.21

Eagles: Pre-Season Thoughts

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:15 pm by Administrator

i’d like to echo my last thoughts about the 2021 eagles: they’re going to be better than most of us are expecting. i’m going to lean into my 9-8 projection and even speculate that 10-7 and winning the NFC East is not out of the question this year.

i’m going to offer some predictions that support that projection. in no particular order, here goes:

1. this defense is going to be very good: well-coached, disciplined, and tough to score on. the scheme shift will help, but the talent and the coaching are what will make the difference this year. by my estimation, this is the best secondary group we’ve had in more than 10 years (better than the super bowl year), and new additions steven nelson and anthony harris are sure to be very impactful additions. our pass defense, recently an eyesore under jim schwartz’s sieve of a scheme, will no longer be a weekly liability for us. the defensive line looks positively reenergized based on news i’m hearing out of training camp, and i’m counting on josh sweat and derek barnett both stepping up their games big time this year. i’m predicting that jonathan gannon’s unit will not only be the best defensive unit in the NFC East but also in the top 3rd of the league for yards allowed, points scored, and turnovers produced.

2. the offense will take time to gel, but they will produce big plays. with zach ertz very possibly sticking around for this year, the skill position group looks to be very intriguing for this season. true to his word, nick sirianni appears to be tailoring the offense to the strengths of his group, and i think that the camp hype around quez watkins is a direct reflection of that. jalen hurts may never be a highly efficient passer over the middle, but i believe that he’ll make up for it with the long ball (something he was best in the league at over the final four games of the year), with his legs, and with his consistent and unflappable mentality. we’ll have plenty of 3 and outs; we’ll struggle early in the season to balance the pass against the run; and there will surely be some game management issues under this young coaching staff. but this is a team that’s going to put up highlight plays on a frequent basis, behind an offensive line that will be better and deeper than any unit we’ve had since the super bowl season. i’m predicting high variance around relatively average numbers for yardage and scoring, but we’ll win the close games, and that will be the difference for us in the standings. here are jalen hurts’s numbers for the 2021 season: 3300 yards in the air, 650 yards on the ground, 25 passing touchdowns, 17 interceptions, and 8 rushing TDs (33 total TDs).

3. the eagles will make playoffs, and they will win that game in the wild card round. specifically, hurts will be a hero and will put his body on the line to win it for philly. this is what will immediately distinguish hurts from his predecessor and put the wentz era firmly in the rearview.

4. as the result of a season that ends strongly and exceeds expectations, the eagles will choose not to trade for a quarterback or devote high draft capital to the position.

5. the dolphins and colts will both end up being bottom 10 teams in the league this season, affording the eagles a top-10 draft pick from miami and a high 2nd round pick from the colts. with the top-10 pick, the eagles will take edge rusher kingsley enagbare, and with pick 23 (my estimated finish) we’ll take cornerback derion kendrick.

6. jordan mailata is going to dominate the league this season, and rushes outside left tackle are going to be disproportionately effective this season. the eagles are going to extend him, possibly at the expense of retaining dallas goedert (to be discussed in a moment).

7. i actually believe that zach ertz will somewhat outplay dallas goedert this season, mostly due to the fact that goedert will struggle to establish himself as a #1 receiving option on the team. with all the dead money the eagles have put into lane johnson, brandon brooks, and fletcher cox, i’m just not sure we’ll be able to clear the space for either ertz or goedert, leading to the scenario that no one wants but everyone has to consider: moving on from both guys.

8. the 2021 season will firmly shut the door on the 2019 draft class. andre dillard, miles sanders, and jj arcega-whiteside will be surpassed or pipp’d this year. jordan howard, who continues to be my favorite RB in the group, will end the year as our starter.

9. devonta smith = ROY

08.02.21

empire’s ruin, green knight, and the best life

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:59 pm by Administrator

i recently finished brian staveley’s the empire’s ruin and was thoroughly impressed. what struck me most about the book was staveley’s willingness to probe into the nature of trauma. you might not expect this from a fantasy novel, but staveley’s books are both philosophical and psychological, and the empire’s ruin is perhaps even more profound of a reflection on grief, injury, and emptiness, in the buddhist sense of the word. on the surface, it is a story about three parallel lives—those of a disgraced soldier, a displaced monk, and a compulsive killer trying to redeem himself—but it is also a portrayal of three different paths out of despair. it is staveley’s gift to tell this story in a manner that is neither moribund nor excessively introspective; in fact, the book is riveting from start to finish.

lately i’ve found it difficult to read, which is always an alarm bell for me. when i’m in a healthy place, i’m always reading something. before getting into staveley’s latest, i’d had a series of abortive attempts, including ann leckie’s provenance, which i was a hundred pages into before abandoning. perhaps i’m just getting tired.

the green knight was an odd and unfulfilling experience for me, and i really don’t recommend it. my son and i went out to see it recently, and we were really surprised by the movie’s opacity. it’s a slow burn without any dazzle, a movie that seems to quite confidently take you on a long journey that feels like an allegory until it suddenly and very clearly isn’t. i’m sure someone is out there who can explain to me the movie’s underlying and subtle themes: how young men trade a mother’s love for a lover’s devotion, how their pursuit of nobility and purpose is invariably a futile and fatal game. but these conclusions require a level of mental work that the movie itself doesn’t invite or seem to warrant. like i often feel, i know that i could have done this movie better.

while on vacation recently, i realized that my penchant for extremely vigorous exercise is the flip side of my compulsion for hard, unrelenting mental labor. i punish my body so that it will not protest the abuses that i impose upon it over the course of long sedentary sessions of stressful preoccupation. in fact, my body wants to move, and it wants to move constantly. it is so unnatural to be at a desk, staring at computer screens and scrutinizing letters and numbers all day long. it is awful to be transfixed by one zoom meeting after another, fixed in place and wiling away the hours in stiff immobility. but i refuse to listen to my body, though it craves open spaces and free movement. i exercise as hard as i do, enduring pain almost to the point of breaking, so that my body, stunned into submission, will accept the hours of confinement that will ensue.

as i reflected on this, i realized something simple and true. over the course of my life, i have not learned how to be kind to myself, how to give my body what it needs. have any of us? we feed our bodies processed starches, chemicals, and preservatives. we pound down infused and refurbished calories of various kinds and caffeinate or inebriate ourselves to even out the unpleasant consequences of our troublesome digestion. we sit and furrow our brows and obsess deep into the night over any of the millions of disparate factoids and rumors fed to us by the social media machine. and then we take pills and punish our bodies with strenuous workouts to manage the consequences of our overheated and overstressful lives.

the key isn’t to overstretch and then catharse. it’s to find a way to make each moment part of a sustainable rhythm, each moment representing a piece of health, a microcosm of general wellness. the key is to work a little harder at preparing and eating food, to work a little harder at finding opportunities for healthy movement, and to work a lot less hard at structured mental tasks and manufactured physical exercise. i might spend the rest of my life trying to understand this and still not get it right, but what’s the best life if not a pursuit of what is best in all of life’s moments?