An open letter to be signed by cisgender women

A group of cisgender women who are trans allies have written an open letter, and are calling on cisgender women to sign it.

We are a group of cisgender women who come from all walks of life and want to make the message as clear as possible: trans people are of no threat to us.

Explanation of what the letter is for

You can read the letter itself, and sign if you want, at this link.

Posted in Transsexual and Transgender related issues | Leave a comment  

Cartoon: Do We Blame the Chinese or the Jews?


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I wish I could say that I’m making up these conspiracy theories, I really do. But I’m not. I’m really not. The “secret Chinese weapons program” myth was even spread by Senator Tom Cotton.

This cartoon doesn’t have suggest any deep underlying analysis; I was just reading an article about the “Jews invented COVID 19” conspiracies and thought about proponents of competing racist conspiracy theories fighting it out, and the cartoon, as they say, wrote itself. The last line actually made me snort aloud when I thought of it.

The cartooning challenge here was making a conversation taking place entirely through Zoom work. I could have just used the panel 1 layout for all three panels – a monitor with three equal-sized subwindows, and three tiny heads in each panel – but I was worried that wouldn’t be interesting visually, and would give no way to focus on specific characters. So I decided on a shot of the monitor to set the scene, and then flipping to different characters’ homes for a couple of panels, to bring in more visual variety.

(My friend and frequent collaborator Becky Hawkins has been playing with the same thing in some of her theater cartoons, although she’s taken a different approach – and I might swipe her approach for a future cartoon).

In my first sketch, all three characters were drawn from straight on. Then I realized that it would be incredibly unrealistic to have a Zoom meeting without us looking up at at least one person’s nostrils. :-)

I had a lot of fun drawing the characters and I think the drawings came out well. There are little bits here and there – like the thick and thin of the line of the cheek of the guy wearing glasses  – that I’m really pleased with. (I spend so much more time thinking about thick and thin lines than anyone really should.)

But what really makes the cartoon work, visually, is the colors. When I gave this to Frank Young to color, I told him I’d like each of the three environments to have their own color palette, while sticking to the sort of desaturated colors I usually prefer in my cartoons. But that’s all I told him; the specific colors used, and the modeling and the shadows on the walls, were all Frank’s contribution, and I’m so happy with how they look. My favorite thing about working with collaborators is not knowing exactly what they’ll do, and so getting to be surprised.

Seeing it in color made me notice that the big wall behind the character in panel three was too sparse, so I drew  one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite comic strips. I drew Lucy freehand, rather than tracing. Drawing Schulz’s characters is actually a bit tricky – they’re deceptively simple, but just one line out of place and it’ll look “wrong.”


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has four panels.

PANEL 1

A shot of a computer monitor on a desk or table of some sort. (I just noticed that I forgot to draw any cables or anything coming from the monitor. Oops!) There’s a coffee mug, with a spoon in it and a smiley face on it, on the table in front of the monitor.

The screen is divided into three windows, each of which shows a different person; in other words, this is a Zoom conversation. The upper left window shows a guy wearing a black tee shirt under an open plaid shirt. The upper right window shows an extreme closeup of a man’s face, shot from below; he’s wearing rectangular glasses. And the bottom window shows a fat man with nice-looking fluffy hair, who is wearing a button-up collared shirt with a necktie.

PLAID is waving his arms with a distressed expression; GLASSES is sneering; and FLUFFY is smiling silently.

PLAID: Coronavirus was caused by Jews! God’s punishing them for rejecting Christ, and it’s spread to the rest of us!

GLASSES: Ridiculous! Everyone knows the virus was created in a secret Chinese weapons lab!

PANEL 2

We’re now looking at Plaid in profile, as he leans forward a bit to yell angrily at his monitor, shaking a forefinger at the monitor. On his monitor, distorted because it’s in perspective, we can barely see Glasses angrily yelling back, and Fluffy smiling as he talks.

PLAID: A secret Chinese weapons lab controlled by Jews!

GLASSES: Chinese!

FLUFFY: Hey, fellas, come on!

PANEL 3

A shot of Fluffy, in an upper-middle-class-looking living room; there’s an armchair, a window with curtains and a potted plant on the windowsill; a coffee mug on a table with an open book beside it. Fluffy is standing and speaking at a tablet in his left hand, still smiling pleasantly. We can now see that he’s not wearing pants, and his boxer shorts have a little hearts pattern.

FLUFFY: A pandemic is no time to be divisive. More than ever, we need to compromise and get along. What do you say, Bob?

PANEL 4

Almost the same shot as panel one, showing the monitor with three windows on it. PLAID has picked up the smiley face coffee mug and is looking more sedate as he talks. Fluffy and Glasses are both agreeing cheerfully.

PLAID: All right… But can the next pandemic be about Jews?

FLUFFY: Absolutely!

GLASSES: I’ll be there with swastikas on!

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Race, racism and related issues | 11 Comments  

Comic: Private Equity Vampire


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“I’m forcing you to innovate and learn to do more with less blood!” is definitely my favorite line in this strip.


This cartoon was drawn for Dollars and Sense Magazine back in April. I put off posting it because it’s been hard to concentrate on anything but viruses and six feet of social distancing and hospitals and ventilators and flattening curves lately. I’m sure it’s been similar for you.

But life must go on – even if it’s going on almost entirely in the confines of my own house. I’m very lucky, both in that I like my house, but also in that it’s a large house with nine housemates (including myself but excluding the cats). I definitely think the crisis is harder on people who live alone. (Of course, the downside is that I have a slightly higher chance of catching coronovirus compared to if I lived alone).

Anyway, I hope you’re well. I hope you’re healthy, and able to stay that way. And I hope you’re as comfortable as you can be while we move through this crisis.


“Private equity typically refers to investment funds, generally organized as limited partnerships, that buy and restructure companies that are not publicly traded.” But in practice, this means that businesses like Toys R Us can wind up being owned and controlled by people who don’t know anything about the business and aren’t on the hook if the company goes down the toilet.

Markets don’t function if the owners of corporations make a big profit no matter what happens. But as this Vox story notes, private equity means that the new owners make a killing even if they destroy their newly acquired company.

The controversy surrounding private equity is that whatever happens to the company acquired, private equity makes money anyway. Firms generally have a 2-20 fee structure, which means they get a 2 percent management fee from their investors and then a 20 percent performance fee on the money they make from their deals. Basically, if an investment goes well, they get 20 percent of that. But regardless of what happens, they get 2 percent of the money they’re managing altogether, which is a lot. According to data from consultancy firm McKinsey, the global private equity industry’s asset value has grown to nearly $6 trillion.

Moreover, private equity firms can take out additional loans through their leveraged companies to pay dividends to themselves and their investors, and the companies are on the hook for those loans too.

Often, the easiest and most direct route to short-term profit is to load an acquired company with debt. Sure, too much debt can kill a company, but the investors get rich(er).

This is a problem that Congress could certainly address. Again from Vox:

In July, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) rolled out a plan and accompanying legislation — the Stop Wall Street Looting Act of 2019 — taking direct aim at the sector. Her proposal would overhaul how private equity collects fees, who’s responsible for an acquired company’s debt, and how stakeholders are paid in the event a company does go bankrupt. It would also close the carried interest loophole that keeps private equity’s taxes so low. While Warren’s bill wouldn’t end private equity, it would change incentives and force firms to have more skin in the game.

Whether or not Congress will actually pass such a law, I don’t know.


My first layout of this cartoon was four panels of middle-ground figures, all drawn the same size, on a generic city sidewalk. Then I realized that this cartoon gave me an excuse to draw a graveyard, and that was a lot more interesting to me. Panel 2, especially, was a chance to draw a panel that’s pretty different from my typical images.

I don’t know if this is the first time I’ve made the white, middle-aged, businessman-looking character the sympathetic character in my cartoon. But it would’t surprise me at all if it were.

 


TRANSCRIPT OF COMIC:

This comic strip has four panels. All four panels show the same two characters. The first is a balding businessman-looking type, middle-aged, wearing a collared shirt and necktie, and wearing glasses. The second character is a stereotypical male vampire, with pointy ears, pale skin, fangs, and a big black cloak.

All four panels take place at night, in a hilly graveyard.

PANEL 1

This panel shows the businessman jumping back in fear as the vampire leans towards him, leering.

BUSINESSMAN: Gasp! A vampire!

VAMPIRE: I’m not a vampire. I’m a private equity firm! I’m here to help you because you’re fragile and weak!

PANEL 2

A shot shows weeds and a bare tree and some graves, mostly in silhouette, in the foreground. Far in the background, we can see the businessman being chased by the vampire. There’s a full moon in the sky.

BUSINESSMAN: But I’m actually very healthy!

VAMPIRE: You look healthy. But you need to be owned and monitored by someone who knows literally nothing about your business.

PANEL 3

In front of a stone wall with a rickety iron-bar fence, the vampire has caught the businessman, and is leaning the businessman backward while he bends forwards and sucks the blood out of the businessman’s neck. The businessman looks very distressed, understandably; the vampire looks like he’s concentrating on his meal.

BUSINESSMAN: Now you’re just sucking away all my blood for yourself.

VAMPIRE: I’m forcing you to innovate and learn to do more with less blood!

PANEL 4

The businessman lies dead on the ground, his glasses having fallen off his face, eyes in the little cartoon “x”s of death. Standing above him, the vampire cheerfully speaks, holding out a hand in an “explaining” gesture.

VAMPIRE: So it seems that without blood, you weren’t nimble enough to adapt to a changing market. I’m sure you would have died sooner if I hadn’t stepped in!

Posted in Cartooning & comics | 37 Comments  

Cartoon: Which Kids Matter


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I wish the argument made by the second speaker in panel one was an argument I just made up for this cartoon. But it’s an argument I’ve seen, multiple times – the fear not merely that a young person will be mistaken about their gender, but that fanatical parents and profit-seeking doctors are forcing sex change upon unwilling kids.

Eight states have proposed laws banning puberty blockers from being prescribed to trans minors. Not asking for extra barriers or cautions, such as stricter regulations, or a mandatory second and third opinion (although those things would be bad enough): An absolute ban. Because conservative legislators know better than a ten year old’s parents or doctors, apparently.

Some of those bills are even more extreme:

Kentucky’s bill… would allow either parent to override consent for transition care, a right which the state cannot overrule; it would require all government agents to disclose to parents whether a child expresses gender dysphoria or gender-variant behavior; and it would protect the right of any government employee, including teachers, to express their views on gender identity, including misgendering or harassing transgender students. Additionally, any adult (or minor with parent or guardian permission) who had previously been given transition care would be allowed to sue doctors for damages for the next 20 years.

Because the bills don’t stop at banning puberty blockers, a second South Dakota bill introduced Tuesday would require any teacher, school psychologist, or social worker to out any students they suspect may be suffering from gender dysphoria to the student’s parents.

That’s quoting an article by Katelyn Burns. It’s not short, but if you’ve got a little time, it’s an excellent summary of the issue.

Of course, not 100% of trans kids will want puberty blockers. Like any large population, trans kids have a wide variety of needs. But for many, access to puberty blockers is not a trivial issue.

Transgender youth have a much greater risk of suicide, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, if they have access to a puberty blocker, their chances of suicide and mental health problems in the immediate term and down the road decline significantly, a new study finds.

I’ve had arguments with folks who think access to puberty blockers should be more strictly limited, or just eliminated, for trans youth, and I come away every time amazed at their callousness about what happens to trans kids.


Another “two people arguing as they walk through a park” cartoon. I hope you don’t get tired of seeing these, because I do them a lot! It’s so much more fun to draw than cartoons where the characters are sitting in a cafe; they move, the backgrounds change, I can put the characters on different horizontal levels. (Notice how in panel 1, the hill putting the second character on a lower level gives me extra space for all the dialog she has in that panel?)

I tried to draw the characters talking while staying at least six feet apart. Strictly speaking, they should also have been wearing masks, but would be so hard for me to draw expressions without mouths! Let’s face it, huge mouths are kind of my “thing.” But drawing them six feet apart is my way of acknowledging that even when I do cartoons that aren’t about coronavirus, these still aren’t ordinary times.


I hope you’re all healthy and staying safe. Or if you can’t stay safe – if you’re an essential worker – then I hope you’re staying as safe as you can, and… Thank you.

And thanks to every one of you who supports my patreon. I thank you. My cat thanks you. (Patreon supporters saw this cartoon a couple of weeks ago.)


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has four panels. Each panel shows the same thing: Two women walking through a hilly park as they argue. The two are staying at least six feet apart from each other as they talk.

The woman in front is wearing a jacket with rolled-up sleeves, black tights with holes in them, and a striped shirt. She has a pink streak in her black hair. The woman behind is wearing a skirt with a pattern of exclamation marks, a white collared shirt, and has wavy hair falling to a little below shoulder level. She’s wearing glasses.

PANEL 1

PINK is talking calmly while, behind her, GLASSES waves her arms and talks in an argumentative fashion.

PINK: So when an eleven year old trans kid is prescribed puberty delaying drugs, that could spare them decades of suffering!

GLASSES: But what if a boy likes dolls, so his parents decide he’s a girl and force him to change sex? That’s why we must outlaw puberty delaying drugs!

PANEL 2

Pink isn’t yelling but she’s speaking passionately, waving her hands as she talks. Behind her, Glasses has her hands in her pockets and is listening without much expression.

PINK: I’ve never seen a real case like that. That would be awful. But if a case like that happened, it’d be one in a million. On the other hand, there are definitely trans kids who need this treatment.

PANEL 3

Pink turns back a bit to talk directly at Glasses as she asks Glasses a question. Glasses, hands still in pocket, replies calmly.

PINK: So how many trans kids would you sacrifice to prevent one hypothetical non-trans kid being forced into delayed puberty?

GLASSES: All of them.

PANEL 4

Pink has now turned all the way around, looking a bit horrified, and holding her palms up in a “let me just explain this” gesture. Glasses has stopped walking, has folded her arms, and has raised her voice, with an angry expression.

PINK: I don’t think you understand – we could be talking about a hundred thousand-

GLASSES: I said all of them!

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Transsexual and Transgender related issues | 13 Comments  

Come say hi to me on Alas, a Discord

Hi, folks!

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been posting even less than usual to “Alas” lately. Somehow I haven’t felt like blogging since the current strangeness began. (And really, I was hardly blogging before that.)

I’m going to continue posting cartoons and the occasional link farm here, and of course the other bloggers can post here as well, if they want.

But for people who want to keep in touch with me – and with whatever other “Alas” folks show up – I’ve started a new Discord. Click here to join it, if you’d like. (You’ll need to install Discord, if you haven’t already).

Discord is new to me, but I’ve found it’s really good for creating a low-key group text that people (if they want to) can just check in with every now and then (hourly, daily, weekly, whatever), rather than an overwhelming infinite scroll like Twitter or FaceBook.

Anyway, if you’re interested, come check it out. I’d really like to hear from the various “Alas” folk.

Posted in About the Bloggers | Leave a comment  

Cartoon: Which Economic System Prevents Pandemics?


There’s two similar but distinct arguments I’ve heard on the left. One I agree with; the other inspired this cartoon.

There’s the correct and true argument that universal health care – in single payer or some other form – could have left us far better placed to deal with a pandemic.1 In a pandemic, anyone’s health can matter to everyone’s health. Right now, for many of us, the incentive when we get sick is to ignore it and hope it goes away, because medical care is too expensive for anything but an emergency.

Plus, not everyone has a job that allows them to take unlimited sick time (or sick time at all). Not everyone feels they can afford to stay home.

Add to that all the comorbidities that interact with pandemics. COVID19 is deadly enough by itself, but it’s even deadlier for people with untreated breathing issues, or untreated diabetes, etc etc etc. Any condition that has already weakened our immune systems or lungs increased the odds of COVID19 fatality.

In these ways, the US’s terrible health care system has made us much more vulnerable to a pandemic like this one.

But then there’s the argument that a good enough socialized health system would prevent pandemics like this. That the reason the U.S. has been hit by coronavirus is that we don’t have single payer. Single payer would be great. But it can’t and wouldn’t make us immune to a disease like this.


So I’ve now done two coronavirus-themed cartoons in a row – and there’s a third in progress. And maybe more after that. What became of my policy of concentrating on cartoons that will remain relevant for years to come?

I just couldn’t not address coronavirus. I had a cartoon already sketched and in progress before coronavirus took over all our lives – it’s another “two people arguing as they walk through a bucolic park” cartoon. And it just seemed so irrelevant to life now – and maybe a little bit mocking of our lives now – that I couldn’t draw it.

I’m sure I’ll get back to that cartoon and others like it. But for now, I think I need cartoons that acknowledge the biggest change in all our lives right now.


Welcome to my friend and now collaborator Frank Young, who colored this cartoon. There’s no way I could do justice to Frank’s resume – cartoonist, novelist, former editor of the Comics Journal, author of many nonfiction books about classic comics, and curator of many fine collections of classic comics.

The first time Frank colored this cartoon, he colored it like a regular cartoon – you know, with actual colors and stuff. I had to ask him to try again, this time using the sort of very limited palettes I usually prefer. I’m very happy with how the finished cartoon came out.

This cartoon I did something I almost never do – I copied the same coronavirus drawing from panel to panel, rather than drawing it new in each panel. Usually I don’t like the effect; it seems so unnatural for characters to be absolutely shock-still from panel to panel. Even someone sitting still makes some small movements. But in this case, I thought having the coronavirus character not move at all added a bit to the creepiness.


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has four panels, plus a small “kicker” panel below the bottom of the strip.

Each of the panels shows the same scene; two humans, and an anthropomorphized coronavirus (with a perfectly round head and little things sticking out of the head in every direction). Other than that, the corona virus has an ordinary human body.

The two humans are a woman with shoulder-length hair, wearing a turtleneck and a skirt with a floral pattern; and a woman with glasses, black bobbed hair (like Lucy from Peanuts), and a sleeveless dress over a striped short-sleeved shirt.

They’re sitting around a little round table with two cups of coffee on it. The two women are arguing. The coronavirus is just looking ahead blankly, not seeming to pay attention to what the women are saying.

PANEL 1

GLASSES: It’s not a coincidence that cornonavirus began in a communist country. An unfettered free market wouldn’t have-

TURTLENECK: That’s crap!

PANEL 2

TURTLENECK: Single payer could have prevented this!

GLASSES: Socialized medicine didn’t save Italy, Spain and Germany!

PANEL 3

The same scene. The two women are leaning into their argument, their noses almost touching. The coronavirus, still without much expression, lifts a forefinger and speaks.

TURTLENECK: Just like capitalism didn’t-

GLASSES: How can you ignore-

CORONAVIRUS: Can I say something?

PANEL 4

Silent panel.

The chair coronavirus was sitting in is empty, and coronavirus is not in this panel.

The two women slump against the table and chairs, dead. (They have little “X”s for eyes, cartoon symbols for being dead.) An overturned coffee mug on the table is spilling over the side of the table.

SMALL KICKER PANEL UNDER THE BOTTOM OF THE STRIP

Two middle-aged men talk; one of them is Barry, the cartoonist. The first man looks inquisitive; Barry responds cheerfully.

MAN: So you’re saying both sides are equally bad?

BARRY: The phrase “fuck no” is woefully inadequate.


  1. I would say it’s necessary but not sufficient. []
Posted in Cartooning & comics | 30 Comments  

Cartoon: Sometimes It Feels Like Coronavirus Has Always Been With Us


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I left the house this morning to put something in the mail. (Don’t worry, I didn’t touch the mailbox; I took a paper towel with me so I could use that to open the mailbox and then throw it away).

I honestly don’t know what was in the envelope; I made it my project this morning to clear the pile of mail off my desk, and I found a sealed envelope, ready to mail. It was a postage paid envelope from a company I do business with, so presumably it’s a form they wanted me to fill out. And I have no memory of the form, or filling it out, whatsoever.

I could have opened the envelope to see what it was, but then I’d just have find a new envelope and what about postage and it just seemed like too much work, so I decided to trust me from three months ago and mail it.

My point is, this walk to the mailbox is the first time I’ve been further than my own yard in over a week. It feels so odd to be so housebound. And that’s a feeling, I’m sure, that lots of you reading this can now relate to. I actually can’t even say anymore when I started staying in the house. I mean, I know as a matter of logic around when I must have began, but I don’t remember it.

So thinking about this feeling, led to this cartoon. I hope you like it!

* * *

The art for this was fun to draw (and it felt good to be able to successfully concentrate on drawing a cartoon!). I think that Mrs. Macbeth in panel 2 came out especially well. .

My friend Frank Young writes a blog about the works of the cartoonist John Stanley, who is most famous for his Little Lulu comics from the 40s through the 60s. I was reading this blog post, collecting some of Stanley’s dialogless cartoons, and I was struck by how much I liked the very simple colors Stanley used for some cartoons. I didn’t directly steal those colors, but they definitely inspired the color choices in this cartoon.


Stay well and stay safe, folks! I hope everyone is getting through this all right. See you next cartoon.


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has four panels, each showing a different scene.

PANEL 1

Most of this panel is taken up by very large, rough lettering, the title of the cartoon. “SOMETIMES IT FEELS LIKE CORONAVIRUS HAS ALWAYS BEEN WITH US.”

In the bottom of the comic, a woman is leaning on her elbows, looking wistfully out an upper floor window of a house.

WOMAN (thought): I can’t remember the last time I put on pants.

PANEL 2

In the foreground, a woman in a Shakespearean-style gown is frantically washing her hands and yelling. Behind her, a man peeks through a doorway, holding up a forefinger in a “making a point” gesture and speaking very cheerfully. They are Lady Macbeth and Macbeth.

LADY MACBETH: OUT, DAMNED SPOT! OUT I SAY!

MACBETH: Remember to do that for at least twenty seconds, hon!

PANEL 3

The panel shows several people hanging on crosses in Rome sometime in the first century. In the foreground, a well-off looking Roman man, dressed in robes, is giving an order to a Roman soldier, who is wearing a helmet and carrying a large wooden mallet. In the background, one of the people hanging on a cross speaks cheerfully towards the two in the foreground.

ROMAN DUDE: Make sure the crosses are six feet apart.

MAN ON CROSS: Thank you for caring!

PANEL 4

Inside a cave, a cartoon caveman, wearing a shirt-thing made out of some animal with a spotted pattern on its fur, and carrying a big rough club, is speaking to a laptop computer which is open on top of a boulder. On the laptop’s screen, we can see another caveman. The first caveman, slapping a hand to his forehead, has a distressed expression.

CAVEMAN: I haven’t left my cave in weeks!

CAVEMEN ON LAPTOP: Me either!

Posted in Cartooning & comics | 22 Comments  

Happy Stephen Sondheim’s 90th Birthday Everybody!!

Some of my favorite Sondheims – so much NOT a complete list – divided by category.

Heartbreak songs.

  • Losing My Mind. “Losing My Mind” bored me a bit the first time I heard “Follies.” Over the years its grown and grown on me, and now I have no idea what I was thinking back then.
  • Not A Day Goes By
  • Send In The Clowns. “Send In The Clowns” has been covered by of vocalists with magnificent, huge voices (most famously Barbra Streisand). But it was written for a less-than-magnificent voice, and somehow it works best that way.

Incredibly eloquent songs, usually with a strong side of resentment, where the vocalist starts out being calm and above it all but is all but screaming by the end.

  • Could I Leave You?
  • Ladies Who Lunch
  • Franklin Shepard, Inc. Although arguably Franklin Shepard Inc belongs on the list of heartbreak songs.
  • I’m Still Here. “Then you career from career to career.” Elaine Stritch, long past the point where she was vocally able to perform “I’m Still Here,” did a cover of it that’s actually pretty awesome.
  • Sunday In The Park With George. Actually, although that link is to the beginning of the song “Sunday In The Park With George,” the video contains the entire musical “Sunday In The Park With George,” with the original cast. Very well worth watching. (Star Trek fans, watch for Brent Spiner).

Epic songs for multiple characters that are almost miniplays themselves.

  • Someone In A Tree. Ya gotta love a song about epistemology! (“Korra” and “Airbender” fans, the narrator here voiced Uncle Iroh.)
  • Please Hello To quote Mark Horowitz’s article about this song:

    Among its attributes: it’s a musicalized scene; it’s a history lesson; it’s funny; it’s theatrical – with six primary participants, each with distinct characters and agendas; it shows off Sondheim’s unequaled facility at rhyme and lyric wit; and, for a composer who has been accused of being unmelodic, the number conservatively includes 10 primary melodic ideas (including verses and choruses), each of which is tuneful and contagious. And at one point, six of the themes are sung simultaneously.

  • Putting It Together. I suspect that this is one of Sondheim’s most autobiographical songs.
  • A Weekend In The Country. The line “such elegant writing / So chic you hardly can read it!” cracks me up.
  • Opening Doors. The original 1981 cast performs it, in a film so blurry that it’s hard to make out anyone’s face at all (but it’s still interesting to see the staging). A couple minutes into the song a young Jason Alexander appears. And here’s the same cast performing the song, 21 years later.
  • Waiting For The Girls Upstairs
  • Now/Soon/Later
  • Your Fault/Last Midnight
    “You’re so nice. You’re not good, you’re not bad, you’re just nice.”
  • How I Saved Roosevelt
  • Quintet. This video, by the way, is from my high school’s startlingly good production of “West Side Story” (but long after I graduated).
  • Addison’s Trip

I Can Neither Fit This Into A Category Nor Leave It Off The List

Posted in Music | 3 Comments  

Open Post and Link Farm, Hopscotching Alone Edition

Honestly, I should have posted this ages ago – much of this now seems out of date. But on the other hand, maybe a mostly coronavirus-free list of stuff to read will be a relief to some?

  1. Conservative States Seek Billions to Brace for Disaster. (Just Don’t Call It Climate Change.) – The New York Times. (And an alternate link.)
    Mind-boggling.
  2. The Middle East Isn’t Worth It Anymore – WSJ
    A former U.S. ambassador to Israel argues that the US doesn’t have many vital interests at stake in the middle east anymore, but our policy hasn’t changed to reflect that.
  3. People First Language is a Problem, Not A Solution, For Fat People – Dances With Fat
    Thanks to Mandolin for the link.
  4. A Black Market for Life-Saving Insulin Thrives on Social Media | OneZero
    What’s really nice about this is that it’s not a money market, for the most part. It’s people helping people out with their extra bits of insulin.
  5. Opinion | Why Democrats Still Have to Appeal to the Center, but Republicans Don’t – The New York Times. (Alternate link.)
    We’re facing a plausible future where Republicans will be able to control the government with just 30% of the popular vote.
  6. Republicans push to weaken court that caught them rigging elections | US news | The Guardian
    They will do anything to avoid having to win elections by getting the support of a majority of voters.
  7. The Debate Link: Technically, Any Number of Seconds Can Be Split Any Number of Times
    A darkly amusing note about the “split second decision” metric used to defend police officers.
  8. Billy Joel Plays “Piano Man” for the First Time At the Bar He Based the Song On – McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
  9. The “perfect storm” behind the recent college closings in New England | Boston.comAs incomes fail to rise, and as there are fewer high school graduates, small colleges will close in coming years. This will also be bad for small towns where the economy depends on the local college existing.
  10. States with unified GOP control spend more on higher education when there is an overrepresentation of white students and less when there is not.
  11. Portion of US border wall in California falls over in high winds and lands on Mexican side – CNNPolitics
    This was a new portion of the wall – apparently the concrete foundation had not finished curing. Or maybe it was God’s judgement. Hard to say. (Just kidding, it’s easy to say, I’m an atheist.)
  12. A local theater played a program of all of 2020’s Oscar-nominated live action and animated films. A lot of them were very good, but I think my favorite was The Neighbors’ Window. Of the animated movies, I think my favorite was Mémorable, but unfortunately I can’t find a copy of that online with english subtitles.
  13. American Dirt controversy: How it happened and what publishers have learned.
    I thought this was interesting: “But the most common take on the American Dirt fiasco is that it resulted from Flatiron’s hubristic failure in what the industry refers to as “positioning”—that is, communicating the genre a house considers a new book to fit into.” In this theory, by positioning and marketing the book as a serious social commentary, rather than as a light thriller, the publishers invited a kind of scrutiny the book couldn’t withstand.
  14. GOP lawmaker can’t identify where the constitution says socialists ‘either go to prison or are shot’ – Raw Story
    How is this not an Onion headline?
  15. CityLab Daily: There’s No Such Thing as a Dangerous Neighborhood – CityLab
    Dangerous violence in cities is concentrated with a tiny portion of the population.
  16. State-federal task forces are out of control – The Washington Post
    An FBI agent and a state officer jointly beat the crap out of an innocent man. But they’re incredibly hard to sue, because they effectively claim that they’re a Federal task force when sued under state law, but a state task force when sued under Federal law.
  17. America’s monopoly and antitrust problem, explained by your internet bill – Vox
  18. To Dream of a Jewish President | The New Republic
    Inspired by Talmudic approaches, this article examines what it would mean if Bernie wins and we have a Jewish president.
  19. The top and bottom images are paintings by the French street artist Seth, whose work is as playful (and sometimes as dark) as childhood itself.

Posted in Link farms | 26 Comments  

COVID-19 pandemic open thread

Hello, everyone.

This is a COVID-19 (aka SARS-cov-2, aka “novel coronavirus”) thread. Post what you like, including resources. I may incorporate the best of those into this original post so that people have them available. Initially, I’m working from memory, but I’ll edit the post and insert sources as I comb back through my communications and find them.

We are at the start of a global pandemic. The virus is highly contagious. Epidemiologists estimate that, in roughly the next year, 30% to 70% of the human beings on the planet will be infected with it. Initial reports suggest an approximately 2% fatality rate, overall (weighted heavily toward the elderly, but not entirely). If half of us get it, and of those, 2% die from it, we’re looking at, very roughly, 1% of the human population dead from it. In round figures, for a planetary population of almost 8 billion, that’s 80 million dead people in the next year. Even if, in the end, it’s half that lethal, that’s 40 million dead people. That’s with medical care, of course; it’s perfectly possible that, as it overwhelms the medical systems of countries all over the world, that it will be much more lethal than 2%. In China, about 15% of people with COVID-19 required hospitalization, and about 5% of the infected required intensive care, while in Italy, more than half of people with COVID-19 needed hospitalization, and 10% needed the ICU. 1 People who need ventilators and don’t get them typically die. Let’s say 90% of them. So, if 4 billion people get COVID-19, and 5% of them need intensive care, and most of those don’t get it, we’re looking at a mortality rate of around 4.5%, or about 200 million people dead worldwide.

That figure does not include people who need critical care for other reasons but won’t get it because the system is overwhelmed.

Note that these are not worst-case figures. Worst case: 70% of humans get it, and the mortality rate turns out to be 4.5% because the medical systems are overwhelmed. In round figures, that’s 250 million dead people, still not including people who need critical care for other reasons who don’t get it.

In people aged 20-29, this virus appears to ride along symptom-free at high rates.2 That means that, by the time many people in that age cohort have symptoms, they have already been infecting other people for the incubation period, which is around 5-14 days. That makes it very hard to contain.

It does not appear to be transmitted in a passively airborne fashion, like measles. However, viruses of this type can apparently survive for up to nine days on hard surfaces3, and this specific virus has been shown to survive at least three days4. So it’s not just people; it’s things which people touch, including handrails and elevator buttons.

As of today, 03-16, the United States has no way to test widely for it. (We were offered tests, but we refused the offers of help and tried to develop our own, but then developed a faulty test kit which had to be redesigned, which meant substantive delays.) Initial testing protocol was pointless, because no test kits were available. Now that they are starting to become available, there aren’t enough, and people are still being refused testing unless they have had contact with a confirmed case or travelled from a known hotspot, like Iran or Italy. In other words, we are flying blind, having no good measurement of size of the problem.

One way to try to infer the size of the infected-but-undetected population is to look at the number of tests of suspected cases which are positive. Based on that work, as of roughly 03-12, we probably had 100,000 infected people in the United States already.5

The United States has prepared very poorly. First, in 2018 we eliminated our federal pandemic response agency. Then, in the earliest days, we didn’t socially distance early enough, and we still aren’t; a large percentage of the population is being encouraged by some media to go out and mingle.

Also, we have a population without universal health care, many with high-deductible coverage. Our population is used to rationing healthcare themselves, to deciding for themselves whether it’s worth the cost to seek medical help. One result of such a system is that many people who should seek help or screening don’t do so.

Also, we have a population in which large numbers of people don’t have sick leave or employment protections. It is absolutely routine for people in service sector jobs to work even when they know they’re sick. Restaurant servers, for instance, when they do call in sick are routinely asked, “When can you come in?” or told to pop DayQuil and come in or lose their jobs. This means a large number of people have serious short-term incentives to engage in behavior which will result is a high rate of transmission.

Also, our supply of ICU beds, and ventilators, is much lower than what will be necessary for a pandemic of this size, so we’re probably headed into a situation where we have to look at the “no ventilator” death rates, above.

To make matters worse, President Trump declared a travel ban in a manner which prompted a lot of people abroad to panic and fly home at the earliest opportunity, creating huge logjams of people in United States airports where people were packed closely for six hours or more. There are reports that the lines of suspected infected were queued up inches away from people who showed no sign of infection. It would have been hard to create a better system for spreading the virus among incoming travellers.

And here we are. Say what you need to say, being mindful of the commenting policy. Citations are helpful, and if anyone can help me source references or correct numbers, I’ll be grateful; I wasn’t planning on writing this, and didn’t take good notes as I educated myself.

Finally, because humor will be one of the things which gets most of us through this: remember that it’s only a quarantine if it’s from the Quara region of France. From anywhere else, it’s “sparkling isolation”.

Grace

Resources:

First, the best overall summary piece I’ve seen yet, as of 03-10.

The best hand washing video I’ve seen yet. You may have thought you knew how, but unless you’re a scrub nurse or a surgeon, I’ll bet that you didn’t.

Current status.

Current status, presented graphically.

COVID-19 community calculator. Put your ZIP code in and see how your community will fare.

  1. https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/10/simple-math-alarming-answers-covid-19/ []
  2. See the image below, a comparison of South Korean cases versus Italian cases. In South Korea, they are testing everyone. In Italy, they are testing only people with symptoms. Look how many more cases in the 20-29 age cohort they are finding in South Korea. []
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195670120300463 []
  4. various media sources, easily searched []
  5. I’m looking for the cite on this []
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