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Posts Tagged ‘coronavirus

“Since the nation is defined by its inherent virtue rather than by its future potential, politics becomes a discussion of good and evil rather than a discussion of possible solutions to real problems”*…

Nathan Tankus (@NathanTankus) put his undergraduate studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice on hold to become a full-time economics writer and researcher (he is Research Director at The Modern Money Network). He has been a visiting researcher at the Fields Institute and a research assistant at the University of Ottawa. He has also written for the Review of Keynesian Economics, Truthout and the financial blog Naked Capitalism. But he’s perhaps best known for (and most closely-followed on) his newsletter Notes on the Crises, from whence…

The election has come and gone, a winner has been announced and now the fallout begins. While the details are still being hashed out, and president Trump along with most of the Republican party are not accepting the results (at least not yet), my interest is not so much in the near term partisan fights but the implications of what’s happened for the future of the Coronavirus Depression. To understand this, we must look to the results in the U.S. senate. What we find there is an exceedingly mixed result. Republicans have 50 seats, Democrats have 48 seats and the final results will come from two senate runoff elections in Georgia. Even if the Democrats win those two races, that thin margin would require each and every senator to agree to pass whatever they want to pass. As I said in my pre-election piece:

This means we could possibly go until February 2021 before seeing another economic package. Worse, that package may even require a Democratic senate to become law. It’s possible that even that scenario is optimistic — it could then take a significant amount of time for Democrats to agree on a package among themselves. What happens to millions upon millions of people in that agonizing waiting period? A winter filled with a third wave of Coronavirus and no economic support to individuals is a recipe for absolute disaster — over 200,000 Americans have already died.

Since I wrote this the third wave of Coronavirus has taken off and it seems more likely than ever that we will not have an economic package passed in February. In other words, I worry that fiscal cliffication is just going to intensify. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine anything being able to break it at this point. The 2022 midterms are a long time away and there is no guarantee that the outcome would break the deadlock. We’ll likely see some sort of package go through congress in 2021 but it will very likely not be timely as the most optimistic scenarios laid out above had hoped. Meanwhile, the need is no less…

There are some overly rosy possible scenarios circulating financial twitter that make reviewing the unemployment situation important. Headline unemployment is still elevated but it is no longer at the high levels of the spring. However, this hides the damage that is happening underneath. Headline unemployment has mostly been driven by the behavior of temporary layoffs… But the real damage is in the permanent job losses.

The distinction between temporary layoffs and permanent job losses is very underemphasized in economic reporting and has led to the underlying economic damage from being missed in a lot of economics coverage. My colleagues Alex Williams and Skanda Amarnath at Employ America did a great job of making this point in their piece “The Shock and The Slog” last month. While there has been a lot of recovery in temporary layoffs, there has been a steady increase in permanent layoffs and it will likely keep on increasing as more businesses shutter and the effects of expanded benefits start filtering through the economy (and our economic data). It’s also important to emphasize that labor force participation of individuals 15-64 has only partially recovered from a very steep drop, which makes headline unemployment appear rosier than it is.

Worse still, the third wave of Coronavirus is in full swing. New York City schools could be shut as early as Monday, and indoor dining should probably already be shut. This second wave of shutdowns will be more economically harmful than the first wave because any savings they had were exhausted by the first wave and it is most likely that most affected businesses have already exhausted their access to credit (and perhaps even their willingness to take on more debt). It’s likely that the second wave of shutdowns will accelerate permanent job losses while the temporary job losses generate renewed drops in demand. In other words, the economic situation has still been deteriorating and it will likely get hammered at a time where fiscal support is, at best, months away.

In this context, the only game left in town is the Federal Reserve. Taking on responsibility for state and local governmental responses is the last thing that the Federal Reserve wants to do. However, the Federal Reserve has a mandate to to pursue maximum employment and price stability and meeting its maximum employment mandate requires it to use the tools it has available to do so…

Why the Fed is the last, best hope against post-Corona economic devastation and how that might work: “What is the Future of Fiscal Policy Now That the Election is Over?

* “In the politics of eternity, the seduction by a mythicized past prevents us from thinking about possible futures. The habit of dwelling on victimhood dulls the impulse of self-correction. Since the nation is defined by its inherent virtue rather than by its future potential, politics becomes a discussion of good and evil rather than a discussion of possible solutions to real problems. Since the crisis is permanent, the sense of emergency is always present; planning for the future seems impossible or even disloyal. How can we even think of reform when the enemy is always at the gate?” – Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

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As we muse on Modern Monetary Theory, we might recall that it was on this date in 1994 that Noel Edmonds appeared on BBC television to announce the winning numbers in the first UK National Lottery. the draw was 30, 3, 5, 44, 14 and 22; the bonus was 10; and seven jackpot winners shared a prize of £5,874,778.

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“You are only young once, but you can stay immature indefinitely”*…

… and if immaturity can be this ingenious, so be it!

Avi Schiffmann has been procrastinating on his school work, but he has a good excuse. The 17-year-old high schooler is the creator of one of the most visited coronavirus trackers in the world, which he says now takes up “100%” of his free time. 

The coronavirus pandemic doesn’t look like it will be over any time soon, and Schiffmann plans to continue actively tracking it until the end. As long as the site is up, he says he will keep working at it and adding new features. Once the pandemic is safely over, he’ll take the servers down, and maybe make a page that compares COVID-19 to SARS or the Spanish flu. He thinks it might be a historical piece of the coronavirus people can look back on.

Avi Schiffmann’s coronavirus tracker is a one-stop shop for all the information about COVID-19 the average person might want to know. It constantly updates with statistics for countries around the world on infections, deaths, recovered, and rates of change using data scraped from the WHO, CDC, and other government websites. The site frequently offers new features, like the new survival rate calculator. It also has infections broken down on a map, and pages with some basic information about the virus, including tips for hand hygiene and a list of symptoms…

The dashboard is really popular, with about 30 million visitors a day, and 700 million total so far, so it’s unsurprising that Schiffmann has gotten offers to put ads on the website. One offer in particular would have contracted Schiffmann to keep up the site for $8 million, which he turned down, and he says he likely could have made over $30 million if he’d put up his own ads, but he says that’s not the goal of the site…

The full story at: “A 17-year-old built one of the most popular coronavirus-tracking websites in the world, with over 30 million visitors a day. He explains why he turned down $8 million to put ads on his site.

For more on Avi– and his similarly useful and popular Protest Tracker– see “A teenager’s guide to building the world’s best pandemic and protest trackers.”

* Ogden Nash

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As we just do it, we might we might recall that it was on this date in 1906 that Karl Ludwig Nessler (who changed his name for commercial purposes to “Nestle”), demonstrated the first “permanent wave” for hair in his beauty salon in Oxford Street, London, to an invited audience of hair stylists. The hair was soaked with an alkaline solution and rolled on metal rods which were then heated strongly.

This initial method had the disadvantages of being expensive, very lengthy (about 5 hours) and required a cumbersome machine beneath which the client was obliged to wear a dozen brass curlers, each weighing 1-3/4 lb.

But Nessler/Nestle continuously improved his process.  With the outbreak of World War I, he moved to the United States and opened salons in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Palm Beach and Philadelphia, ultimately employing 500.

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“Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it… Geniuses remove it.”*…

 

complexity

 

World War II bomber planes returned from their missions riddled with bullet holes. The first response was, not surprisingly, to add armor to those areas most heavily damaged. However, the statistician Abraham Wald made what seemed like the counterintuitive recommendation to add armor to those parts with no damage. Wald had uniquely understood that the planes that had been shot where no bullet holes were seen were the planes that never made it back. That’s, of course, where the real problem was. Armor was added to the seemingly undamaged places, and losses decreased dramatically.

The visible bullet holes of this pandemic are the virus and its transmission. Understandably, a near-universal response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been to double down on those disciplines where we already possess deep and powerful knowledge: immunology and epidemiology. Massive resources have been directed at combating the virus by providing fast grants for disciplinary work on vaccines. Federal agencies have called for even more rapid response from the scientific community. This is a natural reaction to the immediate short-term crisis.

The damage we are not attending to is the deeper nature of the crisis—the collapse of multiple coupled complex systems.

Societies the world over are experiencing what might be called the first complexity crisis in history. We should not have been surprised that a random mutation of a virus in a far-off city in China could lead in just a few short months to the crash of financial markets worldwide, the end of football in Spain, a shortage of flour in the United Kingdom, the bankruptcy of Hertz and Niemann-Marcus in the United States, the collapse of travel, and to so much more.

As scientists who study complex systems, we conceive of a complexity crisis as a twofold event. First, it is the failure of multiple coupled systems—our physical bodies, cities, societies, economies, and ecosystems. Second, it involves solutions, such as social distancing, that involve unavoidable tradeoffs, some of which amplify the primary failures. In other words, the way we respond to failing systems can accelerate their decline.

We and our colleagues in the Santa Fe Institute Transmission Project believe there are some non-obvious insights and solutions to this crisis that can be gleaned from studying complex systems and their universal properties…

The more complicated and efficient a system gets, the more likely it is to collapse altogether.  Scientists who study complex systems offer solutions to the pandemic: “The Damage We’re Not Attending To.”

See also: “Complex Systems Theory Explains Why Covid Crushed the World.”

* Alan Perlis

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As we think systemically, we might recall that it was on this date in 1835 that the New York Sun began a series of six articles detailing the discovery of civilized life on the moon.  Now known as “The Great Moon Hoax,” the articles attributed the “discovery” to Sir John Herschel, the greatest living astronmer of the day.  Herschel was initially amused, wryly noting that his own real observations could never be as exciting.  But ultimately he tired of having to answer questioners who believed the story.  The series was not discovered to be a hoax for several weeks after its publication and, even then, the newspaper did not issue a retraction.

The “ruby amphitheater” on the Moon, per the New York Sun (source)

 

“One person’s data is another person’s noise”*…

 

Seismology

A drop in seismic noise from humans could help scientists track volcanic tremors in places like Auckland, New Zealand. Credit: Wikipedia/DXR, CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Seismic noise has dropped by half during coronavirus lockdown measures, giving scientists a rare lull to search for hidden signals usually drowned out by human activities.

Researchers measure seismic waves coming from natural sources, like earthquakes and volcanoes, as well as human activities. Trucks, cars, factories, and even shopping can create high-frequency seismic waves radiating out from population centers, and most scientists filter out human noise to seek for natural signals.

But seismic noise has been unusually quiet lately, in what scientists are calling the “anthropause.”

“If it’s quieter now and we can pick up some of the smaller signals, that improves our seismic risk analyses,” said Paula Koelemeijer, a lead author on a study published today in the journal Science.

Tracking smaller earthquakes can help scientists understand larger, more dangerous quakes and monitor how faults move. When a magnitude 5.0 earthquake struck Petatlán, Mexico, on 4 July, a station 380 kilometers away was able to detect the quake from raw data. Normally, the station would have missed the small quake without filtering out noise.

“This is likely to become a landmark article in the fields of seismic monitoring and ambient noise tomography,” said volcanologist Jan Lindsay at the University of Auckland who was not involved in the study. “The ‘2020 seismic noise quiet period’ will likely become something that Earth science students of the future will learn about in textbooks.”

Globally, seismic noise dropped by a median average of 50% during the coronavirus lockdowns from March through May. The measurement includes all seismic signals, but scientists attribute the drop to human activity by comparing changes in seismic noise with mobility data from Google and Apple.

The drop in noise varied by location: It decreased by 33% in Brussels, Belgium; 50% in Sri Lanka; and 10% in Central Park, New York. Rural areas grew quieter too—noise at a station at Rundu, Namibia, dropped by over 25%. (Koelemeijer attributed the drop to fewer tourists at a popular hippo-watching spot nearby.) The study pulled data from 185 seismic stations across the globe in both urban and rural locales…

“This study impressively demonstrates just how much man-made noise there actually is,” said research associate Carolin Böse at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences who was not involved in the research. “Seismologists around the world now have a chance to make good use of the data presented in this study and hunt for otherwise ‘hidden signals’ in the seismic recordings.”…

Taking advantage of the “anthropause,” scientists are listening for faint natural signals during the quiet of coronavirus lockdowns: “The Seismic Hush of the Coronavirus.”

* K. C. Cole

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As we celebrate (relative) silence, we might recall that one of the primary man-made sources of seismic “sound” got a boost on this date in 1870: America’s first asphalt pavement was laid in front of City Hall in Newark, N.J.  Edmund J. DeSmedt, the Belgian chemist who oversaw the work, had received a U.S. patent for this asphalt paving method two months earlier.  Later that year, DeSmedt became the inspector of asphalt and cements for the District of Columbia, and oversaw wide application there.

DeSmedt’s crews at work in D.C. in 1876

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Written by LW

July 29, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Animation can tell more than live action”*…

 

Tokri

 

A clumsy accident leads a young girl onto the streets of Mumbai in the hope of making things right. A gentle and touching father/daughter story depicted in exquisite stop-motion from Indian animation mainstay, Suresh Eriyat and his Studio Eeksaurus.

The idea for the story of Tokri came to Suresh from an incident that happened in his life. A little girl walked up to him one day at a signal trying to sell him some baskets. In Mumbai, one often finds beggars at traffic signals, and most of them are usually children. Suresh did not think much of it and shooed her away. As he drove off, he was hit with guilt, wondering what circumstance made the little girl sell baskets, and what if his brashness had done little but drag her situation for longer. He was perhaps her umpteenth attempt at selling it. There began his inspiration for the story.

Suresh wished to revive the popularity of clay animation through this film. Although clay animation is known to be a painstaking process that is both time consuming and tedious, it is an art that gives life to inanimate objects, bringing with it an energy on screen that shines through, one frame at a time. The project thus began with an enthusiastic group of young artists who had never worked on stop-motion of this scale before, and had never anticipated that it would eventually take 8 years to complete…

See the 14 minute film:

And you can peek behind that scenes of the production– and see how very hard Suresh and his team worked to earn the dozens of awards and accolades they’ve justly scored:

 

[TotH to Boing Boing]

* Makoto Shinkai

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As we celebrate skill, we might recall that it was on this date in 1964 that Universal Studios, in the Universal City area of Los Angeles, opened to the public as a theme park.  (It had been in operation as a motion picture studio since 1912.)

285px-Universal_archway_2019 source

Also on this date (that is, today) Hong Kong Disneyland is closing indefinitely due to a resurgence of the coronavirus (having re-opened about a month ago after a pandemic-driven closure).  While Universal Studios LA is also closed (though the City Walk shopping area is partially open), the Orlando-based Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Florida are open, both with warnings that suggest “Exposure to COVID-19 is an inherent risk in any public location where people are present; we cannot guarantee you will not be exposed during your visit.”

HK Disney

Hong Kong Disneyland

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Written by LW

July 15, 2020 at 1:01 am

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