Friday, April 10th, 2020


Garbage in, Garbage Out

This week, much of our attention has been focused on the debate over absentee voting. But the broader story of this pandemic is about absentee governing. Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker with the question of the moment: How Did the U.S. End Up with Nurses Wearing Garbage Bags? "What they did not foresee was that the federal government might never come to the rescue. They did not realize this was a government failure by design—not a problem to be fixed but a policy choice by President Trump that either would not or could not be undone. 'No one can believe it. That's the No. 1 problem with the whole situation: the facts are known, but they are inconceivable,' Eric Ries told me. 'So we are just in denial.' Independent reporting has corroborated what Ries and other volunteers saw for themselves: 'a fragmented procurement system now descending into chaos,' as the Associated Press put it. The news agency found that not a single shipment of medical-grade N95 masks arrived at U.S. ports during the month of March. The federal government was not only disorganized; it was absent."

+ "Trump and other White House officials, including his close advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, have insisted that the federal government is using a data-driven approach to procure supplies and direct them where they are most needed ... But the agency has refused to provide any details about how these determinations are made or why it is choosing to seize some supply orders and not others. Administration officials also will not say what supplies are going to what states." LA Times: Hospitals say feds are seizing masks and other coronavirus supplies without a word. (The union has been jacked.)


Boom Bust Cycle

"It's a battle between collapsing economic activity and, to use a silly meme from finance Twitter, the federal government's money printer going "brrr." In the stock market, at least, the revving of the money printer is winning." NYT Upshot: Everything Is Awful. So Why Is the Stock Market Booming?

+ Market up. Working Americans devastated. It's just one of the ways The Pandemic Will Cleave America in Two.


Weekend Whats

What to Book: I was pumped when my virtual pal (and one of America's hottest writers) Don Winslow offered to send me a preview copy of his upcoming book, Broken. The bummer was that he sent it to my office and it arrived the day after we were told to shelter at home. So I've been waiting for this for a while! Broken is getting great reviews. Get it now. And if you haven't read Winslow's drug war trilogy, your quarantine is about to get a lot better.

+ What to Watch: The show is probably not appropriate for children, but then again, neither are pandemics or quarantines. And my family of Japanophiles, Anglophiles, and televisionophiles, have been loving the crime thriller Giri/Haji on Netflix. Strong recommend.

+ What to Book: "He writes with candor and gravity; a tensile rod of human decency braces every paragraph. He attached himself to this story the way a human fly attaches to a skyscraper, and he refused to let go." That's how the NYT describes the well-reviewed and timely book by Pulitzer Prize winner (and NextDraft-subscriber) Eric Eyre, who covers the American epidemic that, so far, is the century's most deadly. Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight Against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic. A must read.


The New Math is Long Division

"Trump has said the death toll 'could have been' 2 million. And the Imperial College put out higher numbers. First question: If it comes out at 60k or 100k–200k, how could people have been so wrong? Or if it comes out higher, how could people be so wrong? The answer? This is exactly how exponential math works. If 1 person infects 2.3 people on average, after 10 cycles 4,100 are infected. But if one person infects only 1.3 people on average, only 14 people are infected." Andy Slavitt: Making Sense of the Various Coronavirus Death Toll Projections.

+ David Wallace-Wells: The Best-Case Scenario for Coronavirus Is That It's Way More Infectious Than We Think.


Pick a Plague

"So far, Africa seems unlikely to be exempted from these iron laws of exponential contagious spread. If the spread seems slow to develop, that may be because no African country has the same volume of international travel as the countries elsewhere that are already suffering." Graeme Wood on the threat facing Africa: Think 168,000 Ventilators Is Too Few? Try Three.

+ But for now, the virus is not the number one concern in rural parts of Africa. That would the biggest locust outbreak some countries had seen in 70 years.


Protection Racket

"The favelas of Rio de Janeiro are a toxic mix of tight quarters, few if any health services and little clean water for residents to wash their hands. In these conditions ripe for the spread of the coronavirus, the Brazilian national government has yet to impose a curfew – but the criminal gangs who rule the favelas have." The Conversation: Terrorists, militants and criminal gangs join the fight against the coronavirus.

+ These 30 Regimes are using coronavirus to repress their citizens.


Just the Tip

"Before accepting a 'batch' -- which can consist of one or a few orders from different customers -- workers can see the items requested, the store location, the payment Instacart provides workers for the job, and the tip being offered. Instacart allows customers to change a tip for up to three days." People are luring Instacart shoppers with big tips -- and then changing them to zero. (I've said it once, I'll say it again. A crisis makes people more of who they really are.)


The Other Land Down Under

"The measures generated mirth on social media about a possible baby boom nine months after the stay-at-home rules lifted, and worried family planning specialists as access to various forms of birth control dwindled. The restrictions also prompted a tripling of sex toy sales in the 48 hours before the lockdown was imposed." Sex toy sales triple during New Zealand's lockdown. (Ooh, lockdown. Sounds kinky...)


Feel Good Friday

In just under two hours yesterday, I guided my mom into her laptop's system preferences to adjust her microphone privacy settings so she and my dad could join a zoom seder. It was the greatest passover miracle since the parting of the Red Sea. Even Pharaoh was like, "Yeah, man. I gotta give you this one. Nice work." But by the time we finished, my parents opted out of the seder ... they were too tired from dealing with the technology.

+ Did you know that Manischewitz is pretty popular in Caribbean countries?

+ A special feature from Time: Heroes of the Front Lines. Stories of the courageous workers risking their own lives to save ours.

+ SF teachers pledge stimulus checks to undocumented immigrants left out of federal aid.

+ Brandi Carlile Pays Tribute To John Prine and Twenty One Pilots releases a quarantine song: Level of Concern.

+ Miss office sounds? There's a site for that. Want to play board games from a distance? There's a site for that too.


Something, Something, Something Murder

The most excellent Damon Lindelof has kindly offered to share a serialized story with NextDraft readers to help us, and him, through the quarantine. The first 11 chapters are here.

Chapter Twelve: I Only Started Writing This Shit Because I Was Told This Would All Be Over By Easter

In the end, it was not chloroquine that led to over a million worldwide deaths, but Pop Rocks and Coke.

Not literally, of course. Literally, it was Ivermectin, but culturally it was Pop Rocks and Coke, or, as it would later be dubbed in a very dense and extremely pretentious research paper out of The University of Michigan, "The Gilchrist/Morgenthau Effect."

Jon Gilchrist was a child actor who appeared in a television commercial for Life Cereal back in a time when there was "Life Cereal" and "television commercials." Gilchrist played Mikey, an adorable tot with an unfortunate haircut who hated everything until his two brothers forced him to eat Life cereal. Mikey did not hate Life Cereal. Quite the opposite. As such, the catch phrase "Mikey Likes It!" catapulted into the public consciousness, spreading among the tastemakers of the day in the same way that LOLCats, Harambe, and All Your Base Are Belong To Us would decades later. Yes, Mikey was a meme before anyone knew what a meme was.

And then his head exploded.

Gilchrist was just shy of four years old when he appeared in the spot for Life. The spot for Death happened seven years later when his mother received a call from a woman in tears, expressing her deepest condolences regarding the tragic accident that had taken the boy's life. The culprit, a lethal combination of Coca Cola and Pop Rocks.

Pop Rocks. Mythical. Magical. The result of infusing scalding hot liquid sugar with carbon, the chemists who mixed it clad in moonsuits to protect themselves before smashing the hardened result into tiny pieces with nine-pound sledgehammers. All so children everywhere could empty a packet into their mouths and feel a satisfying sizzle upon their tongue.

Gilchrist, now on the precipice of adolescence but still drunk with the celebrity of his toddlerhood, was showboating in his school cafeteria when he emptied six packets of Pop Rocks into his mouth, pulled the metal tab from a can of Coke, brought it to his lips and began to chug. The boy realized almost instantly something was very, very wrong, his face contorting in pain and confusion as a hissing crackle, began to emanate from his mouth like the sound of a fuse leading into a stick of dynamite.

A little girl in pigtails exclaimed "Mikey doesn't like it!" a moment before the boy's eyes shot out of his face and flew across the cafeteria like bottle rockets. The children shrieked in terror as they were sprayed with jets of red, frothy foam from Gilchrist's nostrils in a hot geyser of carbonated blood and cola. Those kids standing on either side of the boy felt only temporary relief in being spared as liquefied brains burst from Mikey's ears and all over them in a sickening spewing sploosh, like tourists in the front row at the Shamu SeaWorld show, back in the good old days before folks came to the fairly obvious conclusion that captive Killer Whales were sad and alone and suicidal. Suffice to say the details only get more gory from there and also none of this ever happened because it was all complete and utter bullshit.

Mikey did not die from ingesting Coke and Pop Rocks because that is the stupidest thing in the history of stupid things. But it was catchy and that's all that matters in the end. Catchiness.

Once the rumor was in the public imagination it spread like wildfire, a phenomenon even more impressive considering there was no internet. No, this was good old-fashioned-word-of-mouth-flim-flam and the R naught was 5.7. If you do not know what "R naught" means, just know that it is the reason you are currently trapped in your house getting sick of frozen pizza, which you never, ever thought you'd get sick of. Suffice to say, everyone who heard about Mikey's face exploding told many other people about Mikey's face exploding and those people told many other people and so on and so on ad infinitum.

Gilchrist was, in the meantime, very much alive, a fact the company that made Pop Rocks blared in hundreds of full page ads in every major metropolitan newspaper. Alas, the damage was done. No one was going to give up fucking Coke and the risks were too great. Pop Rocks were sunk. No child in their right mind would buy them and eventually, three hundred million pouches worth of the shit was buried in landfills.

So now you know the Gilchrist in the Gilchrist/Morgenthau Effect.

As for the Morgenthau, well frankly, I'm gonna need the weekend to figure that one out. But I promise it will most definitely tie into the unfolding time travel opus of the Rosenberg family in essential ways and I've got an amazing plan for how this all ties together in the end.



To Be Continued...