Category Archives: News

Simone Biles

I’ve been a gymnastics fan for a very long time – since Brandy Johnson was the best US gymnast.  (Think mid-80s.)  My sister and I were very passionate fans in the mid-90s in particular – Lilia Podkapaeva, Simona Amanar, Shannon Miller, Mo Huilan, Gina Gogean, even Svetlana Khorkina.  (We were not fans of Khorkina.  And even less Svetlana Boginskaya!  And can we all agree that the orphan from the Ukraine was overscored from time to time?)

I started following Nastia Liukin when she was about 9, and was obviously thrilled to see her win all-around gold, though I like Shawn Johnson as well.  At that point, the gymnasts all started to run together a bit.

But Simone Biles is on another level.  She’s unambiguously the GOAT.  Not only is she the greatest of all time in women’s gymnasts, she’s one of those transcendent athletes that stand out among all the sports – like Michael Phelps or Michael Jordan.  She is exceptional among the exceptional and only a gymnastics fan can truly appreciate how extraordinary she is.  Not only does she do the hardest skills, she does them better than others.  She had a couple botched landings on the first day of the Olympics, and some people questioned her still being at the top of the standings, but a gymnastics fan knows that what happens in the air is just as important as what happens on the ground.  Most gymnasts will be just slightly piked, or go out of layout early, or land a little short.  Biles FLIES.  She just takes things to the next level.  And her skills ARE harder.

(It’s worth noting that the gymnastics code was changed about a decade ago to reward difficult skills over “perfection,” a change which made things a little less subjective, rewards athletes like Biles, and I think overall is very good for the sport.)

I’ve been watching the Olympics when I can.  (My class is still dominating my life, so I haven’t been able to watch as much as I’d like.)  I’ve been a little troubled by how often I’ve seen Biles featured for two reasons.  First, there’s been this attitude that she’s so much better than everyone else that she is guaranteed to win.  That’s not how gymnastics works, and the Olympics sees a lot of queens dethroned.  Second, and most importantly, it just seems like an impossible amount of pressure for her to bear, especially in combination with the Covid lockdown situation in Japan.  She can’t have any friends or family there with her to provide support.  I’ve honestly just found it troubling.  Couldn’t they spread the pressure around a little more?  Also, NBC is profiting off her, and she’s not getting paid for it.  She obviously has a lot of sponsorships that she does get paid for, but I still find it troubling.

Then, she had a little bit of a rough first night.  The US was in second, but honestly, that had a lot more to do with Jordan Chiles, who had a terrible night, than Biles.   But with all the pressure, was she just unable to handle being less than perfect?  She’s still so young – 24 – and she’s been built up as infallible.  She’s also bearing the weight of trying to change all of gymnastics from what has been basically an abusive system in which the athletes have no power, to one in which athletes have a voice.  And she’s had the ability to do that because she’s so good – more pressure.

When Simone Biles exited the arena, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team’s gold medal chances plummeted. The world’s best gymnast later returned to the sideline, but she withdrew from the competition for what USA Gymnastics cited as a “medical issue.”

Afterward, Biles made clear the issue was not physical.

“I just felt like it would be a little bit better to take a back seat and work on my mindfulness,” she said.

As for whether she would compete again in Tokyo, where she is next scheduled to perform in Thursday’s all-around, Biles replied: “We’re going to see about Thursday. We’re going to take it a day at a time. I know tomorrow we have a little bit of a break for training, so that’ll be really nice to have a mental rest day. And then injury, no. Just my pride is hurt a little bit.”

I don’t know what she’s going through.  Perhaps she should have soldiered through for her team, even if it meant skipping the individual championship and event finals.   I do feel like she let down her teammates – not by making mistakes, but by electing not to compete.

With that said, we obviously don’t know what she’s going through.  She has one day off, and then it’s time for the individual championship.  I hope she’s able to compete.

Melbourne madness

The lack of media coverage of the Covid outbreak in Australia is . . . funny.  I mean, back when Trump was in charge, all we heard was how great New Zealand was handling things, and if only Trump was more competent, we, too, could be like New Zealand.  NZ being an ISLAND nation with a population of 4 million and, literally, more sheep than people.

Australia has far more favorable conditions than the US, being a remote island with 1/10th the population density of the US, but it’s still a better comparison than NZ, since it has 25 million people.  (It turns out contagious diseases like larger populations.  In fact, there is a minimum population below which a virus cannot survive, based on its infectiousness and severity.)  In any case, Melbourne is back in Lockdown.  This is, for those who are counting, the FOURTH lockdown.

Now, here in the US, the term lockdown is bandied about, but what it has really meant, even in conservative states like Washington, is restaurant closures and capacity limitations across the board, as well as limitations on gatherings.  Many states explicitly allow demonstrations, a la the George Floyd demonstrations, but also anti-lockdown demonstrations.

In Australia, and in Melbourne in particular (and to a lesser extent in Europe), in means something very different.  People are literally locked down, and not allowed to leave their homes without permission.  Even when one has secured a permit to, say, go to the grocery store, that store must be within 5 KM of your house, if such a store exists.

The current lockdown is not this severe, but it’s still pretty bad.  Last week, people were restricted to staying within 5 KM of their house.  This has been increased to 10 KM this week.  But they are enforcing it.

  • In Melbourne, the five reasons to leave home will remain the same — shopping for food and essential supplies, authorised work or study, care and care-giving, exercise and getting vaccinated.
  • The list of authorised workplaces will also expand to include outdoor jobs like landscaping and painting.
  • After months of concern about QR code compliance, the Service Victoria QR code check-ins will now be mandatory across the whole state for places like supermarkets and shops.
    • I believe this is to verify people are staying within their 10 KM or not exceeding their allowable shopping trips – not sure which but standby for when I have time to Google it.
  • Food and hospitality venues will be open for “seated service only” with the density rule of one person per four square metres.
  • Regional Victorians can only travel to Melbourne for a permitted reason and the Melbourne restrictions apply once they are there.

  • Regional businesses will be compelled to check the IDs of everyone they serve to ensure they are not from Melbourne.
    • In other words – people who live in Melbourne are not allowed to leave, and they are checking IDs to ensure this is enforced.

To put this in perspective, the population of Victoria is 6.7 million.  Yesterday, there were SIX cases detected.  But, because they have put all their marbles in the no Covid ever basket, this is basically catastrophic.

If I lived in Melbourne, I would be in a cold fury over how the virus got in in the first place.  With so much at stake, how could it be allowed to happen?

But lately, I’ve been wondering what Australia’s end game is.  How do they open up?  They would need to have a very high percentage of the population vaccinated to even allow vaccinated individuals in, given that even Pfizer and Moderna are only 90% effective.  And J&J doesn’t necessarily prevent people from transmitting the disease, though it reduces the severity.  So someone with a J&J vaccine isn’t a safe entrant by any stretch.  Once they whole population is vaccinated, do they just let Covid in and let it spread?  God forbid a variant emerges against which the vaccine isn’t effective.  Things have not been looking great in the UK lately, if you’ve been watching the numbers.

virtual Pride

In other parts of the country, there has been a debate about whether police officers should be allowed to participate in the Pride parade.  (I don’t see why not.  I would think it’s probably challenging being a gay police officer.)

It was two weeks before the start of Pride month, and the organization that runs New York’s Pride march was fighting about cops. The leadership had just announced that officers could no longer take part in the march, including a contingent of L.G.B.T.Q. officers that has marched in uniform since 1996.

The officers were angry. The mayor called it a mistake.

At a tense Zoom meeting on May 20, members of the organization, Heritage of Pride, tore into their leadership, moving to overturn the ban and unseat the executive board. Some called the ban no different from the discrimination they all faced.

Passions flared on both sides of the issue, often dividing along racial or class lines. After two hours of debate, members voted to overrule their own board, allowing cops to march.

If only Seattle were having such arguments.  But, no.  Instead, we have this:

For many, the celebration commemorating the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion marks summer in Seattle, and after it went virtual last year due to the pandemic, the community was looking forward to an epic, in-person celebration this year.

However, Pride will be held online again this summer.

Marx described the virtual experience as “a sort of ‘choose your own adventure.’”

From a central virtual lobby, through the online events platform Hopin, attendees can choose to go to different virtual stages to experience speakers, musicians or group activities, like “Bedroom Bing” with local drag personality Cookie Couture or styling tips for newbie drag artists from local drag artist Aleksa Manila.

Political representatives, sponsors and reps from different organizations will be available in video chatrooms like virtual “booths.” There will also be networking opportunities where an attendee can choose to be randomly matched with someone else for a video chat (a digital security team will be on hand to prevent or address any virtual attacks).

Sounds like a blast!  Not.

There are some things that can reasonably be done virtually.  I can see, for example, how a quilt festival done virtually might not be the same as if it were held live, but still hold a lot of value.  However, there are a lot of things which should just be canceled.  Parades of any variety certainly spring to mind as one of those things.  Road races are another.  (I just love going to the site of a road race and seeing, “This year, we’re going virtual!” as if it’s something to be excited about.)  I haven’t given my money to any virtual events as a matter of principle.

vaccines

The rate of vaccination in the US has slowed dramatically, and it’s really concerning.  Based on Israel’s data, if we get to 60% of adults (16+) vaccinated, we’ll be golden.  But we’re not trending towards that any time soon.

Looking at the plot, you can see that the rate of vaccination (slope) for Israel was much steeper at 45% than in the US.  Similarly, the slope was steeper in the UK at 45% vaccinated, though perhaps not as dramatically.  The UK appears to have hit a knee in the curve at 45 to 50% as well.  Israel, by contrast got to 55% before demand dropped off dramatically.  Looking at Israel, you can see that once demand drops, it REALLY drops.  At this rate, the US will be lucky to get to 55% this month.

From this plot, you can see that the running average of daily doses per 100 people has dropped by nearly 40% since its peak three weeks ago, and all indications of the trend are that it will continue to drop steadily.

What can we do?

  • Pay people.  $100 to anyone under 50 to get the vax, and $200 to anyone under 35.  Including kids.
  • Mandate vaccines for people who work in nursing homes and in hospitals with patients, or outpatient medical facilities with vulnerable people (eg cancer patients)
  • Nursing home residents should also be mandated to get vaccinated
  • Help employers set up onsite vaccinations for employees
  • Employers should incentivize employees to get vaccinated, preferably financially
  • Lift mask mandates indoors for anyone vaccinated once 50% of state population is fully vaccinated (outside of medical facilities)
  • Lift mask mandate for children of vaccinated parents in school once 50% of state population is fully vaccinated
  • Offer vaccines at ball games and other public venues
  • Offer vaccines at churches.  Have the pastor pitch it during mass / service
  • Go door-to-door vaccinating people over [75].  Some people are housebound and may not be able to get out to get vaccinated.
  • Mandate vaccination in order to fly (except for residents of communities that can only be accessed by air).  Or make nonvaccinated people buy two adjacent seats.  Or even a whole row.
  • All doctors should offer vaccines at EVERY in-person appointment.

In general, I’d like to see people like Fauci and Biden express a little more confidence in the vaccine.  It is *not* necessary to wear a mask outdoors “just to be safe” if you’re vaccinated.  Fauci can go to the movies.  Fence-sitters need to see leaders believing that vaccines actually work.  This isn’t as bad as Trump refusing to wear a mask, but it’s not good.

What else?

Covid plots

I think it’s always helpful to look at the data when it comes to Covid.  Reading the media coverage is highly misleading.  In any case, to me, the numbers look good.   Note that the above is a log plot.

  1. Numbers appear to be plateauing in India.  I think it’s likely they’ll begin to dip soon.
  2. Numbers is Israel have now fallen below South Korea.  That is very good news for vaccine efficacy.
  3. Numbers in the UK also continue to drop.  I hope we will see a sharper drop-off there soon.

Vaccines:

In terms of people vaccinated, Israel’s success has come with about 65% of people vaccinated.  In the US, we are sitting at 45%.  I am hopeful that if we can push up to 60% or so, we’ll start seeing huge drops, just like Israel has.  I am personally strongly in favor of dispensing $100 checks to young people who get vaccinated, as West Virginia has done.  I also hope that being able to just drive to your local pharmacy without an appointment will help.  In Washington, we are at 47% vaccinated, and at current rates, should achieve 60% by the end of May and 70% by the end of June.  Hopefully that will still happen despite dropping demand.

Given dropping demand, I don’t understand why we are still vaccinating people with the J&J vaccine.  It’s just so ineffective compared to Pfizer and Moderna.  I think in limited cases the storage requirements might make J&J the preferred choice, but those cases are truly limited.  You’re almost certainly better off with one Pfizer dose than one J&J dose.

school closures

Biden just proposed a massive expansion of government.  One of the main components is increased funding and support for childcare.  I can’t say that I’ve reviewed his plan in detail, and I’m not sure if the execution is right, but in terms of worthwhile things to spend money on, helping lower and middle income families afford high quality childcare seems like a great choice.

The incredible irony, though, is that we currently have a system of high quality childcare for children five and up.  It’s called *school*.  Unfortunately, that system is still very much broken in many parts of the country, with schools in “hybrid” mode.  In Washington, that means kids in grades K-5 attend school less than 50% time – four half days a week.  A “half day” is two hours and forty-five minutes.  And older kids attend 20% time – two half days a week, so 5.5 hours of total in-person schooling.   In summary, kids are mostly still at home around here, and hence this system of childcare is broken.

This is inconvenient for the affluent, but it’s devastating for people on the edge.  This is a story about a woman in Mississippi whose son is struggling with hybrid learning.  There are a lot of problems with this story, including that his mother is struggling to live on $12 an hour working nights.  But here’s the thing.  School, five days a week, was one of the ways we used to support low income individuals in this country.   And it’s also how people were supposed to be able to get a better job than their parent.  The system has always had serious problems, but it just got a hell of a lot worse.

In Washington, they decided not to test students this year.  Convenient!  We won’t be able to measure how much ground has been lost.

Chauvin and the next time

It’s interesting and more than a little troubling to read the original news release produced by the Minneapolis police describing what happened to George Floyd (news release archive link is from the New York Times):

On Monday evening, shortly after 8:00 pm, officers from the Minneapolis Police Department responded to the 3700 block of Chicago Avenue South on a report of a forgery in progress.  Officers were advised that the suspect was sitting on top of a blue car and appeared to be under the influence.

Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car.  He was ordered to step from his car.  After he got out, he physically resisted officers.  Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.  Officers called for an ambulance.  He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.

We all know that is not remotely what happened.  Perhaps most egregious is the bald-faced lie about WHEN he died.  The post also notes body-worn cameras were activated.  I can’t help but wonder how that video compares to the bystanders’ video.  Was it ever released?

It’s great that Chauvin was convicted.  I was actually surprised.  The bar to convict him was relatively low compared to what would have been required in Washington state a couple years ago.  I’m not sure if WA has changed its laws; I know they have been working on it.  I *think* there have been changes but I’m not sure.

On Wikipedia, it says the following about Chauvin:

Prior to the murder he had been involved in three police shootings, one of which was fatal. He had eighteen complaints on his official record, two of which ended in discipline, including official letters of reprimand.

I’d like to know more about the eighteen complaints, but apparently the police department “declined to comment”.   While it’s good that Chauvin was held accountable, what would be better would be for the incident never to have happened in the first place.  It’s also striking that Floyd is not the first person who died interacting with Chauvin.  Should Chauvin have been fired sooner?  For me, that would be the most important next question.  Not, how do we hold police accountable when they kill someone unjustly?  But, how do we hold police accountable for more minor transgressions such that the bad apples are removed from the force before they get a chance to kill someone.