Is SCOTUS’s gambit to wreck healthcare unprecedented?

Linda Greenhouse says it is — and that next to SCOTUS’s decision to put Obamacare on the choppping block, Bush v. Gore was nothing.

There was no urgency. There was no crisis of governance, not even a potential one. There is, rather, a politically manufactured argument over how to interpret several sections of the Affordable Care Act that admittedly fit awkwardly together in defining how the tax credits are supposed to work for people who buy their health insurance on the exchanges set up under the law.

Further, the case the court agreed to decide, King v. Burwell, doesn’t fit the normal criterion for Supreme Court review. There is no conflict among the federal appellate circuits. (Remember that just a month ago, the absence of a circuit conflict led the justices to decline to hear seven same-sex marriage cases?) In the King case, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., unanimously upheld the government’s position that the tax subsidy is available to those who buy insurance on the federally run exchanges that are now in operation in 36 states.…The absence of a circuit conflict and an imminent rehearing by the country’s most important court of appeals would, in the past, have led the Supreme Court to refrain from getting involved.

So no, this isn’t Bush v. Gore. This is a naked power grab by conservative justices who two years ago just missed killing the Affordable Care Act in its cradle, before it fully took effect. When the court agreed to hear the first case, there actually was a conflict in the circuits on the constitutionality of the individual insurance mandate. So the Supreme Court’s grant of review was not only unexceptional but necessary: a neutral act. The popular belief then that the court’s intervention indicated hostility to the law was, at the least, premature.

As Greenhouse notes, it takes four justices to call a case to the court. She assumes the four who did so likely include the four who tried to kill ACA in its crib two years ago; they failed only because Chief Justice John Roberts failed to vote along with them, as he often does. The healthcare of tens of millions may soon depend on how John Roberts views a few clumsily written phrases.


The link and excerpt above are part of today’s edition of my almost-daily Read Two newsletter,  which you can get by signing up here or in the box at right.  Also in today’s Read Two were stories by Alex Horton on How Three Veterans Uncovered the Iraq War’s Biggest Untold Story, Frank Swain on  tuning his hearing aid to WIFI, and Ed Yong on Why Some Microbiome Studies May Be Wrong.

Read Two: Philosophy of the pee-pee dance; fun failures.

The Philosophical Implications of the Need to Pee. By Daniel Yudkin at Scientific American.

What if I were to tell you, for instance, that belief in free will is negatively correlated with the desire to urinate? Those are the implications of a new study published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition by Michael Ent and Roy Baumeister. They predicted—and found—that the more people felt they needed to pee, the less they believed that humans are in control of their destinies.

Falling short: seven writers reflect on failure. A few snippets from this fun trip through failure:

Howard Jacobson: It starts early. You can come into the world smugly trailing clouds of glory, already sainted in the life before life, or you can enter it reluctantly and ashamed, helpless, naked, piping loud – Blake’s baby not Wordsworth’s, at the first sight of whom your mother groans, your father weeps. I was a Blake baby.

Diane Athill, at 95 years of age and still writing: It was the writing that really put an end to failure. In the early 1960s nine stories “happened” to me. I say “happened” because I did not decide to write them, but suddenly felt a peculiar sort of itch, which produced them. One of them won the Observer’s short-story prize. I was told that I’d won it on my birthday, in December, and having submitted the story in March I had forgotten about it. The news was astounding, and became even more so when I went to collect my cheque and they kindly offered to show me the room in which all the entries were stored: two thousand of them. Two thousand stories, and mine had been judged the best! I understood at once what had happened, and it was by far the best part of a lovely experience: that dreary bedrock under the surface of my life was no longer there, and off I could go into happiness.

Anne Enright: The writer’s life is one of great privilege, so “Suck it up”, you might say – there are more fans than trolls. But there are two, sometimes separate, ambitions here. One is to get known, make money perhaps and take a bow – to be acknowledged by that dangerous beast, the crowd. The other is to write a really good book. And a book is not written for the crowd, but for one reader at a time.

The piece also features Margaret Atwood, Will Self, and Lionel Shriver, and Julian Barnes.

Also excerpted in today’s Read Two newsletter*. A Fight to Save Children From a Fatal Genetic DiseaseHealth Care Reform ImperiledOur ‘Mommy’ Problem.


 *The excerpts and links above are from today’s issue of Read Two and Call Me In the Morning, my most-days TinyLetter email offering snippets from recent reading. In the full newsletter, all five links have excerpts. You can see them here. To get the almost-daily email with all five, sign up below. Fear not: I won’t share your email with anyone, and should you change your mind, it’s easy to unsubscribe.
 
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Yaba-daba – my “Social Life of Genomes” story won a AAAS award.

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A good day (so far). The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today announced that “The Social Life of Genes” (Pacific Standard, Sept/Oct 2013), my article on how the genome responds to social life, won the 2014 AAAS/Kavli Science Journalism Award for best magazine work in 2013 — a distinction I’m tickled to be honored with. This comes atop the story’s inclusion in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014, edited by Deborah Blum.

I’m deeply grateful to Pacific Standard’s editor Maria Streshinsky for so enthusiastically embracing this story, and the rest of the staff there, particularly deputy editor John Gravois and associate editor/fact-checker Michael Fitzgerald, for supporting it so well.

As to the award: I join some humbling company. Winners in the magazine category the last few years include Hilary Rosner, Steve Silberman, Adam Rogers, and Gary Wolf, all superb writers who won with amazing stories. Winners in other categories include Hilary Rosner (again) and other peers I greatly admire and respect, such as Carl Zimmer and George Johnson. A real pleasure to be chosen. I look forward to escaping the Vermont winter this February to accept the award at the AAAS meeting in San Jose.

The relevant section from the AAAS press release is below. Full announcement, with winners in other categories, is here, where you’ll find great stories on submarines, fish, fear, cancer, the ubiquitous microbiome, and the slow death of the world’s largest organism. My hearty congratulations to all, and I look forward to seeing you at the AAAS,

David Dobbs explained how a growing body of research with diverse species, from bees and birds to monkeys and humans, suggests that social life can affect gene expression at a scale and breadth not previously suspected. Sawyer called the piece a “fascinating, entertaining trip through studies of gene expression and how scientists came to learn what they know about how genes interact with our social environment.” Dobbs also explored some of the more speculative questions raised by the research, including just how quickly a person’s gene expression may change in response to social isolation and other environmental factors. The story is rich in detail, including an opening description of how researchers kidnap “foster bees” from switched colonies, vacuuming them up, shooting them into chilled chambers and freezing their gene activity. Peggy Girshman, executive editor of Kaiser Health News, said Dobbs used “clear and creative prose” to lay out “complex issues in ways a layperson could really grasp, not always easy to do.” Dobbs said he welcomed the encouragement by the judges as he works on a book which deals with similar themes. “Writing rigorously and engagingly about behavioral science is terrifically challenging,” Dobbs said, “and this story in particular took an enormous amount of work.”

Cited: “The Social Life of Genes,” Pacific Standard, Sept/Oct 2013.

Sylvia Plath on nose-picking, and other readings

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Sylvia Plath picks her nose By Sylvia Plath, by way of Janet Malcolm.

There are so many subtle variations of sensation. A delicate, pointed-nailed fifth finger can catch under dry scabs and flakes of mucus in the nostril and draw them out ot be looked at, crumbled between fingers, and flicked to the floor in minute crusts. Or a heavier, determined forefinger can reach up and smear down-and-out the soft, resilient, elastic greenish-yellow smallish blobs of mucus, roll them round and jellylike between thumb and forefinger, and spread them on the under-surface of a desk or chair where they will harden into organic crusts. How many desks and chairs have I thus secretively befouled since childhood? Or sometimes there will be blood mingled with the mucus: in dry brown scabs or bright sudden wet red on the finger that scraped too rudely the nasal membranes. God, what a sexual satisfaction! It is absorbing to look with new sudden eyes on the old worn habits: to see a sudden luxurious and pestilential “snot-green sea,” and shiver with the shock of recognition.

From Plath’s Journals, via Janet Malcolm’s The Silent Woman (Granta paperback, 2005), 160–161.

The allure of Beethoven. By Alex Ross at The New Yorker.

Above all, Beethoven shaped the identity of what came to be known as classical music. In the course of the nineteenth century, dead composers began to crowd out the living on concert programs, and a canon of masterpieces materialized, with Beethoven front and center. As the scholar William Weber has established, this fetishizing of the past can be tracked with mathematical precision, as a rising line on a graph: in Leipzig, the percentage of works by deceased composers went from eleven per cent in 1782 to seventy-six per cent in 1870. Weber sees an 1807 Leipzig performance of Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the titanic, turbulent “Eroica,” as a turning point: the work was brought back a week later, “by demand,” taking a place of honor at the end of the program. Likewise, a critic wrote of the Second Symphony, “It demands to be played again, and yet again, by even the most accomplished orchestra.” More than anything, it was the mesmerizing intricacy of Beethoven’s constructions—his way of building large structures from the obsessive development of curt motifs—that made the repertory culture of classical music possible. This is not to say that Beethoven’s predecessors, giants on the order of Bach, Haydn, and Mozart, fail to reward repeated listening with their cerebral games of variation. In the case of Beethoven, though, the process becomes addictive, irresistible. No composer labors so hard to stave off boredom, to occupy the mind of one who might be hearing or playing a particular piece for the tenth or the hundredth time.

He’s right.

The Shrimp Is a Lie. By Megan Garber at The Atlantic.

The advocacy group Oceana tested 143 shrimp products—sourced from 111 different establishments—comparing the claims labels made about the shrimp’s origin to the shrimp’s actual DNA. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because Oceana is the same group that published the results of a fish-species test last year—the study that found, among other things, that nearly a third of all the seafood sold in restaurants and supermarkets across the country was fraudulently labeled.) Oceana scientists tested samples of the tasty crustacean in four regions across the country: the Gulf of Mexico; Washington, D.C.; New York City; and Portland, Oregon. New York City had the highest amount of misrepresentation (43 percent), followed by Washington (33 percent), the Gulf of Mexico (30 percent), and Portland (5 percent).

The Existential Crisis of Public Life Online. By Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic.

So for hundreds of thousands of people, Gamergate has been just there for a month now, an enervating army that makes itself known as soon as the “#Gamergate” hashtag is tweeted. It’s an attentional brushfire that, even when it’s not being discussed, could flare up at any time. It’s a source of exhaustion even before it has done anything to exhaust. The eloquent and humane film critic whose nom de blog is Film Crit Hulk recently wrote a long meditation on this. He pointed out that the scariest element of all this is that “pro-Gamergate” arguments follow the circular and meaningless patterns of the indoctrinated, yet its adherents seem to have absorbed this dogma exclusively through the Internet. In other words, Gamergate is a cult without geography.

Janet Malcolm on disruptive biography

[Clarissa Roche’s] biography of Vanessa Bell won her critical and popular acclaim; it is a long, well-narrated work. It convinces the reader that Vanessa was splendid — a game, kind woman and a gifted artist, who led a rich, beautiful life — and it is poised on the tension between the demented “plot” of Vanessa’s existence and its serene day-to-day actualities and achievements. Angelica Garrett’s memoir, in contrast, like Dido Merwin’s memoir of Plath, is full of aggrievement and complaint and one doesn’t like her for it — as one ultimately doesn’t like it. We don’t want to be told what vengeful memoirs like Angelica’s and Dido’s oblige us to consider: that our children and friends do not love us, that we are neurotic, blind, pathetic, that under the eye of God our life will be seen as a mistake, something botched and wasted.

From Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman (Granta paperback), 149.

You can get these daily via email by signing up for my Read Two and Call Me In the Morning.

Photo by Smugs Spatzer, some rights reserved.

Christine Kenneally’s Rich, Rompy Read on Genes

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Illo by Eric Nyquist, via NY Times.

Of Christine Kenneally’s father’s father — a man neither Kenneally nor her father ever knew, a man who did the deed requisite to reproduction and promptly vanished — she asks, “Did he leave anything more significant than the loud bang of a door shut down the generations?” Of course he did. He left his DNA and a granddaughter determined to draw from modern genetics and hard-won family history a coherent account of her roots.

So opens my appreciation on the cover of this week’s New York Times Sunday Book Review of  The Invisible History of the Human Race, Kenneally’s “smart, splendid, highly entertaining look at how DNA, increasingly visible to us since we first sequenced the human genome in 2000, can ‘open up tracts of human history that had been entirely obscure.'” The book itself opens up huge tracts of pleasure, curiosity, astonishment — and admiration at what Kenneally has done.

As I note in the review, the book could stand on its weird and delightful factoids alone, but hardly need do so. Its main argument is that DNA provides great insight into human and personal ancestry — if combined with other, broader perspectives, such as anthropology, economics, history, linguistics, and genealogy. to the prosaic work of mining archives for genealogy.

While DNA may now be visible, … it remains more hint than history. Kenneally, a journalist and linguist, shows that just as a gene usually delivers its genetic message only in conversation with an incoming chemical messenger, so our DNA tells its tales most fully only in light of the history of the people who carry and interrogate it. It takes all those threads to get the whole story. And Kenneally wants it all.

“If everyone had his DNA analyzed,” she writes, “and that information were linked to everyone’s historical information, it would be the nearest thing to the book of humanity.” She backs up this claim beautifully, showing how genetic analysis can be combined with skillful mining of historical, social and cultural information to solve fascinating riddles of ancestry.

It’s a splendid book. Do take in the full review at the Times, for more about its riches, as well as a Willie Nelson line I’ve been dying to deploy for such an occasion. Then treat yourself to Kenneally’s book (Powell’s, IndieAmazon. B&N). It’s been a good while since I’ve read such a rich, fun, engrossing book about genetics — or about any science.

How trolls work, from one who’s seen it up close

This comes to us, sadly, as part of what seems a goodbye from writer and coder Kathy Sierra, who was driven off the internet once before and returned a year ago.

I think this’ll ring true for anyone who’s had even a taste of getting trolled, or watched with attention as it happens.

The trolls aren’t stupid. The most damaging troll/haters are some of the most powerful people (though they self-describe as outcasts). Typically, the hacker trolls are technically-talented, super smart white men. They’re not just hackers. They are social engineers. They understand behavioral psych. They know their Kahneman. They “get” memes. They exploit a vulnerability in the brains of your current and potential listeners.

How? By unleashing a mind virus guaranteed to push emotional buttons for your real, NOT-troll audience. In my specific case, it was my alleged threat to a free and open internet. “She issued DMCA takedowns for sites that criticized her.” Yes, that one even made it’s way into a GQ magazine article not long ago, when the writer Sanjiv Bhattacharya interviewed weev and asked about — get this — the “ethics” of doxxing me. Weev’s explanation was just one more leveling up in my discredit/disinfo program: DMCA takedowns. I had, apparently, issued DMCA takedowns.

If you are in the tech world, issuing a DMCA takedown is worse than kicking puppies off a pier. But what I did? It was (according to the meme) much much worse. I did it (apparently) to stifle criticism. If a DMCA takedown is kicking puppies, doing it to “stifle criticism” is like single-handedly causing the extinction of puppies, kittens, and the constitution. Behold my awesome and terrible power. Go me.

But here’s the thing. I never did that.

via Trouble at the Koolaid Point — Serious Pony. H/t Steve Silberman

Tall tales about tall genes, revised edition.

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How do genes generate traits? A prime answer emerging from the ever-increasing power of genetic studies is that genes create traits through accidental teamwork. That is, as far as our still-early tools and techniques can tell, many and perhaps most traits for which we can find any genetic contributions are influenced by many genes of small effect.

Another consistent trend is that as our genetic tools grow more powerful and we are able to feed them the genomes of larger numbers of people, we tend to finder more and more genes contributing to any given trait or disease. For schizophrenia, for instance, the most recent study upped the number of contributing genes from about a couple dozen to about 80. This was hailed as a huge, even decisive step forward. The next study to go bigger will likely find more.

Same thing is happening with genes for height. Over the last few years, height has become a  example of how a highly obvious trait is actually shaped by many genes. At first the contributing number was thought to be a dozen; then several dozen; then maybe hundreds. Now a new study has muddied up this  relatively clean picture by finding that perhaps half of all human genes shape height — or, depending on how you count it, may all human genes. Or maybe, sort of, even more than all.

Say what?

As one person observed on Twitter, the idea that pretty much every single one of our genes helps to shape height comes close to meaningless. Now, in an essay titled “The height of folly”, veteran geneticist and sometime troublemaker (in the best sense of that word) Ken Weiss picks that up and runs with it. It’s a fun, smart, learned, and deliciously mischievous romp.

Weiss opens by commenting on a quote about height from famed geneticist Thomas Henry Morgan, whose fruit fly work laid the foundation for tracing traits to genes.

In 1926, geneticist Thomas Henry Morgan wrote this about stature:

A man may be tall because he has long legs, or because he has a long body, or both. Some of the genes may affect all parts, but other genes may affect one region more than another. The result is that the genetic situation is complex and, as yet, not unraveled. Added to this is the probability that the environment may also to some extent affect the end-product.
> (TH Morgan, The Theory of the Gene, p 294, 1926):

His point, of course, was not about stature per se but about the difficulty of identifying genes ‘for’ traits because there are many pathways to a trait, and they aren’t all genetic. This was understood eighty-eight years ago, and yet we have had study after study, ever larger, merging smaller studies, and all sorts of fancy statistics to account for various internal complications in genome sampling, and still the results pour forth as if we haven’t learned what we need to know about this and many traits like it.

Then Weiss considers the height paper’s assertion that even though the genetic factors contributing to height may seem incalculable, they are not:

The authors rather glibly come to what they seem to feel (did they take a poll?) is the comforting conclusion that while number of causally contributing genes is huge, it isn’t ‘infinite’. But that is at most technically true and in fact is farther from the real truth than the authors intended, or perhaps even realized.

Finally Weiss argues, half for fun (and he’s having a lot of fun) but mostly for real, that the proper number to consider, for both practical and conceptual purposes, actually is infinity.

We’re not just playing word games here. The number of causes, even just the genetic causes, of stature variation is truly infinite. It is misleading of the authors to try to reassure readers that at least the number is finite. That is in essence a tactic, perhaps inadvertent, that justifies the enumeration-approach form of business as usual.… If the science is to advance beyond a pretense of causal enumerability, what we need to do is develop some new, quantitative rather than enumerative causal concepts. How we should do that is unknown, unclear, debatable,…. and in our business-as-usual environment, probably unfundable.

Weiss, if I read him right, is posing a highly disruptive argument: That in a time when the effects of genes on traits appear more uncertain, unpredictable, vague, and circumstantial by the day, with seemingly every study finding more genes but fewer answers, the hunt for Yet More Genes threatens to turn into a chase that does more to justify itself than it does to show us anything new.

By saying the number of causes of stature variation is finite they essentially mean that they are enumerable and that there is an end to the counting, by which time all causes of stature will have been accounted for. That is simply false.

It’s not that genes are meaningless; it’s that perhaps they don’t mean what we think they do — and that we’re so locked into seeing genes as playing a sort of directorial role, and so convinced that if we count them properly we’ll gain some fundamental new insight, that we keep asking the same questions even though the answers are increasingly meaningless. Accordingly, we need to ask different questions.

The wise TH Morgan realized these issues in early 20th century form without needing to have all the expensive and extensive data that we are amassing. But his statement was generic and one might say it called for confirmation. We have had many other sorts of confirmation for similar traits, but perhaps what’s been reported for stature closes the book on the basic question.

So now, if the science is to advance beyond a pretense of causal enumerability, what we need to do is develop some new, quantitative rather than enumerative causal concepts. How we should do that is unknown, unclear, debatable,…. and in our business-as-usual environment, probably unfundable.

Get the whole romp at The Mermaid’s Tale.

Today’s Nobel was about how the brain navigates space. Here’s what happens when it can’t.

Today’s Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology went to a trio of researchers who figured out the basis of how the brain tracks and manages space, a task that is closely tied to memory.

This ability to remember and manage space — to navigate your way through life — is vital. Here, in a brief story I told at a Story Collider evening in Brooklyn,  is what happened when I realized I seemed to have lost that ability. That is, I was standing on my front steps one morning preparing to drive my two youngest children to preschool, which I’d done hundreds of times, and realized I had no idea how to get there. Keys in hand. Kids already in the car.

My first decision was whether to b) go back inside and tell my wife I had no idea how to drive to the preschool or b) go ahead and drive anyway.

Story starts at 1 minute. Tap that first little notch in the timeline below to get there, or just  just push the arrow and get the intro.

Schizophrenia is a thing we all carry a bit of.

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Michael O’Donovan and Kenneth Kendler, eminences in psychiatric genetics for good reason, look at the implications of recent (early) progress in identifying the dispersed genetic roots of schizophrenia. For ease of reading, I’ve inserted a few paragraph breaks in their long paragraph, which is the last of 9 points they make about recent findings. The money quote’s in the last graf.

Throughout much of its history, modern psychiatry has sought to ground its categorical diagnostic approaches in basic biological findings. One such effort was to locate the “gene for” schizophrenia. It is now widely agreed that no such gene exists. Rather, the genetic vulnerability to this tragic disease is widely distributed across the genome in a way that resembles the multifactorial threshold models so popular for years in statistical genetics.

This has 2 noteworthy implications.

First, the old divisions between psychiatric genetic epidemiologists (who studied families, twins, and adoptions) and molecular geneticists—where the former did “just statistics” and the latter studied “real genes”—should crumble. Indeed, the twin researchers, using multifactorial threshold models, probably had a more accurate genetic model of psychiatric illness than molecular researchers doing linkage and candidate gene association analysis, who typically assumed single-locus models of relatively large effect. Statistical and molecular tools will need to be fully integrated in the years ahead.

Second, and more profoundly, while there is surely a discrete phenomenological state of psychosis that clinicians can agree about reliably, there is no such dichotomy at the level of genetic risk. All of us carry schizophrenia risk variants, and the vast majority of us carry quite a lot of them. With respect to genetic risk, there is no “them” and “us,” only subtle shades of gray.

The paper, published online in JAMA Psychiatry, is behind a paywall. Most lay readers will find it a bit technical paper. But the motivated who do not mind PDFs may download one at this link, where someone uploaded a copy for distribution for collegial scholarly sharing.

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Photo by David Dobbs

Our Ebola response shows our true colors. Ain’t pretty.

I am very much of Helen Branswell’s mind that the world’s effort on Ebola, including that of the United States, should be focused on West Africa. That’s the fire; the U.S. patient is a spark. To stop sparks, snuff the fire.

In the meantime, however, the U.S. response to the appearance in Dallas of what is essentially our Patient Zero is, to put it charitably, not encouraging.

First, this yesterday from Delay in Dallas Ebola Cleanup as Workers Balk at Task, by Kevin Sack and Manny Fernandez at the NY Times. NB: There are four people living in that apartment, ordered to stay there so as not to spread infection. This is also after the hospital failed to admit the patient and sent him back to the apartment when he first went in.

More than a week after a Liberian man fell ill with Ebola and four days after he was placed in isolation at a hospital in Dallas, the apartment where he was staying with four other people had not been cleaned and the sheets and dirty towels he used while sick remained in the home, health officials acknowledged on Thursday afternoon.

And from the Guardian, US Ebola patient’s friends quarantined under armed guard:

At midday on Thursday, a child peeked out from behind a red diamond-pattered curtain in one of the apartments while at ground level a team of three contractors – none wearing any sort of protective clothing – power-washed the front porch. A stroller stood at the bottom of a staircase.

Earlier, a representative of one of the agencies who issued the control order said that arranging clean bedding was the responsibility of the family – despite the ban on them leaving their home. “The individuals, it’s up to them … to care for the household,” Erikka Neroes of Dallas County health and human services told the Guardian. “… Dallas County has not been involved in a disinfection process.”

So the richest country on earth has no team to contain the first appearance of one of the most deadly viruses we’ve ever known. Instead, apparently untrained contractors without protective clothing show up four days late and use not bleach and buckets to kill and contain the presumed hazard, but a power sprayer to blast them around.* The family this patient was staying with, meanwhile, is left to its own devices, isolated from the world. They’re left to deal with the sheets and towels themselves. The fate of these linens, uninspected but possibly the most infectious single item associated with Patient Zero, is left to chance.

This response is what you get when a country essentially has no sense of what public health is about. It’s a crystallized expression of an abiding feature of our so-called healthcare system: Health is something you do in a hospital or a doctor’s office. Generally you must pay to get it. Reach one of those places and maybe we can help you — an event more likely if you show ability to pay, and pay big. (Would the hospital have so quickly sent home a patient who had insurance? Statistically less likely.) Outside the paywalled environs of hospitals and offices, though, you’re on your own.

This is no way to treat fellow human beings. This is no way to stop an epidemic.


 

*At least one reader feared I was spreading panic here, and noted that any virus on the porch, depending on what it was in (surface v liquid, etc.), might (or might not) have died by the time the power-spraing occurred. Apparently there was TV and web coverage last night that made much of the power-washing and speculated heavily on how it might spread things.

I see my critic’s point about the danger of spreading panic (and the fuzzyness of whether the spray-washing was a real hazard). I still suspect that no matter what the hazard at that point, power-washing is unlikely to be best practice, since it spreads stuff rather than gathers it. But I want to make it clear I pointed this out not because I consider the practice in this case a huge threat and that we should freak out because OMG We’re All Gonna Die, but because power-washing by unprotected contractors 4 days late is another indicator of a weak, uncoordinated, and tardy response at an important site.