The best thing an individual American can do right now to fight global warming personally is to switch to electricity for all your energy needs. Your next car should be electric and your next home heater and water heater should be heat pumps. Rooftop solar is an excellent idea too.
That’s the central argument in Electrify, Saul Griffith’s new book about global warming (Amazon). He’s been talking about this for awhile; Electrify covers a lot of the same ground as his free self published Rewiring America and his Make articles.
The most interesting part of the new book isn’t the personal advice but rather his global plan for how the whole world mitigates global warming. He starts by pointing out how urgent the problem is: we have to start doing more right now, this very year, and there’s no time to wait on new technologies. Electricity is the best form of energy for transportation and storage. The basic idea is to shift from fossil fuel to electric consumption while in parallel adding more carbon-neutral electricity sources to the grid. He argues we’ll need 4x as much electricity in the US to achieve full electrification but this is a huge net gain (50%ish) in both total energy consumption and actual costs. He advocates for an effort akin to World War II mobilization to get it done, financed with low interest debt.
What I like best about his argument is it breaks the Gordian knot about “what can we do”? Electrify now and work on adding clean energy sources. I also like his holistic clarity, he really looks at whole-world energy consumption and economics. The optimism is great too. I find the argument convincing.
That being said, I also think global warming is a terrible problem that world politics won’t solve in time. We’re at 1.2C warming now. The Paris goal of 1.5–2C seems impossible. 3C seems inevitable and I suspect we’ll get to 4C at least before warming starts to reverse. That’s an enormous global catastrophe so big I think we have to consider geoengineering in parallel to decarbonizing to stave off the worst effects. As the book points out there's a risk people will see geoengineering as an alternative to decarbonization. It's not, but it might be a band-aid to give us time to get CO2 under control.
I've gotten interested in lowering my carbon footprint. That's led me to do some light research on a couple of consumer power topics.
The image above is their Power Content Label, a national standard for reporting where your power comes from. The Green program is at least 97% fossil-fuel-free. Note that large hydroelectric does not technically count as "renewable" on this label for political reasons. Here's a list of other power content labels in California for comparison. Ordinary California power is 40% fossil fuels. Pacific Power in the the north is over 75% fossil fuel.
The California Climate Credit is a carbon tax thing. The big power generation companies pay a carbon tax to the state for greenhouse gas emissions. Some of that tax is given directly to consumers; $50-$200 a year for each customer. I don't understand why it's set up that way.
I've been doing other power related stuff, too. I'm getting solar installed, that makes good financial sense if you can afford a 7 year investment horizon. I also changed my investment strategies to avoid fossil fuel companies; that's really just a cost to me but I feel better about it.
I'm a published cartographer! I contributed a couple of static maps of Enga Province in Papua New Guinea for the academic press book The Absent Presence of the State in Large-Scale Resource Extraction Projects. They're in chapter 3, Restraint Without Control, which talks about the interplay of the mining industry and local tribal fighting. You can read more about it on author Alex Golub's blog. There are high resolution versions of the maps on my site.
Alex is a friend from college, he knew I was interested in mapping and asked me to contribute some custom maps to help locate his narrative. PNG is a famously remote country and poorly mapped. Even in the modern era PNG map quality is very uneven. SRTM makes the topography map easy. But maps of human features are harder to come by. Google Maps and Bing Maps have very limited data. OpenStreetMap is much better and there are some specialist maps that are excellent.
I wrote up a bunch of technical notes on making the map back when I did the work. QGIS and OSM were both essential.
I had an idea it'd be nice to make maps for Wikipedia, one per PNG province. But the thought of dealing with Wikipedia politics was overwhelming. If there's a map advocate / mentor who would work with me I could probably get it done.
I felt physically ill reading this story about Facebook’s facilitation of murder and slavery.
... reports from employees who are studying the use of Facebook around the world, including human exploitation and other abuses of the platform. They write about their embarrassment and frustration, citing decisions that allow users to post videos of murders, incitements to violence, government threats against pro-democracy campaigners and advertisements for human trafficking.
There’s been plenty of stories about Facebook’s malfeasance over the years. Two things make this story particularly awful. One is the human scale of the harm they cause. It’s not some abstract discussion about political influence, it’s personal examples like a woman named Patricia being recruited and sold into slavery. The other is that Facebook knows about the problems and is choosing not to act. Or at least not act enough to be meaningful.
Facebook treats harm in developing countries as “simply the cost of doing business” in those places.
I had enough. I rage quit Facebook Thursday. Or at least tried to.
The problem is I’m a captive of Facebook. Because despite all the horrors it’s still a good semi-private way to keep in touch with people. It’s my primary social connection to the small gay community in Nevada County, for instance, including a group that organizes weekly meetups. Also it’s helped me reconnect with old high school friends. I’m well aware of the hundreds of other social media tools I could ask them to use, I helped design some of them. But the reality is that a lot of community happens on Facebook and if you don’t participate there, you miss out.
I don’t know what I’m going to do with Facebook. I was going to delete my account but feel I can’t. I’m trying to stay logged out but I already feel the need to connect occasionally, even if only to arrange social connections outside of Facebook. I’m one of those extremely online people, I can’t just disconnect entirely. But I’m being forced to visit the house of a psychopath.
This story this week is one in a series of investigative articles by the WSJ. Some Facebook employees have been trying to lessen the harm their company is doing and they’re tired of being ignored. So they’re talking to reporters, particularly Jeff Horwitz. As a collection the reporting is incredibly damning. Lying to their oversight board, ignoring mental harm to young women, amplifying anger and lies, sabotaging American vaccination efforts, and helping the business of murderers and slavers.
Facebook is in some ways just reflecting the larger evils of society. I’ve worked on social media policy. I understand the difficulty of moderating conversations. But as a medium Facebook is a very efficient amplifier of evil; its existence uniquely enables things like the genocide of the Rohingya. That creates an obligation on Facebook to mitigate the harmful uses of their product. They have failed to that. Maybe the only remedy is to stop them from operating.
Drama in #PlotterTwitter this week: someone cloned Lingdong Huang’s generative art project to sell as an NFT, without permission. (Website screenshot here). The code had an MIT license so this was technically allowed but there’s something obviously wrong in selling an artist’s work without their agreement. The artist denounced the NFT as a sham. The community also condemned the appropriation. Fortunately the NFT creator cancelled the project with a thoughtful explanation. So the crisis is over but it’s left behind some complex questions about open source licenses, commercialization, and computer generated art.
Generative art code is different from other programs. With art the output of the code often has more value than the code itself. Run the program and get an art piece: it’s the art piece that is the focus. Art code is often one-off and specific, not a reusable component like a database or math library. But the source code can be valuable as a teaching aid or as a basis for someone to remix and make their own art.
The generative art world is also full of library components that artists share. Perlin noise is a great example, a random number function so famous it won its creator an Oscar. The Perlin noise algorithm was published for free reuse and there are many open source implementations. I believe no one thinks artists should pay Ken Perlin royalties or even explicitly credit him in their artworks. But we are all grateful to have access to his tool. Same goes for more technical libraries like font renderers, shape drawers, or code that renders SVG or drives a plotter. They are useful tools for making art but they do not make art by themselves. Open source licenses handle this kind of utility code pretty well. The problem is for code that itself creates art.
Of course releasing code at all is the artist’s choice: what’s the goal of an open source release? I think many artists do it mostly out of a sense of it being a public good to share methods. There was an interesting discussion about how this does not necessarily require full code: "People are forced to learn by re-implementing, and discovering their own style, rather than copying mine." I feel that strongly myself when I look at other people’s art code. There’s little joy in just reproducing someone else’s art, the creativity is in making your own. But it can help to have working code to run and modify, borrow ideas from.
Unfortunately there’s money in appropriating someone else’s art code. The NFT market has greatly accelerated the commercialization of generative art. And while that can be good for artists it also attracts cryptohucksters with divergent ethics. I’m still hoping the whole idea of NFTs (and cryptocurrencies) blows up and disappears but until it does artists should be thinking about how to protect themselves from unwanted and aggressive exploitation.
So where do we go from here? My problem-solving nature wants to create a new software license that lets artists feel safe releasing their code. Existing open source licenses don’t protect against exploitation, the open source world has firmly rejected the idea of non-commercial licenses. The CC-NC license family is good for artistic works like photographs and written works but they are not recommended for software. I think we’d need a new license. Even if the code license works it’s not clear you can copyright the output of code. So that’s a problem.
One easy thing to do now is have more discussion about how the generative art community thinks about others reusing their work. There’s a nice essay about open source hardware community norms, I’d like to see something similar for art code. I know enough about open source licenses and art to participate but the conversation needs to be driven by working artists.
I think there’s some value in exploring more of how generative art code is unique in that it creates art, but is not just a tool nor is it the art itself. Generative art has always been full of unresolved tension about authorship, now doubled down with complex algorithms like VQGAN and CLIP. Commercialization is an aspect of the authorship question.
Thanks to the Drawing Bot Discord for thoughtful discussion that informed this blog post.
Starlink is good technology. I’m posting this blog entry from space. By which I mean Starlink, SpaceX’s new LEO satellite Internet service. I’ve been beta testing it for six months and using it exclusively for two. It is terrific. Some notes from a United States perspective.
Does it work well? Hell yeah! It’s more like having cable Internet than satellite. Over the last month my average bandwidth has been 100Mbits/s down, 12Mb/s up. Average ping to 126.96.36.199 of 41ms with 0.5% packet loss. Bandwidth is highly variable (50-200Mbps) but latency is pretty solidly 30-50ms. The main failure is occasional outages of ~10 seconds. That got a lot better mid-July with a Starlink change and will only get better as they launch more satellites. The service is still technically beta and there are some rough patches but it’s totally usable.
Is Starlink for you? Maybe. If you can get wired service (cable, fiber, faster DSL) that is probably a better choice. If you’re in a poorly served rural area in Ajit Pai’s America and you’re struggling with ViaSat or Hughes or using cellular, definitely. For me it’s an upgrade to my 12/1 Mbps fixed wireless service.
Will Starlink work at your house? Probably! It requires a clear view to the north. The free Starlink mobile app has an augmented reality tool to show you whether you have a good view. A few small obstructions are OK but if you live in the middle of a bunch of trees you need to go higher on your roof or get a mast.
Can you get it? Probably not soon. They are enormously back-ordered; Starlink has a limited amount of bandwidth per satellite and they are slow to add new users. They just passed 100,000 installs globally and are rumored to have 500,000+ customers on the waiting list. The best thing you can do is pre-order and put down a $99 deposit. It may be a year. (I got super lucky.)
Is it nerd friendly? Totally. You can use your own router; Starlink provides one but does not require it. Dishy has an open gRPC interface for getting detailed stats. The Internet service is quite solid and not messed with in any way I can tell. They sorta support IPv6 already and promise more. The main drawback is that (at least in IPv4) the service is cgNAT, you really can’t run a server behind Starlink in any reasonable way. The cgNAT is for good reason: they’re doing some very sophisticated routing, your packets may be relayed through several base stations hundreds of miles apart and it’s remarkable you have a stable external IP address at all.
Will Starlink succeed as a business? That’s hard to say. The program is still beta and currently has no bandwidth caps or significant throttles. And it’s $99/month: a lot by US urban ISP standards but competitive for rural areas. The problem is the satellites can only handle so many users and it seems too early to tell whether it works out to be profitable. Launching thousands of satellites is expensive but SpaceX are experts at that. Also crappy companies like ViaSat keep suing to stop Starlink because they can’t compete. Amazon is trying to make up for being years behind by trying to get the FCC to harass Starlink. The legal attacks seem to be failing so far in the US but you never know.
What’s next for Starlink? They launched their first full shell of satellites earlier this year, then took a pause. They seem to be fine-tuning algorithms and transceiver power settings right now. The next major change is a plan to use laser links so satellites can route packets directly (currently everything is relayed to the ground). It seems like a very hard problem but they are serious about doing it; ultimately Starlink might be better than wired service.
I’m not an Elon Musk fan but I have to say Starlink is amazing. And audacious; I never would have believed it would work (remember Iridium?). But it does work and it’s been a significant upgrade for me, so thank you SpaceX. The hilarious thing is the whole idea of Starlink apparently is about Mars; the project started as a way to design networking infrastructure for a colony on a new planet. Oh and then completely upended Earth’s ISP market as a sort of proof of concept.
My life has significantly improved in the last month thanks to a CPAP machine treating my obstructive sleep apnea. If you are tired all the time or think you are having trouble breathing when you sleep, please read this post. Sleep apnea is a dangerous condition that ruins your quality of life and may lead to early death. You might be able to greatly improve your life with simple treatment. If you’re looking for more information, Apnea Board has been helpful to me.
For the past year and a half I’ve been really tired. Sleeping 8 hours a night and a 90 minute nap in the day, still falling asleep in my chair. I chalked it up to Covid lockdown or something and ignored it for awhile. As far as I knew I was sleeping fine; Ken said I was snoring a lot and sometimes struggling for a breath but he didn’t seem concerned. Finally it clicked and I realized it was not normal. Now I’m using a CPAP and I’m sleeping well and am full of energy.
Diagnosis starts with your doctor, who refers you to a sleep specialist, who listens to your story and takes a look at your airway and orders a sleep study. You can do the study at home, you just borrow a small monitoring kit for a night and they collect and analyze the data. It’s very simple, they produce a score called AHI which quantifies any breathing problems. Most insurance will cover the testing.
Before the test I learned a lot myself with a pulse oximeter that records my blood oxygen every few seconds. It showed me my oxygenation was dropping very low every 50 seconds, all night. That is not normal. Then I took a video of myself sleeping and saw that basically I was not breathing at all normally, just getting the occasional gasp of air. It’s a wonder I’m still alive. The sleep test confirmed severe OSA.
Treatment comes after diagnosis. There’s a bunch of treatment options; my doctor recommended a CPAP machine. These work by pumping higher pressure air into your mouth and nose; the pressure keeps your airway inflated and lets you breathe. A simple CPAP is not a ventilator, it’s not breathing for you, but it’s similar. You turn on the machine, put on a mask sealed to your nose (and mouth if needed) and sleep.
I’ll he honest: a lot of people have a hard time with CPAP, there’s like a 50% rejection rate from people who hate the idea or find the machine uncomfortable. I was highly motivated and literally from the first night the improvement was so enormous that I’ve taken to it enthusiastically. I sleep fine with it, much better actually. My blood oxygen is now well above 90% all night and I have very few breathing incidents any more. I don’t love the thing; the mask is a nuisance, there’s some mild side effects like more farting. But I dislike suffocating in my sleep a lot more than the hassle.
Benefits for me were immediate and enormous. Literally the first morning I was dancing to music while making coffee. I can read in the afternoon without falling asleep. If I take a nap it’s a 10 minute snooze, not a 90 minute snorefest. My blood pressure is lower. (OSA basically creates panic all night and is a terrible strain on your body.) No luck on weight loss yet, that’s a benefit many OSA sufferers report. More energy to exercise though. One thing I’ve noticed in CPAP users; they tend to get very attached to their machines and can’t imagine going a night without them. I didn’t understand that before. Now I do.
Equipment was a bit of a mystery to me at first and the medical system is not great at advising patients. By far the best CPAP machine for basic OSA is the ResMed AirSense 10 AutoSet. The "AutoSet" is key; the machine automatically adjusts to its sensing of your breathing so you don’t have to guess at the right pressure. It’s a really nicely designed piece of equipment. If you’re data-minded be sure to put in an SD Card and get OSCAR to get very detailed second by second info on your breathing while you sleep. The AutoSet goes for about $800 now. Insurance should cover it but they are notoriously a pain in the ass about it. Do not let your insurer bully you into getting inferior equipment. For me it’s the best $800 I’ve ever spent.
The other half of the system is the mask. My first mask was the AirTouch F20, a basic full face mask. It has worked great. After my first month I switched to a smaller AirFit F30i, the way the hose comes out of the top of your head is a big improvement. Note these are both full face masks; if you don’t breathe through your mouth (much) you can probably use a much smaller nasal mask or pillow. A full mask kit is about $150 and again should be covered by insurance.
The medical system wants you to buy all this stuff from a "Durable Medical Equipment supplier" and the quality of those vendors varies enormously. Some are outright scams, including doctor kickbacks. I ended up skipping insurance and buying from CPAP Direct. In theory my insurance will reimburse me but so far that hasn’t worked out. The big pieces require a prescription but you can buy a lot of components and replacement parts, on Amazon without a prescription for much cheaper.
Maintenance is a bit of a hassle. I have to refill the humidifier tank every day. Also clean parts of the mask, other parts need weekly cleaning. The mask is intended to be replaced on a regular schedule; every month for the "pillow" (the part in contact with your face). That’s where ordering cheap replacements on Amazon can save a lot of money, maybe even if you have good insurance.
Conclusion I can’t emphasize enough what an improvement to my life CPAP treatment has been. Obstructive sleep apnea sucks. I encourage anyone reading this who wonders if they have a breathing problem at night to talk to their doctor, or maybe try a pulse oximeter on their own, or address it somehow. CPAP treatment isn’t so hard! It works! I’m enthusiastic enough about it to be writing this blog post and am glad to discuss it privately with anyone who asks.
PS: a special thank you to Obama and the ACA for making it possible to treat and discuss this problem without rendering yourself uninsurable.
Subnautica is one of the best games I’ve played in a long time. It marries a good narrative with excellent gameplay and a rare balance of complex game systems. It’s beautiful too and a nice mix of the pleasure of a well scripted game embedded in what looks like a complex naturally generated world. The rest of this post has lots of spoilers. It’s been five years since the game came out but if you haven’t played it yet I urge you to consider stop reading this post and play it instead.
My first comparison for Subnautica is Firewatch. Yeah, it’s a weird comparison, but it’s more than just a similar rendering style. Both games have a very strong narrative arc, a beginning to an end. Both games plop you alone in the middle of an unknown world with mysteries to explore. And both rely on a sense of wonder, occasional fear, and beauty. But while Firewatch is a great story it’s barely a video game, it’s the quintessential walking simulator. Subnautica manages to deliver both an excellent scripted story and have great gameplay.
The primary gameplay loop in Subnautica is survival crafting games. It’s often compared to Minecraft, Don’t Starve, No Man’s Sky. It’s a fair comparison, a lot of your time in Subnautica is spent finding resources and using them to progress along a tech tree so you can explore more dangerous and rewarding parts of the game. But those other games often end up becoming very resource heavy, rewarding collecting enormous amounts of materials for mass production. Subnautica’s crafting game is much tighter. You only need a few items of each type to build something and you typically only build one thing of that type: one weapon, one upgraded oxygen tank, one Seamoth. You do end up making a lot of food and water but even that is nicely constrained; about a third of the way through once you get one planter full of Marblemelons you’re basically set for life.
I love the subtlety of the tech upgrade tree, how awkward the advanced items are. Most games give the player a power fantasy, by the time you get all the best gear in Minecraft you’re god-tier power. But in Subnautica you never get anything very powerful. You basically never get weapons or armor that let you feel safe from the sea monsters, you are always running or hiding from them. The big crafting achievement in the game is the Cyclops, the big submarine. But it’s fantastically clumsy to manoeuvre and strangely vulnerable to attack. You end up spending the second half living in the Cyclops but it always feels like such an escape to jump back out and just swim free or use the Seamoth.
Exploration in the game is greatly improved by the balance between generated and scripted world. When the game first came out a lot of people thought the game was procedurally generated; that was the hot topic (thanks to Minecraft and No Man’s Sky) and the world is so beautifully detailed. But no, in fact the whole world is static, it plays the same for everyone. Not great for replayability but excellent for game design. The orderly progression through biomes and depths gives them a game a lot of story telling structure. You never quite feel led by the nose but you work your way through signposted encounters: the Aurora, the Degassi bases, the Lost River, the very deeps at the endgame.
That exploration is also where I had a little trouble. The game deliberately is disorienting; you’re never given a map and the mini-map like sonar images are not useful for navigating. All you get are beacon landmarks you place yourself. And the game is a 3d underwater maze, with the second half of the game entirely in cave systems! I finally gave up and used a fan-made map of the Lost River because I’d gotten a little stuck and confused. That was a big help to me. Getting lost is a big part of the game, I don’t mind that being a gameplay element. But video games are such a limited medium we don’t get to use our real-world navigation skills much. That’s why games always have HUDs and minimaps, they replace your innate sense of direction. I felt that lack a little here.
Being lost in the depths of the ocean is part of the fun of the game, the occasional fear. But what really accentuates that is the sound design. The creature noises are fantastic; you’ll be cruising along picking up quartz crystals and thinking you’re safe when you hear the most terrifying moan off in the distance. Stereolocated, and you can hear it’s getting closer. Such terror! Being in the Cyclops and hearing all the creaks of the hull, the thumps as fish smack into your ship. It’s a trick as old as Das Boot but it works remarkably well in the game.
Last note of appreciation for me, the end of the game. Most games like this by the time you reach the end both the player and the game designers are worn out. They’ve shown you all they have and you’re grateful just to read the final boss fight and end screen. Not Subnautica. First there’s no boss fight, that’d be totally wrong for a game with basically no fighting. Instead you have a boss… communion? Final crafting challenge? It’s great. And then, at least the way I played it, there’s a wonderful anticlimax. You’ve solved all the mysteries of the planet and are finally ready to escape but you still have to craft the rocket and take off. Which means one last trip to the surface, one last crafting challenge. I really enjoyed the feeling of scavenging my existing base and submarine for materials to use. That shield generator was hard earned and essential to my submarine survival but now I wouldn’t need it on the planet any more, time to reuse it for the rocket ship to escape. And even that rocket ship had a lot of grace notes; an elaborate launch sequence and the ability to create a time capsule. A very thoughtful farewell in a place most games would just have a single "you win" button to press.
Subnautica really is a masterfully crafted game from start to end. Depth, complexity, beauty. A good story and great gameplay systems to support it. Quite an achievement.
I continue to be obsessed with Orville Peck. The new pleasure is his video of "Jackson" with drag queen Trixie Mattel. Compared to other Peck numbers this one is way more upbeat and light. They also play perfect homage to a classic pop and Western song while gaying it up in a fun, non-overt way. It fits right in with Peck's career of playing classic country with love and respect but making it his own.
The song is from the 60s. Written and first performed by Billy Edd Wheeler as a straight up, fairly slow country song. The Jerry Leiber lyrics are great, too, a puffed up rooster bragging about how he’s gonna cheat on his wife and her just being completely unimpressed by his strutting.
We got married in a fever / Hotter than a pepper sprout
The lyrics get modified a bit and the song gets spunkier in the best known version by June Carter and Johnny Cash. Still a country song but now played with a lot of uptempo spark. But my favorite version might be Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood looking like recently deprogrammed cult members. It’s not the best arrangement but there’s something just so authentically late 60s about it. Also it’s the B-Side for Nancy Sinatra’s Bond title song and how weird is that?
Anyway, Mattel and Peck do an excellent version of Jackson. The costuming for Orville Peck in particular is fascinating; I can’t stop staring at his ankles twisting in those amazing gold boots. In the Behind the Scenes video they say "We just really look like if neither the North or the South won. The gays won." I’m not very familiar with Trixie Mattel but I’ve come to appreciate her outlandish makeup and look. She’s perfect performing the wife in this video, just the right touch of mocking and sass.
On March 20 I got my one and only J&J Covid vaccine shot. On April 13 I was on a plane to Florida for a two week vacation, a re-entry into the world. The trip was great! It also felt a little strange! I’m fairly early for returning to normalcy, I hope sharing my experience is useful to other folks.
It felt great to be out in the world again. I’m pretty introverted and didn’t find staying at home and being online this last year too awful. But even I was going crazy missing socializing with people, going out, etc. On my trip I went to all sorts of bars, restaurants, gatherings and it felt great. A bit strange the first day or two but I quickly got used to it. In fact I came to resent having to wear a mask anywhere, particularly to meet Florida’s silly requirement you have a mask on when you enter a bar even though no one was wearing one once inside.
I picked Florida to see family, friends, and the gay community in Ft. Lauderdale. But mostly I picked it because Florida has been relatively open all through Covid. Bars open, indoor dining, lots of people congregating. I’m a smug and cautious Californian and all through this last year was troubled by what I saw as irresponsible behavior in Florida. But now that I am vaccinated, that’s exactly what I want to be part of! (And to be fair to Florida, despite their policies their outcome is about the same as California’s).
I’m glad I went all-in on my trip. One danger of this lockdown in the past year is it creates unhealthy psychology where we become afraid to be around people beyond what is rational. There’s an analogy here for the AIDS crisis and gay men’s sexuality. I worry that kids are growing up afraid to hug their friends. I decided to act as if my vaccine gave me 100% immunity and I could go right back to old behavior; hugging, sharing a sip of a drink, being in crowded bars, sharing a hot tub at the hotel. It was great. Particularly drag night at Spencer’s where the bar was packed and no one masked or distancing in any way. Except for the glamorous hostess, a seven foot tall drag queen (heels to hair) with an employee’s plastic face shield. That evening felt entirely normal and healthy and profoundly good for me.
About halfway through the trip a bunch of articles about breakthrough infections were published and I had a brief moment of realization that I was not, in fact, 100% immune. (About 100 of 20,000 vaccinated patients got Covid in the four months of the big J&J study.) But I decided to be OK with my decision to live life as normal. The vaccine makes getting Covid less likely and nearly eliminates severe illness. That’s how it’s going to work going forward: strong but not perfect protection for most of us means the disease stops rampaging. I may have jumped the gun by a few weeks; waiting for 80% vaccination in the country would be safer. I’m not sorry I didn’t wait.
I predict many Americans who are vaccinated will act as I did, returning to normal with enthusiasm. (Not all though; there are plenty of vaccinated folks I know still being much more cautious.) I’ve written before about American selfishness and how it has harmed our public health in the last year. The good news is the #1 step we can take to protect ourselves, vaccination, also protects the people around us. It’s a win-win. The absolute latest guidelines from the CDC seem to agree. Very few restrictions recommended for vaccinated people, and the few that persist (masks indoors) are mostly for proecting people who have not yet been vaccinated.
I do hope our country takes two long term lessons from this nightmare year. First, I want people to wear masks or stay home if they themselves are sick with a cold, a flu, anything. That’s the norm in Asian countries and it should be the norm here. Second, I dearly wish the US would invest more in public health infrastructure. If we were prepared and responded aggressively, like Australia, we might have saved 400,000+ lives last year.
Anyway, in conclusion; get vaccinated! If you’re fully vaccinated and feel ready, go out and have some fun! Within your comfort zone of course, maybe you’re happier avoiding crowded indoor places for awhile longer. Some precautions are still advised. And we still don’t have a good solution for children. But it’s getting better in the US and we are being freed from the terrible limits we’ve been living under this last year.