• Health Update

    I have two health updates today. First, at this very moment, I am recovering from an explosive bout of stomach something or other. I don’t know what I ate to bring that on, but I sure want to avoid it ever again.

    But you don’t care about that. You’re here for the monthly multiple myeloma update, and the news there is very good. My latest M-protein number is the lowest it’s been in two years:

    In addition, my white count numbers are good and my other immune system markers are pretty good too. All in all, a lousy morning but a very good month.

  • Help Us Fight Back Against Facebook’s Conservative Bias

    Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

    Like everyone in the writing biz, we rely heavily on Facebook to drive traffic to our site. Nobody really likes this, but it’s just the way things are these days. So when Facebook made some changes to its algorithms a couple of years ago that were supposed to have a modest effect, we were pretty stunned when our reach plummeted. A few days ago the Wall Street Journal told us how this had happened:

    In late 2017, when Facebook tweaked its newsfeed algorithm to minimize the presence of political news, policy executives were concerned about the outsize impact of the changes on the right, including the Daily Wire, people familiar with the matter said. Engineers redesigned their intended changes so that left-leaning sites like Mother Jones were affected more than previously planned, the people said. Mr. Zuckerberg approved the plans.

    This would be easier to take if Facebook really did have a liberal tilt that needed correction. But it doesn’t. Its daily top ten list of news posts routinely includes something like seven or eight conservative sites. Its own videos warning against fake news provide examples solely of conservative misconduct. The problem is not that Facebook underrepresents conservatives. The problem is that it’s under constant assault from conservative politicians who make up weepy—and ridiculously fanciful—stories about how they’re discriminated against.

    For Mother Jones, the result of all this has been a big loss of revenue, probably something on the order of half a million dollars. This is one of the reasons we do regular fundraisers: it costs a lot to produce our website and our magazine, and we have to make up for the loss of traffic that was deliberately engineered by Facebook two years ago. That’s why we’re doing one now.

    I’m going to keep bugging you about this, because the world needs more outlets like MoJo, and I get that everyone might be a little fundraised out toward the end of an election season. But we’re a continuous operation, and we need to keep the doors open 365 days a year. So how about a little help making up for what Facebook did to us? Here’s the link for contributions:

    https://secure.motherjones.com/flex/mj/key/7LIGHTB/src/7AHCK02|PAHCK02

    You can contribute once or sign up for a monthly donation. And it’s tax deductible. The more you donate, the more you save!

  • Lunchtime Photo

    This picture was taken in the early morning, just as the sky was barely starting to brighten. That’s why the left side of the photo is slightly lighter than the right side: I took the left part of the picture a few minutes later than the right side. In any case, this picture is mostly notable because it’s a nice shot of Orion, the only constellation that many of us city dwellers ever see.

    September 26, 2020 — McCain Valley, California
  • What the Hell Is Going on With Our Diplomats?

    The US embassy in Havana, which was mostly evacuated in 2017.Emily Michot/Miami Herald/TNS via ZUMA

    This is the damnedest story. You remember that business with the American diplomats in Havana all developing headaches and other cognitive difficulties? Nobody ever figured out what was really going on, but it was widely believed to be the result of some kind of attack using microwaves or some such. Apparently, the same thing has now happened in both China and Russia:

    What began as strange sounds and symptoms among more than a dozen American officials and their family members in China in 2018 has turned into a diplomatic mystery spanning multiple countries and involving speculation about secret high-tech weapons and foreign attacks.

    One of the biggest questions centers on whether Trump administration officials believe that Mr. Lenzi and other diplomats in China experienced the same mysterious affliction as dozens of diplomats and spies at the American Embassy in Cuba in 2016 and 2017, which came to be known as Havana Syndrome. American employees in the two countries reported hearing strange sounds, followed by headaches, dizziness, blurred vision and memory loss.

    ….Similar episodes have been reported by senior C.I.A. officers who visited the agency’s stations overseas, according to three current and former officials and others familiar with the events. That includes Moscow, where Marc Polymeropoulos, a C.I.A. officer who helped run clandestine operations in Russia and Europe, experienced what he believes was an attack in December 2017….Some senior Russia analysts in the C.I.A., officials at the State Department and outside scientists, as well as several of the victims, see Russia as the most likely culprit given its history with weapons that cause brain injuries and its interest in fracturing Washington’s relations with Beijing and Havana.

    Obviously I have nothing special to say about this. Opinion seems to be split between it being (a) some kind of genuine attack from the Russians or (b) sort of like chronic Lyme disease, which sufferers say is real but doctors say is just a bundle of symptoms with no connection to real Lyme disease. It’s just weird as hell.

  • Freaking Out About the Election? I’ve Got Some Advice for You.

    The Scream, Edvard Munch

    I’ve seen and heard from a surprising number of liberals who feel like they need to be talked off the ledge over the upcoming election. In one sense, this is hardly surprising after 2016. If Donald Trump could pull an election victory out of thin air four years ago, what’s to say he can’t do it again? I am here to talk you down from this particular ledge. Consider:

    • First off, it turns out that the 2016 polls weren’t actually off by more than one or two points at most. There’s really no reason to worry that this year’s polls are likely to be wildly off.
    • What’s more, in this year’s polls Joe Biden is much farther ahead than Hillary Clinton was in 2016. The Economist has him 8.4 points ahead. 538 has him 10.2 points ahead. Real Clear Politics has him 8.6 points ahead. Even an error of two or three points wouldn’t change things much, and there’s a limit to how much the national polls and the Electoral College can diverge. If Biden ends up five or six points ahead nationally on Election Day, it’s all but impossible for him to lose the Electoral College.
    • That said, pollsters are being much more careful this year and they’re paying a lot more attention to important state polls. Both the Economist and 538 have Biden ahead of Trump in the Electoral College by more than 50 votes.
    • The COVID-19 pandemic is a huge headwind for Trump. He’s doing his best to insist that he’s handled it better than any leader in the world, but nobody outside his base believes him. The evidence of the real world is just too strong.
    • Trump’s biggest weakness is among women, especially suburban women, and he is literally doing nothing to address that. Instead he’s dismissing concerns about the coronavirus and then heading off to his rallies to yell and scream about locking everyone up. This is losing him support among women.
    • In 2016, Trump benefited from the last-minute effect of the Comey letter. Fair or not, it played into the public perception of Hillary as a little shady and hurt her badly. This year’s last-minute surprise, the Hunter Biden laptop, is a joke. Not only is it getting very little play outside the fever swamps, but it’s an effort to portray Biden as corrupt. This is a sure loser since there simply isn’t any public perception that Biden, who served in public office for nearly half a century, is corrupt.
    • I hate to bring this up, and it is a lamentable retrograde truth in politics, but Biden is a standard-issue white guy. There won’t be any last-minute defections from voters who decide they just can’t support a woman.

    Both the Economist and 538 give Biden about a 90 percent chance of winning, but I suspect they’re hedging their bets a little and Biden’s odds are actually a bit better than that. In any case, if you’re on the ledge because Trump still has a 5-10 percent chance of being reelected, I can’t help you much. That’s just the reality. But I do have this advice: you should probably pay a lot less attention to anecdotal reports from a few of your friends. Likewise, with the periodic news stories about towns that still love Trump. I mean, even if he loses he’s probably still going to rack up 60 million votes or so (experts project a total turnout of around 150 million.) Of course you have friends who are either still dithering or else are committed to voting for the guy. What do you expect?

    Finally, since everyone agrees that Trump could win, get out there and do some door knocking or phone banking if you’re truly on the ledge right now. It will take your mind off things and help reduce Trump’s chances at the same time.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    A girl in the town of Tecate peeks over a sign to see what’s on the other side.

    Hey, did you know that if you’re on the American side of the border near Tecate, T-Mobile switches your cell phone to a Mexican carrier? And did you know that if, say, you blow out a tire and call AAA when you’re connected to a Mexican carrier, AAA won’t answer the phone? I didn’t know that either! But now I do.

    It all turned out OK in the end, but this incident has gotten me wondering if I should buy one of those temporary tire repair kits just in case. Anybody have any advice about those things?

    September 26, 2020 — Tecate, Mexico
  • COVID-19 Deaths May Be About to Rise

    Here’s a chart showing COVID-19 case growth since June 1 along with COVID-19 mortality growth lagged by three weeks:

    As you can see, there is still a correlation: when cases rise, deaths rise three weeks later, although by a smaller amount. There was a brief dip in case growth in mid-September that didn’t show up in a reduced death rate three weeks later, but perhaps it was too small and short-lived to be meaningful.

    The bad news here is that if you ignore the blips, cases started a steady rise on September 29. Today is three weeks later. Are we about to see a steady rise in the death rate too?

  • Two Weeks To Go . . .

    It’s two weeks until Election Day, so let’s take a look at the presidential polls in order to set a baseline of sorts:

    Donald Trump dipped a bit after the first debate, but then made up some of his loss. On net, he lost perhaps a point in the national polling and half a dozen seats in the Electoral College polling. Overall, though, the message of the polls is remarkable steadiness. It seems that everyone has already made up their minds and nothing much is likely to change it.