California just hit 95% renewable energy. Will other states come along for the ride?

[Note:  This item comes from reader Randall Head.  DLH]

California just hit 95% renewable energy. Will other states come along for the ride?
By Sammy Roth
Apr 29 2021
https://www.latimes.com/environment/newsletter/2021-04-29/solar-power-water-canals-california-climate-change-boiling-point

Something remarkable happened over the weekend: California hit nearly 95% renewable energy.

I’ll say it again: 95% renewables. For all the time we spend talking about how to reach 100% clean power, it sometimes seems like a faraway proposition, whether the timeframe is California’s 2045 target or President Biden’s more aggressive 2035 goal. But on Saturday just before 2:30 p.m., one of the world’s largest economies came within a stone’s throw of getting there.

There are several caveats. For one thing, Saturday’s 94.5% figure — a record, as confirmed to me by the California Independent System Operator — was fleeting, lasting just four seconds. It was specific to the state’s main power grid, which covers four-fifths of California but doesn’t include Los Angeles, Sacramento and several other regions. It came at a time of year defined by abundant sunshine and relatively cool weather, meaning it’s easier for renewable power to do the job traditionally done by fossil fuels. 

And fossil fuels actually were doing part of the job — more than the 94.5% figure might suggest. California was producing enough clean power to supply nearly 95% of its in-state needs, but it was also burning a bunch of natural gas and exporting electricity to its Western neighbors. It’s impossible to say exactly how much of the Golden State’s own supply was coming from renewables.

That said, what happened on Saturday is definitely a big deal. 

“It sends chills down my spine. It’s amazing,” said Elliot Mainzer, president and CEO of the California Independent System Operator, which runs the state’s main power grid. “These types of transitions aren’t always pretty. But we’re getting a lot of renewable generation online, making a real dent in the state’s carbon emissions.”

I’ll get to the bit about the transition not always being pretty in a minute. For now, here’s a chart based on data from the grid operator’s website, showing how various sources of power supply changed hour by hour on Saturday:

That green line at the top is renewables; you can see how it jumps up in the morning and falls in the evening, reflecting sunrise and sunset. The orange line under that is natural gas. The red line at the bottom is out-of-state imports. It sinks into negative territory in the middle of the day because California has so much solar power that it’s selling some to other states.

The 94.5% record may have been fleeting, but it wasn’t some isolated spike. Most of Saturday afternoon, the renewables number topped 90%, with solar and wind farms doing the bulk of the work and geothermal, biomass and hydropower facilities making smaller contributions. Add in the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant — which isn’t counted toward California’s renewables mandate — and there was enough climate-friendly power at times Saturday to account for more than 100% of the state’s electricity needs.

So California has lots of clean power. The important thing now is making sure the puzzle pieces of the grid fit together on hot summer evenings, like the ones last August when insufficient supplies after sundown led to rolling blackouts.

State officials are taking many steps to avoid a repeat of last summer’s emergency, some of which are more controversial than others. They’re also beginning to focus on the longer term. Mainzer’s grid operator recently urgedthe California Public Utilities Commission to order electric companies to add 10,000 megawatts of power by 2026 — about one-eighth of the state’s entire generating capacity! — in part to make sure there’s enough supply on the grid when the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant closes.

“That’s not an inconsequential investment,” Mainzer said.

No, it’s most definitely not. But while some of the clean energy solutionsCalifornia is almost certain to need will carry a high upfront price tag, others are much less expensive. In fact, some produce immediate savings.

Case in point: the Western Energy Imbalance Market.

[snip]

Dear Sen. Tim Scott – If America Is Not a Racist Nation…

Dear Sen. Tim Scott – If America Is Not a Racist Nation…
We can’t solve our very real & serious issues if we don’t confront them, and it’s tragic that the GOP would use this national platform to once again deny America’s most tragic reality.
By Thom Hartmann
Apr 29 2021
https://hartmannreport.com/p/dear-sen-tim-scott-if-america-is

President Joe Biden, last night, gave one of the best presidential speeches and policy proposals of my lifetime. It rivals Jack Kennedy in 1961, and, if passed, will undo much of the damage of the Reagan Revolution of the past 40 years. 

In the Republican Party’s rebuttal, without seriously addressing even one single specific proposal of President Biden, Senator Tim Scott, the sole Black Republican in that body, instead went out of his way to promote the GOP idea that, in his words, “America is not a racist nation.”

This, of course, is the main GOP sales pitch for blocking and refusing to pass any kind of legislation that might make up for 400 years of violently racist economic, educational and policing policy in the United States. 

It’s the rationale Republicans on the Supreme Court used to gut the Voting Rights Act in their Shelby County decision, which led to numerous Republican-controlled states passing racially-specific anti-voting laws within weeks that they continue to promote and expand on to this day.

It would be wonderful if it were true, but tragically is, today, a sad lie and a fantasy.

If America is not a racist nation, why did we kill tens of millions of Native Americans, keep their descendants in poverty, and continue to this day to steal their land? 

If we’re not a racist nation, why were most of the iconic buildings in Washington DC, from the Capitol building to the White House, built by enslaved Black people?

If we’re not a racist nation why was it the law in the United States until the 1960s to separate the races and even outlaw interracial marriage? 

If we’re not a racist nation why was it the law until that era that immigration had to follow racial patterns with almost exclusively white people legally entering the country? And why is it that Republicans want to go back to those racially-based immigration policies, and keep referring longingly to that pre-1960s period? 

If we’re not a racist nation, why is it that Black people are killed disproportionately by police? When was the last time you heard a white guy say, “I can’t breathe” just before he was killed by the police?

If we’re not a racist nation why is it the people with identifiably white and Black names receive different numbers of callbacks from prospective employers across multiple studies over decades? Not to mention the pay differential that’s so well documented?

If we’re not a racist nation, why is the Maga movement almost entirely white and why do they keep talking about starting and winning a “race war“ in the United States? 

If we’re not a racist nation, why does the Department of Justice clearly identify the greatest terrorist threat to this country as American white supremacists?

If we’re not a racist nation, why did the President of the United States refer to Nazis chanting that “Jews will not replace us,“ meaning that they thought Jewish billionaire George Soros was importing people of color into the United States to “replace” whites, as “very fine people?” 

If we’re not a racist nation, why do schools in predominantly Black neighborhoods consistently perform poorly, even when attended by white students? 

If we’re not a racist nation, why is the average white family worth over $100,000 and the average Black family worth less than $6000? 

If we’re not a racist nation, why is it that we’re surprised when we see a TV show where the hero is the Black guy and the evil person is the white guy?

If we’re not a racist nation, why do white guys keep walking into churches and shooting Black guys, and white people keep calling the police on Black people for walking, shopping, working, birdwatching, attending school, caring for their own children, or driving? 

And when was the last time you heard about white people having the police called on them by Black people and that white person ended up shot dead or had his neck crushed by the cops?

[snip]

Flu Has Disappeared Worldwide during the COVID Pandemic

Flu Has Disappeared Worldwide during the COVID Pandemic
The public health measures that slow the spread of the novel coronavirus work really well on influenza
By Katie Peek
Apr 29 2021
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flu-has-disappeared-worldwide-during-the-covid-pandemic/

Since the novel coronavirus began its global spread, influenza cases reported to the World Health Organization have dropped to minuscule levels. The reason, epidemiologists think, is that the public health measures taken to keep the coronavirus from spreading also stop the flu. Influenza viruses are transmitted in much the same way as SARS-CoV-2, but they are less effective at jumping from host to host.

As Scientific American reported last fall, the drop-off in flu numbers was both swift and universal. Since then, cases have stayed remarkably low. “There’s just no flu circulating,” says Greg Poland, who has studied the disease at the Mayo Clinic for decades. The U.S. saw about 600 deaths from influenza during the 2020-2021 flu season. In comparison, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated there were roughly 22,000 deaths in the prior season and 34,000 two seasons ago.

Because each year’s flu vaccine is based on strains that have been circulating during the past year, it is unclear how next year’s vaccine will fare, should the typical patterns of the disease return. The WHO made its flu strain recommendations for vaccines in late February as usual, but they were based on far fewer cases than in a common year. At the same time, with fewer virus particles circulating in the world, there is less chance of an upcoming mutation, so it is possible the 2021–2022 vaccine will prove extra effective.

Public health experts are grateful for the reprieve. Some are also worried about a lost immune response, however. If influenza subsides for several years, today’s toddlers could miss a chance to have an early-age response imprinted on their immune system. That could be good or bad, depending on what strains circulate during the rest of their life. For now, future flu transmission remains a roll of the dice.

Influenza Cases Worldwide, by Region

The World Health Organization tracks influenza transmission in 18 zones. Three of those regions appear here. Only people who get tested for influenzalike illnesses—typically about 5 percent of individuals who fall ill—are tallied.

[snip]

Why Aren’t We Wearing Better Masks?

[Note:  This article is from January.  Seems like this question still hasn’t been answered properly.  DLH]

Why Aren’t We Wearing Better Masks?
Cloth masks are better than nothing, but they were supposed to be a stopgap measure.
By Zeynep Tufekci and Jeremy Howard
Jan 13 2021
https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2021/01/why-arent-we-wearing-better-masks/617656/

If you’re like most Americans, there’s a good chance you’re going to wear a cloth mask today. Doing so makes sense. It remains the official recommendation in the United States, and it is something we’ve both advocated since the beginning of the pandemic. Both of us wrote articles as far back as March urging people to wear homemade cloth masks. We’re also the authors (along with 17 other experts) of a paper titled “An Evidence Review of Face Masks Against COVID,” which was just published in peer-reviewed form in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But it’s past time for better solutions to be available to the public.

We first released the paper as a preprint back in April, and it took nine months to go through peer review. We’re happy that it’s published but, to be honest, we’re also deeply disappointed that it’s still relevant. We’d hoped that by 2021 supply chains would have ramped up enough to ensure that everyone had better masks. Cloth masks, especially homemade ones, were supposed to be a stopgap measure. Why are so many of us still wearing them?

Don’t get us wrong; everything we said about the efficacy of cloth masks stands the test of time. Wearing them is much better than wearing nothing. They definitely help reduce transmission of the coronavirus from the wearer and likely protect the wearer to some degree as well. But we know that not all masks are equal, and early on in the pandemic, there was a dire shortage of higher-grade masks for medical workers. During those emergency conditions, something was much better than nothing. There are better possibilities now, but they require action and guidance by the authorities.

Even all cloth masks are not equal. Construction, materials, and fit matter, and these can’t be tracked or certified with homemade masks. Unlike cloth masks, medical-grade masks (also called respirators) that adhere to standards such as N95 (in the U.S.), FFP2 (in the European Union), and KN95 (in China) do a much better job of protecting the wearer and dampening transmission. Ideally, they should also come with instructions on how to wear them and ensure that they fit properly.

Because we have written about masks, we’ve become informal advisers to friends, family, and strangers on the internet. We’re not much help, though. When our friends ask us simple questions like “Where should I buy a mask?” or “Is my mask any good?,” we don’t have great answers. We can mumble generalities: Make sure it fits well; here are some guidelines about layers; try to avoid fake N95s. But if we can’t give wholly satisfying answers to such basic questions, then how is the general public expected to fare?

Tragically, America is swamped with fraudulent medical-grade masks, some of which are only 1 percent effective. Many masks do not have labels clearly indicating their manufacturer. Some official mask-testing methods are inappropriate, including the use of far higher pressure than normal breathing exerts. No reasonable certification is available for the most useful masks generally available to the public. All of this means that everyone has to somehow figure out for themselves which masks are effective.

We routinely get PR pitches for excellent new solutions as well as snake-oil remedies, and we sometimes have trouble telling them apart—how is an ordinary person supposed to evaluate competing claims? When we share our articles about masks on social media, we are asked where to buy proper masks. Not only do we have no answer, but we often find that marketers will answer instead, directing readers to unreliable, overpriced masks. Worse, the supply situation apparently remains so dire that the CDC still “does not recommend that the general public wear N95 respirators,” because they’re crucial supplies that must continue to be reserved for health-care workers and other first responders.

Not all countries have this problem. Taiwan massively scaled up its manufacturing of masks at the start of 2020, such that by April every citizen received a fresh supply of high-quality masks each week, and the distribution system was regulated by the government. Taiwan’s COVID-19 death rate per capita is more than 1,000 times lower than that in the U.S. Hong Kong has beendistributing patented six-layer masks (the efficacy of which has been laboratory tested) to every citizen. Singapore is on at least its fourth round of distributing free, reusable, multilayer masks with filters to everyone—even kids, who get kid-size ones. In Germany, Bavaria has just announced that it will be requiring higher-grade masks. If all of these places can do this, why can’t we?

Fixing this problem is more urgent now that a new variant of the coronavirus, known as the B.1.1.7 lineage, is making its way around the world. This variant is believed to be about 50 to 70 percent more transmissible than earlier strains of the virus. Masks are an important part of the battle against this new variant because they decrease transmission by reducing the number of infectious particles spread by a mask wearer (known as “source control”) and by reducing the amount that a mask wearer inhales. The cloth masks that we focus on in our paper do a good job at source control, but on their own they do not protect the wearer as well as medical-grade respirators do. That’s why health-care workers wear respirators, and that’s why leaving existing supplies for them was important early on—they were dealing directly with COVID-19 patients, so they needed the protection. Right now, while the CDC language on supply shortages has not been updated, it’s unclear if that’s because the shortages are really that dire or because this topic has not been paid sufficient attention. In either case, the CDC should update us on the situation. And if, indeed, we are still suffering from shortages, emergency measures should finally be implemented to manufacture such masks at home.

Not having higher-grade medical masks or even reliable, certified cloth masks distributed to the population means more transmission. But that’s not all. If we could confidently tell people that the masks would also help protect the wearerfrom infection, we would likely get more people to wear them. Appealing to solidarity is excellent (“My mask protects you; your mask protects me”), but being able to confidently add self-interest to the equation would be even better.

Ideally we would have ramped up supply and been able to produce and distribute certified higher-filtration masks to the whole population. At a minimum, we should have created a certification program and a distribution channel that allows people to purchase higher-grade masks with confidence. Even better, we could have distributed them to the public for free like so many other places. It’s not just that many other countries showed us the way: Many experts have been urging a switch to better-grade masks as soon as possible. For example, Abraar Karan and his co-authors wrote on the same topic many, many times, in May, June, October, and even this month. As Karan pointed out to us, the fact that some people refuse to wear masks makes it even moreimperative that we distribute higher-grade masks to those willing to wear them.

We need the CDC and the FDA to step up and provide simple, clear, actionable, and specific information that would allow the public to know which masks are reliable and where they can get them, as well as how to upgrade and better wear their existing options. Initial studies suggest that widely available surgical masks, combined with a mask brace, could increase the effectiveness of the surgical masks. Cloth masks can be upgraded with a nose wire (for fit) and a filter insert—and more than 100,000 types of these masks are available on Etsy. A good supply of KN95 masks is available from China, with many supermarkets and pharmacies now selling them for a couple of dollars each. But none of these solutions can work widely as long as the public has little guidance on which masks are reliable and certified.

[snip]

The CDC Is Still Repeating Its Mistakes

The CDC Is Still Repeating Its Mistakes
The agency’s new guidelines are too timid and too complicated.
By Zeynep Tufekci
Apr 28 2021
https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2021/04/cdc-outdoor-mask-pandemic/618739/

Yesterday, the CDC released more relaxed mask guidelines for outdoor activities, as well as new charts for indoor and outdoor recommendations. The more permissive guidelines were a welcome step forward, but they’re still frustrating. By issuing recommendations that are simultaneously too timid and too complicated, the CDC is repeating a mistake that’s hounded America’s pandemic response. The new guidelines are rigid and binary, and aren’t accompanied by explanations or a link to an accessible version of the underlying science, which would empower people to both understand them better and figure things out for themselves.

The new guidelines come with charts that list specific activities and how a person should engage in them, based on their vaccination status. The charts illustrate people wearing masks or not, with different colors and mask statuses for vaccinated and unvaccinated people, depending on the activity. The chart for outdoor activities suggests that masks are not necessary for walks or runs, for example, if people are by themselves or with their household, regardless of vaccination status. However, unvaccinated people are advised to wear a mask at “small” outdoor gatherings that include other unvaccinated people, but the people are still marked “safest.” Colors change, too: Yellow is used for the unvaccinated dining outdoors with multiple households, marked as “less safe,” though the earlier “small, outdoor gathering” does not clarify household status. Crowds have everyone masked, but the colors are different: red for the unvaccinated, green for the vaccinated, who are wearing masks but marked “safest.”

Confused? You’re not alone. The guidelines got Linsey Marr, a professor at Virginia Tech and a leading expert on viral transmission, to remark that even shecan’t remember all of this. “I would have to carry around a sheet of paper—a cheat sheet with all these different stipulations,” she said in an interview after the announcement.

And despite all the detail, social media was flooded with questions from people who couldn’t figure out what they should do in different settings. What happens if they live with someone who is not vaccinated or has medical issues? What counts as a crowd? How small is a “small, outdoor gathering”? Why are unvaccinated people “safest” at a small outdoor gathering but not at an outdoor restaurant? And why is a crowd a threat to the vaccinated? What does the color coding for unvaccinated people indoors mean exactly, since they are advised to wear masks at all times? The CDC should, at the very least, explain the scientific reasoning behind these rules. Not only would this empower people; it would inform the inevitable debate about the guidelines.

We wear masks for three reasons: to protect ourselves from people who might be infected, to protect others from our infections, and to set social standards and norms appropriate for a pandemic. The last one is also important: A pandemic requires a collective response. As we learn more, we move from broader precautions to targeted mitigations. Early in the pandemic, the existing guidelines that suggested only the sick should wear masks and the objection that we didn’t know all we needed about the effectiveness of masks violated both the need for social norms, by stigmatizing the sick, and the precautionary principle, by letting remaining uncertainty stop us from protecting ourselves as best we could even with imperfect knowledge. So we changed the rules.

Now, a year later, both the sociology of outdoor masks and the precautionary principle operate in the opposite direction, because the science is in. We need to change the rules again, but also explain why.

Let’s start with the outdoors. Study after study finds extremely low rates of outdoor transmission. So far, I’m unaware of a single confirmed outdoor-only super-spreading event, even though at least thousands of confirmed super-spreading events took place indoors. (The Rose Garden party to celebrate Donald Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court and the multiday Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota both had extensive indoor components.) When outdoor transmission does occur in small numbers, it’s not from fleeting encounters, but from prolonged contact at close distance, especially if it involves talking, yelling, or singing.

An increasing number of scientists believe that outdoor and indoor transmission differ so starkly because the coronavirus transmits through aerosols—essentially little floating particles that we emit, even if we are just breathing, but even more if we are talking, yelling, or singing. Unlike droplets, these aerosol particles do not immediately fall to the ground with the force of gravity within three to six feet, and they concentrate most around the person emitting them, so close contact remains risky. Crucially, they can disperse quickly if they are released in the great outdoors, or, conversely, they can keep accumulating in a poorly ventilated, enclosed environment and travel beyond the short distance in which droplets would fall.

The risk of transmission depends on the person, place, and activity, and the first is the hardest to be sure about. The rate of aerosol emission varies greatly among people, and the viral load in infected people changes throughout the disease’s progression, peaking right around symptomatic disease for most. Plus, we don’t always know who is vaccinated. But we know where we are and what we are doing—whether we are outdoors and whether we are interacting at close length. So even without taking vaccines into consideration, the previous guidelines that recommended masks in “public settings,” including outdoors, were already too rigid and too timid.

Now that nearly 100 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, we have to factor that into our risk assessment. The CDC has been loosening rules for the vaccinated, and there, too, the guidelines have an implicit message. For example, the CDC does not require vaccinated people to quarantine after exposure or travel unless they get sick. The totality of the evidence so far indicates that vaccinated people are not just incredibly safe from severe disease or death, but they are very well protected against symptomatic COVID-19. These no-quarantine-required rules show that the CDC further believes that the risk of unknowing transmission due to an asymptomatic infection can be considered so minuscule as to be negligible. So perhaps although one can imagine that vaccinated people may transmit COVID-19 indoors in very, very rare cases, it’s harder to imagine the chances of such transmission occurring outdoors to be anything but vanishingly low.

To add to the confusion, in earlier guidelines, the CDC already said that vaccinated people could meet indoors without masks even if one of the households had unvaccinated members. It’s confusing to say that vaccinated people can meet indoors without masks with unvaccinated people in one guideline, but that they should wear masks outdoors in a crowd in another guideline, without further explanation of why. If the idea is that, in crowds, we should keep masks for everyone because of sociological reasons, to avoid the awkwardness of selective mask enforcement, the CDC should just say so.

What about rules for vaccinated people indoors, then? One could argue that the science is already fairly strong that the vaccinated are likely fine even indoors, especially if community transmission isn’t very high, and that the CDC guidelines implicitly assume this. That said, one can concede that this part of the empirical record is still evolving. However, that’s not currently relevant for public rules and behavior, because just like we can’t tell only the sick to wear masks, we cannot tell only the vaccinated to chuck their masks indoors—a grocery-store clerk shouldn’t have to police this. For now, indoor spaces have to keep masks as a rule simply for sociological reasons. We should make that explicit too.

[snip]

Re: Comcast hides upload speeds deep inside its infuriating ordering system

[Note:  This comment comes from friend Steve Goldstein.  DLH]


From: 
Steven Goldstein <steve.goldstein@comcast.net>

Subject: Re: [Dewayne-Net] Comcast hides upload speeds deep inside its infuriating ordering system

Date: April 18, 2021 at 2:11:00 PM EDTTo: dewayne@warpspeed.com


Dewayne,


In the complete article, the following occurs:””Throughout 2020, Comcast continued to deliver above-advertised speeds to customers across the country, including in areas most affected by COVID-19,” Comcast’s report boasted. “The remarkable performance of the network during this time can be attributed to outstanding work by engineering and care teams, key technology innovations, and billions of dollars in strategic investment for many years before the pandemic began.”
Not true for me in Charlottesville, VA.  I subscribe to Comcast’s Blast! With a nominal d/l speed in the mid-300’s.  At times, I clock d/l speeds of roughly 358mbps via Ethernet with Speedtest.  Uploads always around 12mbps, never more.  BUT…here’s the kicker: the local infrastructure is under-provisioned with respect to subscriber demands in times of COVID-19 (working and schooling from home, Zooming…).  So much of the weekday time, we are lucky to get even 60mbps, and often only about 30mbps.  I can see the congestion with the Speedtest graphs: rising quickly and then being throttled down, sometimes with attempts to increase, but not succeeding—that’s good old congestion control kicking in!  Interestingly, when I run Speedtest through a different local server, I get greater d/l speeds, and similarly when I link through a VPN (Surfshark).  I do not support Comcast’s uber-hype.
Well, it’s mid-afternoon on Sunday, so I didn’t get throttled back as much as during the work week (228/11.9):

PastedGraphic-5.tiff

Comcast hides upload speeds deep inside its infuriating ordering system Comcast upload speeds of 3 to 35Mbps are hidden until last page of checkout.
By Jon Brodkin
Mar 3 2021
https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2021/03/comcast-hides-upload-speeds-deep-inside-its-infuriating-ordering-system/

Daniel Kaminsky, Internet Security Savior, Dies at 42

[Note:  This item comes from friend Steve Goldstein.  DLH]

Daniel Kaminsky, Internet Security Savior, Dies at 42
If you are reading this obituary online, you owe your digital safety to him.
Apr 27 2021
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/27/technology/daniel-kaminsky-dead.html

Daniel Kaminsky, a security researcher known for his discovery of a fundamental flaw in the fabric of the internet, died on Friday at his home in San Francisco. He was 42.

His aunt, Dr. Toby Maurer, said the cause was diabetes ketoacidosis, a serious diabetic condition that led to his frequent hospitalization in recent years.

In 2008, Mr. Kaminsky was widely hailed as a digital Paul Revere after he found a serious flaw in the internet’s basic plumbing that could allow skilled coders to take over websites, siphon off bank credentials or even shut down the internet. Mr. Kaminsky alerted the Department of Homeland Security, executives at Microsoft and Cisco, and other internet security experts to the problem and helped spearhead a patch.

He was a respected practitioner of “penetration testing,” the business of compromising the security of computer systems at the behest of owners who want to harden their systems from attack. It was a profession that his mother, Trudy Maurer, said he had first developed a knack for as a 4-year-old, after his father gave him a computer from Radio Shack. By age 5, Mrs. Maurer said, Mr. Kaminsky had taught himself to code.

His childhood paralleled the 1983 movie “War Games,” in which a teenager, played by Matthew Broderick, unwittingly accesses a U.S. military supercomputer. When Mr. Kaminsky was 11, his mother said, she received an angry phone call from someone who identified himself as a network administrator for the Western United States. The administrator said someone at her residence was “monkeying around in territories where he shouldn’t be monkeying around.”

Without her knowledge, Mr. Kaminsky had been examining military websites. The administrator vowed to “punish” him by cutting off the family’s internet access. Mrs. Maurer warned the administrator that if he made good on his threat, she would take out an advertisement in The San Francisco Chronicle denouncing the Pentagon’s security.

“I will take out an ad that says, ‘Your security is so crappy, even an 11-year-old can break it,’” Mrs. Maurer recalled telling the administrator, in an interview on Monday.

They settled on a compromise punishment: three days without internet.

Nearly two decades after he lost his access to the internet, Mr. Kaminsky wound up saving it. What Mr. Kaminsky discovered in 2008 was a problem with the internet’s basic address system, known as the Domain Name System, or DNS, a dynamic phone book that converts human-friendly web addresses like NYTimes.com and Google.com into their machine-friendly numeric counterparts. He found a way that thieves or spies could covertly manipulate DNS traffic so that a person typing the website for a bank would instead be redirected to an impostor site that could steal the user’s account number and password.

Mr. Kaminsky’s first call was to Paul Vixie, a longtime steward of the internet’s DNS system. The usually unflappable Mr. Vixie recalled that his panic grew as he listened to Mr. Kaminsky’s explanation. “I realized we were looking down the gun barrel of history,” Mr. Vixie recalled. “It meant everything in the digital universe was going to have to get patched.”

Mr. Vixie asked Mr. Kaminsky if he had a fix in mind. “He said, ‘We are going to get all the makers of DNS software to coordinate a fix, implement it at the same time and keep it a secret until I present my findings at Black Hat,’” Mr. Vixie said, referring to an annual hacking conference in Las Vegas.

Mr. Kaminsky, then the director of penetration testing at IOActive, a security firm based in Seattle, had developed a close working relationship with Microsoft. He and Mr. Vixie persuaded Microsoft to host a secret convention of the world’s senior cybersecurity experts.

“I remember calling people and telling them, ‘I’m not at liberty to tell you what it is, but there’s this thing and you will need to get on a plane and meet us in this room at Microsoft on such-and-such date,’” Mr. Vixie said.

Over several days they cobbled together a solution in stealth, a fix that Mr. Vixie compared to dog excrement. But given the threat of internet apocalypse, he recalled it as being the best dog excrement “we could have ever come up with.”

By the time Mr. Kaminsky took the stage at Black Hat that August, the web had been spared. Mr. Kaminsky, who typically donned a T-shirt, shorts and flip flops, appeared onstage in a suit that his mother had bought for him. She had also requested that he wear closed-toed shoes. He sort of complied — twirling onto the stage in roller skates.

When his talk was complete, Mr. Kaminsky was approached by a stranger in the crowd. It was the administrator who had kicked Mr. Kaminsky off the internet years earlier. Now he wanted to thank Mr. Kaminsky and to ask for an introduction to “the meanest mother he ever met.”

While the DNS fix was Mr. Kaminsky’s most celebrated contribution to internet security, it was hardly his only one. In 2005, after researchers discovered Sony BMG was covertly installing software on PCs to combat music piracy, Sony executives played down the move. Mr. Kaminsky forced the issue into public awareness after discovering that Sony’s software had infected more than 568,000 computers.

“He did things because they were the right thing to do, not because they would elicit financial gain,” his mother, Mrs. Maurer, said.

(When a reporter asked Mr. Kaminsky why he did not exploit the DNS flaw to become immensely wealthy, he said that doing so would have been morally wrong, and that he did not want his mother to have to visit him in prison.)

Silicon Valley’s giants sought Mr. Kaminsky’s expertise and often tried to recruit him with lucrative offers to serve as their chief information security officer. He politely declined, preferring the quiet yeoman’s work of internet security.

In a community known for its biting, sometimes misogynistic discourse on Twitter, Mr. Kaminsky stood out for his empathy. He disdained Twitter pile-ons and served as a mentor to journalists and aspiring hackers. He would often foot a hotel or travel bill to Black Hat for those who could not afford it. When one protégé broke up with her boyfriend, Mr. Kaminsky bought her a plane ticket to see him, believing they were meant to be. (They married.)

He was outspoken when privacy and security were on the line. After the F.B.I. tried to force Apple, in federal court, to weaken the encryption of its iPhones in 2015, James B. Comey, who was then the F.B.I. director, testified to Congress in 2016 that he was not asking for a backdoor, but for Apple to “take the vicious guard dog away and let us pick the lock.”

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What ‘Taking the Pandemic Seriously’ Means Now

What ‘Taking the Pandemic Seriously’ Means Now
We need new laws, new policies, and new scientific processes to ensure that we never have to go through this again.
By Derek Thompson
Apr 26 2021
https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/04/how-pandemic-proof-world/618682/

America’s leaders and health-care elites are fixated on taking the pandemic seriously. President Joe Biden, Anthony Fauci, the Cleveland Clinic, TheWashington Post, The New York Times, and, yes, The Atlantic, all agree: We should “take the pandemic seriously.”

I take the pandemic seriously, myself. But at this stage of the crisis, I would like to nail down the terminology. What does it mean for an advanced nation to take a pandemic “seriously”? And are we sure that’s what we’re actually doing?

In the past 13 months, the concept of seriousness has been equated with the level of sacrifice people are willing to stomach. How much of our social and emotional lives are we willing to cancel? How many consecutive days are we willing to stay inside? How many masks are we willing to don? How many schools are our local leaders willing to close? And how many retailers? And how many restaurants? And how many parks, and how many beaches?

Some of these sacrifices are, or at least were, plainly necessary. Some of them were less essential. But the fact that any of these sacrifices was required for more than a year in the most scientifically advanced moment in human history is a catastrophic failure that deserves our fury and attention.

Going forward, “taking a pandemic seriously” should be a matter not of mandatory sacrifice but of creative preparation. We need new laws, new policies, and new scientific processes to ensure that we never have to go through this again. We need to pandemic-proof America—and, just as urgently, to pandemic-proof the world.

So how do we do that? We can (and should) talk about better testing, or better ventilation, or clearer public-health communications. But all of these solutions are provincial compared with the single best way to pandemic-proof the planet: We need to vaccinate the world much, much faster.

Global vaccine inequality is stark. For nations leading the world in rapid vaccination, such as Israel, the pandemic appears to be nearly over. Meanwhile, the coronavirus is still raging in Brazil, and India is dealing with a terrifying explosion in cases. One model suggests that India could be experiencing as many as 7 million COVID-19 infections every day. These outbreaks are tragic for local populations. But their risks affect all of us. As the virus continues to thrive and mutate in other countries, these places can be hot zones for variants, which can spread and threaten the world.

Last year’s vaccine breakthroughs, which led to the speediest authorization of new vaccines in history, might seem like a pinnacle of human achievement. Not everybody is so impressed. “People say, ‘Oh wow, it’s so great that we got a vaccine in a year,’ but almost 3 million people have died,” Florian Krammer, a vaccine scientist at Mount Sinai, told me. “Eleven months isn’t good enough. A novel vaccine in about three months should be the goal.”

A 100-day vaccine: That might sound like some arbitrary, pie-in-the-sky figure. But in the past few weeks, I’ve spoken with Krammer and several other vaccine experts who believe we could make the 100-day vaccine a reality. Developing and distributing a vaccine in that time frame would require a good deal of money, a great deal of planning, and a heroic expansion of vaccine-manufacturing capacity. But compared with the cost of COVID-19—3 million deaths, countless more lives sundered and wrecked, several trillion dollars of global income lost—just about any plan would be the bargain of the century.

The 100-day vaccine plan has three parts: virus surveillance, vaccine research and development, and manufacturing and distribution.

The first step is to build a super-team of virus hunters. “We need to know what viruses are out there, because otherwise we can’t prepare for them, or vaccinate against them,” Krammer said. Several organizations, including the CDC and the World Health Organization, already monitor influenza strains in humans and animals around the world to guide the development of seasonal flu vaccines. Krammer said we should expand that effort to surveil about 100 of the most dangerous virus types, especially those that move from human to human via the respiratory tract, because they tend to be the hardest to stop.

Step two is something like Operation Warp Speed for the pandemics of the future. Once scientists have the resources to identify and track viruses with the gravest pandemic potential, a consortium of countries led by the U.S. should fund Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials around the world to test new vaccines against them. The price tag would likely run into the billions; again, a steal compared with the anguish of the past year.

The fastest way to develop a vaccine against an emergent outbreak is to already have the necessary research at your fingertips. The recipe for Moderna’s mRNA vaccine against COVID-19 was developed in 48 hours. (That is not a typo.) The company’s scientists weren’t magicians or oracles: They built on four decades of grueling work with mRNA, basic research on coronavirus spike proteins, and a breakthrough in the manipulation of lipid nanoparticles. Basic virology plus vaccinology research accelerated the vaccine’s development. Krammer’s idea is to try to build a vaccine for the next pandemic before it even starts.

Step three, perhaps the hardest, is making the goop, because a vaccine that doesn’t go into any arms is the same as no vaccine at all. “Surveillance is cheap, and the vaccine trials are very doable, but the big challenge is production capacity,” Krammer said. “That’s going to be the heaviest lift and the most expensive part of this.”

Tara Kirk Sell, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, has been thinking about the problem of vaccine manufacturing for a while. In 2018 and 2019, she and a group of researchers interviewed several vaccine manufacturers about their readiness for the next pandemic. “We asked them, if there was a new vaccine that the world needed, could they manufacture half a billion doses in six months? The answer in most cases was no,” she told me.

Sure enough, despite unprecedented cooperation among global pharmaceutical companies to mass-produce mRNA vaccines and other vaccine types from AstraZeneca, Novavax, and CureVac, we are nowhere near on pace to vaccinate the world by the end of 2021.

To be fair, the vaccine supply chain is incredibly complex, and the fact that anybody is vaccinated against COVID-19 today is a heroic achievement. The facilities that engineer biotech ingredients such as cell material are completely different from the ones that fill vials and package vaccines, which are nothing like the plants that manufacture glass vials, stoppers, needles, and syringes. Getting every last vial, needle, and subarctically frozen bag from place to place even before they’re distributed to the public is a logistical feat in itself. For example, Pfizer produced raw materials for its mRNA vaccine at its Missouri plant, which it shipped to a Massachusetts facility to make the final vaccine, which it then transported to Michigan for packaging and distribution in GPS-tracked boxes that had to be kept below –70 degrees Celsius. The Washington Post reported that Pfizer has even had to build its own dry-ice factory to keep its vaccines properly chilled en route to your deltoid.

With AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson running into regulatory difficulties, scaling production of the mRNA vaccines is particularly important. The obstacle is not just intellectual property but the dearth of facilities with the human expertise and specially built equipment to manufacture enough synthetic mRNA goop to inoculate the world this year.

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US police killings of Black Americans amount to crimes against humanity, international inquiry finds

US police killings of Black Americans amount to crimes against humanity, international inquiry finds
In devastating report, human rights experts call on International Criminal Court prosecutor to open an immediate investigation
By Ed Pilkington
Apr 27 2021
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/26/us-police-killings-black-americans-crimes-against-humanity

The systematic killing and maiming of unarmed African Americans by police amount to crimes against humanity that should be investigated and prosecuted under international law, an inquiry into US police brutality by leading human rights lawyers from around the globe has found.

A week after the former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder in George Floyd’s death, the unabated epidemic of police killings of Black men and women in the US has now attracted scorching international attention.

In a devastating report running to 188 pages, human rights experts from 11 countries hold the US accountable for what they say is a long history of violations of international law that rise in some cases to the level of crimes against humanity.

They point to what they call “police murders” as well as “severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, persecution and other inhuman acts” as systematic attacks on the Black community that meet the definition of such crimes. 

They also call on the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague to open an immediate investigation with a view to prosecutions.

“This finding of crimes against humanity was not given lightly, we included it with a very clear mind,” Hina Jilani, one of the 12 commissioners who led the inquiry, told the Guardian. “We examined all the facts and concluded that that there are situations in the US that beg the urgent scrutiny of the ICC.”

Among its other findings, the commission accuses the US of:

• violating its international human rights obligations, both in terms of laws governing policing and in the practices of law enforcement officers, including traffic stops targeting Black people and race-based stop and frisk;

• tolerating an “alarming national pattern of disproportionate use of deadly force not only by firearms but also by Tasers” against Black people;

• operating a “culture of impunity” in which police officers are rarely held accountable while their homicidal actions are dismissed as those of just “a few bad apples”.

The commissioners also charge that African Americans are frequently subjected to torture at the hands of police. They assert that the use of chokeholds and other violent restraints during arrests are tantamount to torture – also a crime against humanity under international law.

Jilani, who is president of the World Organisation Against Torture, said that last week’s guilty verdict in the Floyd killing substantiated the commission’s views. “It clarified for us that the use of force during the arrest of an individual is not just dehumanizing, it clearly amounts to torture and potential loss of life.”

I was taken aback that this country, which claims to be a global champion of human rights, itself fails to comply with international law
The report arose directly out of the foment that swept the country in the wake of Floyd’s murder last May. As protests erupted across the nation and around the world, the families of Floyd and other Black people killed by police in recent years petitioned the UN to set up an official inquiry into the shootings.

Under intense pressure from the Trump administration, however, the UN shrank from being drawn into the debate. A coalition of three leading lawyers’ organizations – the US-based National Conference of Black Lawyers and the National Lawyers Guild, and the worldwide International Association of Democratic Lawyers – stepped into the breach, joining forces to stage their own independent inquiry into US police brutality.

A panel of commissioners from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean was assembled to look into police violence, and the structural racism that underpins it. Virtual public hearings were held earlier this year, with testimony from the families of the victims of some of the most notorious police killings in recent times.

Among the 44 black people who died or were maimed by police and whose cases were put under the commission’s spotlight were: Floyd; Sean Bell, killed on his wedding day in 2006 after police fired 50 bullets; Eric Garner, who died in a chokehold in 2014 crying “I can’t breathe”; Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old playing with a toy gun shot in 2014 seconds after police arrived; Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old whose killing ignited the Black Lives Matter movement; Freddie Gray who died in 2015 after enduring a “rough ride” in a police van; and Breonna Taylor, killed as she was sleeping in a police raid on her home in March 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky.

On Monday, the US Department of Justice announced that it was holding a civil rights inquiry into police practices in Louisville.

Jilani told the Guardian that as a native of Pakistan who has participated in many UN investigations probing human rights abuses, she is familiar with accounts of extreme brutality by law enforcement. “But even I found the testimonies we heard in the US extremely distressing. I was taken aback that this country, which claims to be a global champion of human rights, itself fails to comply with international law.”

She added that as she listened to relatives of police shooting victims relate their stories, “it became clear that this was no longer an account of individual trauma, it was an account of trauma inflicted on a whole section of the US population.”

The commission’s report puts the human impact of systemic discrimination against African Americans in stark terms. It says that the US is operating two systems of law.

“One is for white people, and another for people of African descent,” it said.

In the course of the public hearings held in January and February, relatives gave a more personal impression of what such trauma entails. Nicole Paultre Bell, the wife of Sean Bell, testified: “Imagine living in a world where you must explain to your children that their father, an unarmed bridegroom on the morning of his wedding, can be justifiably killed in a hail of 50 police bullets.”

One of the most visceral accounts was given by Dominic Archibald, the mother of Nathaniel Pickett who was gunned down by a police officer in 2018 for doing nothing other than walking unarmed across the street. In her testimony, Archibald began by explaining that “Nate” was her only child.

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Why the World Should Worry About India

Why the World Should Worry About India
The world’s largest vaccine producer is struggling to overcome its latest COVID-19 surge—and that’s everyone’s problem.
By Yasmeen Serhan
Apr 26 2021
https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2021/04/india-covid-19-crisis/618691/

India considered itself to be “in the endgame” of the pandemic just a few weeks ago. Now it is the global epicenter. The country recently surpassed the devastating milestone of more than 345,000 new COVID-19 cases in a single day, the biggest total recorded globally since the pandemic began.

What is taking place in India isn’t so much a wave as it is a wall: Charts showing the country’s infection rate and death toll, which has also reached record numbers in the country, depict curves that have shot up into vertical lines. Public-health experts aren’t optimistic that they will slope down anytime soon.

India’s outbreak is an enormous tragedy for its own people, but it’s also a catastrophe for the rest of the world. Ninety-two developing nations rely on India, home to the Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine maker, for the doses to protect their own populations, a supply now constrained by India’s domestic obligations. Meanwhile, the coronavirus is mutating. Reports of double- and even triple-mutant strains of the virus, which experts fear could be driving the country’s latest surge, have prompted concerns that what has started in India won’t end there. Despite efforts to restrict the spread of India’s new COVID-19 variant, called B.1.617, it has already been identified in at least 10 countries, including the United States and Britain.

If ever there were a time for intervention, it would be now. But world leaders, who have so far only paid lip service to the need for global cooperation, have mostly been preoccupied by their own internal situations. Although this approach may have served vaccine-rich countries such as the U.S. so far, India could prove its limits.

How did India, which merely a month ago thought it had seen the worst of the pandemic, get to this point? Michael Kugelman, the deputy director of the Asia program at the Washington, D.C.–based Wilson Center, told me the answer comes down to a “perfect storm” of factors that includes new and existing variants (and a lack of robust genomic sequencing to track them), a continuous stream of widely attended political rallies and religious gatherings (with no social distancing or mask wearing), and a general complacency on the part of the Indian government, which was slow to respond to a crisis in which it had prematurely claimed victory.

The result has been overwhelmed hospitals, depleted oxygen supplies, morgues that have run out of space, and crematoria that are melting from near-constant use. The country surpassed 2,000 deaths a day last week—and those are just the cases that have been recorded. This time next month, that figure could rise to as high as 4,500 daily deaths, Bhramar Mukherjee, a biostatician and epidemiologist at the University of Michigan who is tracking the situation in India, told me. Others warn that it could get as high as 5,500. Though the projections vary, the conclusions are largely the same. “All the arrows are pointing to real darkness,” Mukherjee said.

The situation has become so dire that the Pune-based Serum Institute, the manufacturer of the AstraZeneca vaccine and a major contributor to the COVAX initiative to provide doses to low- and middle-income countries, said it will not be able to meet its international commitments amid India’s domestic shortage. Once considered the pharmacy of the world, India is now being forced to import doses.

None of the Indian government’s missteps absolve the world from caring about what happens to the country, nor should they. Beyond the obvious moral reasons are practical ones too. As I have repeatedly written before, uncontrolled outbreaks anywhere pose a threat everywhere, including vaccine-rich countries such as the United States. Perhaps the biggest concern right now, in India and elsewhere, is the threat posed by more transmissible variants and their potential ability to overcome vaccine immunity. Though virtually every known variant, including those from Britain, Brazil, and South Africa, has been identified in India, in some states the Indian strain has become the most prevalent.

“It’s very similar to what we saw in Manaus,” Christina Pagel, the director of clinical operational research at University College London, told me, referring to the badly hit Brazilian city. She noted that “it’s not a coincidence that these variants are arising in populations that have developed immunity through infection.”

Then there’s the issue of vaccine supply. India’s role as a major pharmaceutical producer has been spotlighted during the pandemic; it has provided 20 percent of the world’s generic drugs as well as more than 60 percent of the world’s vaccines, despite having inoculated just 1 percent of its own population against COVID-19.* The country has the capacity to manufacture 70 million doses a month, but even with all of those doses directed toward its domestic needs, they’re not enough to meet the overwhelming demand. At present, India is administering some 3 million doses a day. To protect its population of 1.4 billion, Mukherjee said that rate would need to increase threefold.

Donating doses directly to countries that need them, including India, is a nonstarter for many countries. Most of those that have vaccines don’t have enough of them, and those with an immense surplus, such as the United States, aren’t yet confident enough in their supply to part with the excess.

But these countries can help in other ways. The first is by lifting export controls on the raw materials that are used to produce vaccines. This is what the CEO of the Serum Institute asked of the Biden administration weeks ago. On Sunday, the U.S. government heeded the request, announcing that it would look to immediately provide the raw materials necessary to help India produce the AstraZeneca vaccine, locally known as Covishield, as well as other medical supplies. The British and German governments also pledged their support.

Another option is for countries to support the appeal, put forward by India and South Africa, for the World Trade Organization to temporarily relax patent rights related to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments so that they can be manufactured, without fear of being sued, by countries that are still struggling to inoculate their populations. More than 70 former world leaders and 100 Nobel Prize laureates have appealed to the Biden administration to back the waiver, as have several U.S. lawmakers. “If we want to restore America’s global leadership in the post-Trump era, we should help other countries access the technical know-how they need to manufacture their own vaccines to fight COVID-19,” Senator Chris Murphy, one of the 10 Democratic senators who have called on the Biden administration to back the effort, told me in a statement. “It’s an easy, effective way for the United States to help.”

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