Trump to ask Supreme Court for Immunity from Prosecution, Coronavirus

Trump Thumbs UpWashington, D.C. – Under fire from a Congressional investigation into his business dealings as a private citizen and a pandemic sweeping through senior White House staff, President Donald Trump has indicated that he plans to ask the United States Supreme Court this week for immunity from prosecution and the 2019 novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

“A sitting President cannot be the target of a subpoena or a highly infectious virus which attacks the respiratory system,” stated Trump attorney William Consovoy.  “This would set a precedent in which all future Presidents would be subject to potentially having their administrations disrupted by politically-motivated Congressional investigations or mindless clumps of RNA shaped vaguely like crowns.”  Consovoy further argued that the Supreme Court “owes it to this nation to protect the President from malicious prosecution as well as infection from zoonotic diseases.”

However, legal and medical experts are divided on the question of Presidential immunity from investigation or illness.  Douglas N. Letter, general counsel to the House of Representatives, stated that “the US Supreme Court does not have the ability to supply the President with privileges that are not written in the Constitution or vaccines that have not been developed yet.”

Political historian Eric Foner has written that previous Presidents have faced similar issues related to litigation and lung disease.  Foner noted that the Supreme Court did not give President Richard Nixon immunity from subpoena in the landmark 1974 case United States v. Nixon, prompting Nixon to resign only sixteen days after the verdict was handed down, and also did not give President William Henry Harrison immunity in 1841, prompting Harrison to die from pneumonia after only 31 days in office.

Democrats have been highly critical of Trump’s financial and hygienic practices, calling them reckless and irresponsible.  “The Trump administration needs to be transparent with the American people about Trump’s business dealings and avoid large gatherings,” stated Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.  “Trump should instruct his subordinates to follow all relevant IRS and CDC regulations.  Trump needs to release his tax returns and wash his hands before touching his face.”

Asked for his opinion on Trump’s response to an unprecedented number of court and COVID-19 cases, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci hesitated, shrugged, and replied, “It is what it is.”

Posted in Politics, Satire | Leave a comment

The Easter Bump

I’m going to start off with my conclusions, then I’ll try to convince you that they’re true.

1. There does appear to have been a small increase in coronavirus spread in Georgia that coincides with the timing of Georgian Easter.  However, it’s important not to read too much into this.

2. If there is an Easter bump, it probably can’t be blamed on the Georgian Orthodox Church – in fact I think it’s more likely that private family gatherings caused the bump as opposed to Easter masses – although I think the rhetoric of the Church towards the virus and the example the Church set were both harmful.

3. The Georgian government’s measures around Easter time probably prevented a much larger Easter bump.  However, the government has not done a good job at communicating its strategy or rationale or decision-making process regarding the Easter situation.

Let’s take these conclusions one by one.

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1. There does appear to have been a small increase in coronavirus spread in Georgia that coincides with the timing of Georgian Easter.  However it’s important not to read too much into this.

Here’s a graph of coronavirus cases in Georgia from civil.ge (sorry I’ve cut off the y axis, but the graph starts back in February and we don’t need the whole thing).  The green line is total confirmed cases, and the blue line is total confirmed active cases.

The black box is the plateau that we appeared to be on before the Easter bump – a period when the number of daily recoveries approximately equaled the number of daily new infections.  The red box is the period that I am arguing represents an Easter bump – when daily new infections exceeds daily recoveries.  To be exact: April 19th was Georgian Easter.  From April 19th to 24th, the total number of active cases went up by only 3.  From April 24th to May 3rd (that is, five to fourteen days after Easter) that number went up by 52.

So what it looks like is that the suppression measures taken by the Georgian government were working, and the number of active cases was leveling off, and then something happened and the number of active cases took off again.  However, it’s notable that we were specifically looking for an “Easter bump” because of the massive controversy here in Georgia over the dispute between Church and State and this could be random statistical noise, or an increase in testing, or some other event that no one noticed.  While the “Easter bump” is noticeable, it’s also well within the bounds of other increases in infection numbers that don’t have any obvious cause.  We have to be careful not to let our biases and preconceptions influence our perception of the data too much.

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2. If there is an Easter bump, it probably can’t be blamed on the Georgian Orthodox Church – in fact I think it’s more likely that private family gatherings caused the bump as opposed to Easter masses – although I think the rhetoric of the Church towards the virus and the example the Church set were both harmful.

My main argument here is that the plateau (in the black box) where it looked like coronavirus active infections might be peaking occurred between six and thirteen days after Palm Sunday.  Remember that the controversy over churches refusing to close really came to a head when the churches insisted on holding their Palm Sunday masses in person – that was essentially a preview of Easter.  Palm Sunday mass was held, there was much hand-wringing (including headlines about an alter boy who got infected), and then… nothing.  Now, Easter is bigger than Palm Sunday in a normal year, but that’s because Easter gets even very casual Christians to come to church.  Those casual Christians might be more included to stay home and watch the Easter mass on TV – whereas the Christians who go to Palm Sunday mass are more devout and might be less likely to stay home on Easter.  So it’s at least reasonable to compare the results of Palm Sunday and Easter masses.  And since Palm Sunday mass seems to have had no effect at all, it’s reasonable to guess that Easter mass may have had little or no effect as well.

Easter is not just a time for gathering in churches – it’s also a time for gathering in families.  People travel to their family homes in the countryside and have big family dinners and catch up with cousins and neighbors and whatnot, and then on Monday they visit the cemeteries where their ancestors are buried and pay their respects.  You can tell people to wear a mask and stand six feet apart at a church, but can you tell them that at a family dinner or at a cemetery?

I don’t want to let the Church off the hook, here.  Their refusal to cooperate with the Georgian government undoubtedly undermined containment efforts.  Their claims that God would protect Georgia from coronavirus and that the faithful could not get infected from attending services were irresponsible.  If they had set an example and told people to stay home – like their counterparts in other Orthodox countries – many people would have listened and many fewer risks would have been taken.  However, the evidence I have in front of me is not consistent with the scenario of widespread infection due to attending masses.

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3. The Georgian government’s measures around Easter time probably prevented a much larger Easter bump.  However, the government has not done a good job at communicating its strategy or rationale or decision-making process regarding the Easter situation.

Here is a photo from Tomas Pueyo’s essay “Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance“.  You may have seen the essay.  This table stood out for me:

The takeaway of this table is that if your goal is to eliminate the virus from the population, you don’t have to take every measure available to stop the virus from spreading.  You only have to take enough measures to keep the transmission rate below 1 – in other words, to make sure that each infected person, on average, infects less than one other person.  Keep in mind that elimination is not the only goal – we also want to minimize suffering and death – and that the numbers on this chart are made up for the purposes of illustrating an example, rather than based on empirical data about the impact of various measures on infection rates.  In other words, don’t rely on this chart for creating real world policy or trying to predict real outcomes.

However, what’s important is the concept that this chart demonstrates: that measures taken to reduce transmission rates add up, and can be traded off against each other.  So if you can’t ban large gatherings, perhaps you can implement travel restrictions instead and get about the same amount of benefit.  This, in fact, is exactly what the Georgian government did.  Again, it’s worth mentioning that banning religious gatherings *and* restricting travel might have prevented the Easter bump entirely, or at least reduced it.  However, the travel restrictions and other draconian measures around Easter time at least kept the Easter bump small enough that it’s well within the range of other transmission bumps that don’t have an obvious explanation – in other words, it’s small enough that we might have mistaken it for random noise if we didn’t know that these transmissions occurred during the most restrictive stage of Georgia’s lockdown period.

So the Georgian government was smart to compensate for extra transmissions around Easter by placing additional travel and work restrictions on the populace – however, the fact that I have not seen *anyone* recognize this suggests that the government isn’t doing a good job of justifying its decisions to the public.  Instead, I’ve heard that the restrictions were designed to prevent people from getting to church without actually closing the churches down.  I’ve also seen complaints that allowing congregations to congregate means that the Georgian government is implicitly acknowledging that no social distancing measures are necessary and that therefore coronavirus has been overhyped in order to seize control over the whole society or subdue the population during the run-up to the next election so people can’t protest Georgian Dream.

Governments need all the credibility they can get when they’re asking people to endure economic and social hardship in order to protect society at large from a deadly threat.  The government won’t get compliance with these restrictions if it isn’t transparent enough to reassure the people that it is on their side.  And yet throughout the entire confrontation with the Church, the Georgian government has been evasive and incoherent in a way that has diminished the people’s trust in their intentions and motivations.  This was an unforced error in an otherwise exemplary pandemic response.

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In the end, neither Church nor State is coming out of the Easter season looking totally, er, immaculate – but then again, it could have been a heck of a lot worse.  Honestly I’m more concerned about the government deciding to start lifting restrictions in the absence of a clear peak and subsequent drop in transmission rates.  It would be a shame if the extreme nature of the Easter lockdown – and the small size of the Easter bump – caused lockdown fatigue and an early release on restrictions, which would inevitably lead to a much larger surge in infections.  Coronavirus isn’t over, and we need to stay the course.

 

Posted in Health and Sickness in Georgia | Leave a comment

Forecasting Coronavirus

I made a series of predictions about coronavirus in mid-March. I didn’t post them anywhere because I was going to do it but then stress and laziness happened. However, I want to publicly talk about them now. Publicly making and evaluating predictions is a way to improve my ability to make predictions and my understanding of how the world works.

It is also interesting to see how my perspective changes based on new information. Registering predictions gives me a clearer picture of how my thinking worked six weeks ago than trying to look back in retrospect. For example, six weeks ago I had less faith in the competence of the Georgian government than I do now, so many of my predictions look overly pessimistic to me – but of course, the *reason* I now have more faith in the Georgian government is because of the way they have been handling coronavirus over the last six weeks. Comparing predictions with reality helps me sort of “factor out” these changes in perspective and see them with greater clarity.

Anyway, here goes – predictions from March 15th:

1. a. The coronavirus peak will not arrive before May 1st – 99%
b. The Georgian government will maintain social distancing policies, including school closures and the recommendation to work from home, until May 1st – 80%
c. School closures will continue until June 1st – 60%
d. Schools will remain closed through the end of the school year – 50%

Today it was announced that schools will indeed remain closed through the end of the school year. In retrospect it looks like I was underconfident about this, but again, I wasn’t sure how seriously the Georgian government would take this.

Interestingly, it is at least possible that we actually have hit the “coronavirus peak” in Georgia, given that the number of infected (active infections) was at 307 three days ago, then dropped to 302, then back to 307, and is at 305 today. However, it is clear to me in retrospect that I was assuming that the “peak” would occur when coronavirus had run through enough people to start approaching herd immunity, rather than when a particular government had embarked upon an 18-month-long total lockdown. Given that Georgia is loosening restrictions starting next week, and that we’re expecting at least some kind of Easter surge, I predict 307 won’t be the peak number of infections (confidence: 90%).  Looking at the global data, we’re nowhere near the peak – the number of active cases is still steadily increasing.

2. a. The coronavirus peak will arrive between May 1st and June 1st – 30%
b. The coronavirus peak will arrive between June 1st and July 1st – 30%
c. No coronavirus peak (it is not seasonal, or southern hemisphere cases spike in a way that requires continued countermeasures in northern countries) – 39%

Well, this one is hard to evaluate, since it isn’t even May 1st yet, let alone July 1st. However, it now looks like enough countries have done enough suppression that the peak – by which I mean the peak number of active cases (total cases – deaths – recoveries) – will be delayed significantly.  It looks like the world is outperforming my expectations, which is comforting.  It’s also clear that I was basing these predictions, perhaps too heavily, on the 1918 Spanish flu, which had a clear double peak, with a dip in the summer, and which did not incur the kind of suppression measures that we are now seeing.  It’s also clear that I wasn’t thinking clearly enough about the meaning of “peak” – obviously there will be *some* peak; it’s not like the number of active cases will hit a plateau and then never decline again.

I am still fundamentally uncertain about whether and to what extent corona will be seasonal and how that will effect overall global numbers, given the rates of infection in tropical regions and the population of the world that does not live in a climate zone with a clear summer coming up.  It’s also the case that the US is nowhere near having the pandemic under control – in fact, as of now they have about a third of the world’s confirmed cases, and they’re already talking about reopening – so I could definitely see a sustained increase in corona cases in the US overwhelming any decrease in cases in the rest of the world for the next several months, if not longer.

3. If coronavirus peaks by summer (60%), then :
a. Coronavirus will have a second peak in fall – 90%
b. Starting in September – 50%
c. Starting in October – 30%
d. Starting in November – 10%

This one is even farther out, and again, these are mostly 1918-inspired guesses.  Nothing much to say here.  My goal was to try to figure out what would be going on with my school next year – would we reopen in September?  If so, how long would we stay open?  That led to these:

4. Therefore:
a. Social distancing/school closures by October 1st – 45%
b. by November 1st – 70%
c. by December 1st – 80%

If anything, I am now even more confident that some kind of social distancing will be in place during the next school year, including school closures/remote learning going on at least for part of the next school year.  I’ve looked at New Zealand’s guidelines for opening schools – reduced hours, subject teachers teaching remotely, isolating students into small groups with no contact between groups – and… let’s just say I don’t envision them working in Georgia.  Futhermore, the Georgian government has stated that it will be urging remote work and social distancing whenever possible for at least the next year.

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With all that said, I’m making updated and revised predictions here:

1. a. A global coronavirus peak (in active cases) will not arrive before May 1st – 99.99%
b. The Georgian government will maintain social distancing policies, including school closures and the recommendation to work from home, until May 1st – 99.9%
c. School closures will continue until June 1st – 99.9%
d. Schools will remain closed through the end of the school year – 99.8%

2. a. A global coronavirus peak will arrive between May 1st and June 1st – 5%
b. A global coronavirus peak will arrive between June 1st and July 1st – 10%
c. Global coronavirus active infections will not have any peak before July 1st – 85%

3. If there is a global coronavirus peak by August 31th, then:
a. Coronavirus will have at least one more peak between September 1st and November 30th – 90%
b. Starting in September – 50%
c. Starting in October – 30%
d. Starting in November – 10%

4. z. Schools in Georgia will operate through distance learning from the beginning of the next school year – 45%
a. If schools open, they will switch back to distance learning by October 1st – 55%
b. by November 1st – 75%
c. by December 1st – 85%

5. a. Georgian borders are still closed by July 1st – 90%
b. by October 1st – 70%
c. by January 1st – 55%

I will try to revisit these numbers every few months, and work on calibrating my confidence levels appropriately.  I’ll also give myself a formal score once all of these dates pass and I can see how my March predictions and April predictions each hold up.

Posted in Health and Sickness in Georgia | Leave a comment

An Open Letter to Science Journalists

I used to complain a lot about science journalism when I lived in the US. Now unfortunately it’s time to complain again.

Journalistic coverage of coronavirus in the US has undoubtedly killed people.

The most egregious case I’ve found is that CNN reported on March 14th that asymptomatic transmission of coronavirus might be a problem – adding that this contradicted a March 1st statement by a Trump official that asymptomatic spread was not important – while the BBC reported on the threat of asymptomatic transmission on *January 26th*. Coronavirus spread unchecked in the US for *7 weeks* because Americans were told that they only had to watch out for people with symptoms, *7 weeks* after people in the rest of the world knew that was not true.

Now – what was the confidence level of the BBC’s reporting? What was the quality of BBC’s data vs. CNN’s data? Well, we don’t really know, because science journalism was so completely god-damned derelict that they never deigned to even try to find out such information.

Now we’re seeing the same thing with masks. Someone in the US woke up, looked around the world, and noticed that mask-wearing countries were beating the crap out of America’s anemic coronavirus response. Masks aren’t exactly new, and they were used by the public in Asian countries to combat the last 2 coronavirus epidemics, so this shouldn’t actually be news to anyone, but the CDC just this week issued new guidelines suggesting that community use of face masks could help save lives. Of course you can still find news articles containing the US government’s previous advice that people not wear masks (I guess science journalists don’t do corrections or retractions?) – complete with condescending tone implying that someone would have to be a complete idiot to even consider the idea! And yes, of course, everyone is “doing their best” and this crisis is hard for all of us, but let’s be clear on the math: “masks slow community transmission” + “slowing community transmission saves lives” = “admonishing the public not to buy or use masks killed people”. (Note that this is different from saying “instead of buying masks and going out, skip the mask and stay home” – this is good advice both for risk management and for dealing with a sudden mask shortage for healthcare workers; but regardless of mask availability concerns, the public should be correctly informed about the effectiveness of masks. Also note that the evidence on masks is limited and uncertain, but the best evidence we have – much of which is, admittedly, weak and/or circumstantial – says that masks help to slow community transmission.)

Apologists will say that all the data are new and officials are responding to the best science available at the time. Both of these claims are false. Again, when there’s a 7-week lag or more between what people in other countries know and what people in the US know, it’s not that the US is using the “best available data”. It’s that the people running the US are idiotic narcissistic solipsists who think that other countries aren’t real. The job of the press should be to correct the record and inform the public, not to credulously repeat the claims of the most obviously bewildered political and scientific leaders the world has ever seen.

What should journalists – and journalists who cover science, in particular – be doing differently?

Here’s a grab bag, in no particular order:

1. Never report the results of a study in isolation. The point of journalism is to provide contextual information about new events, not to provide free PR for publishers and study authors. Here’s what I almost never see in articles that report studies: was the article reporting the study peer-reviewed? How reliable is the journal that published the study? How do these study results compare with previous studies? How can the differences be explained – were there different sample sizes, different methods, differences in demographics of the subjects of the study, etc.? Do the authors have any notable biases? How confident should we be in the results of the new study, based on what we knew previously and on the strength of this new study (aka Bayesian reasoning)? What do we still not know? You don’t necessarily need to do every one of these steps for every single study – the amount of context needed to understand the study is a judgment call, but if your judgment as a reporter says “none” then you suck and you should quit your job before you get anyone else killed.

2. Don’t trust the government. Government officials have been known to be wrong, and some might even even (*gasp, grasps for pearls*) lie to the press from time to time. When a government official makes a scientific claim, you need to treat that claim skeptically. Attempt to verify or disprove it. Rate how confident a member of the public should be about the claim. It was a government official who said on March 1st that asymptomatic transmission would not be a problem – and, again, journalists could easily have accessed data from five weeks earlier contradicting that claim, and then evaluated the conflicting claims as a public service. Instead they reported it and got people killed.

3. Read international news. Maybe before you do an article, do a quick Google search to see if someone else has covered this topic and what they had to say. Pay close attention to sources from countries with at least one functional news organization.

4. Talk to more than one expert. I know the journalistic standard is something like “if you have a source you have a story” but while that might be a responsible standard for reporting who won the forty-third annual pie-eating contest at the county fair, when it comes to life-or-death matters like how to stay safe from a global pandemic, you might want to consider soliciting – and weighing – a variety of views and perspectives.

5. Pay attention to precise distinctions and learn how to interpret scientific language. “There is limited evidence for the effectiveness of masks” is not the same as “you shouldn’t wear masks because they certainly do nothing.” If you hear the first statement from scientists but report the second statement to the public, you have misled the public, either inadvertently or deliberately. Similarly, “does not recommend” and “recommends against” have different meanings. It’s a fact that the CDC doesn’t recommend listening to Nirvana. However, if you report that fact using that phrasing, people will read it and think that listening to Nirvana is bad for your health, rather than that the CDC has no official opinion about whether you should listen to Nirvana. Your job as a journalist is to not to report facts, it is to report facts in a way that facilitates their correct interpretation by the general public. All of the news outlets that just printed “The CDC does not recommend that members of the general public wear masks” were deceiving the public by presenting an out-of-context fact in a way that suggested an incorrect interpretation..

6. Maintain skepticism and admit uncertainty. Science is an uncertain and imperfect process. Studies that seem good can fail to replicate. Experts can be biased or mistaken. New techniques are constantly revising our understanding. Scientists are careful to use their language to express the inherent uncertainty of the process, and you should be too. I’m not talking about evolution or global warming here – when there is an overwhelming scientific consensus, you should obviously report high levels of certainty. But what I’m talking about is that when a study says “there seems to be some correlation between coffee and cancer” you report “NEW STUDY PROVES COFFEE CAUSES CANCER” and when another study finds flaws in the methodology of the first study you report “SCIENTISTS DEBUNK COFFEE CANCER MYTH”. When you veer from one false certainty to the next, it confuses the public and saps their faith in science, which means that when scientists actually are certain of something – like evolution or global warming – they have trouble distinguishing it from claims of the “coffee causes cancer” type. What you should be reporting instead is “no one knows whether or to what extent coffee increases cancer risks, but this is what the evidence says and these are the limitations of that evidence”. I know, that’s not a great headline, but your duty as a science journalist is not to get clicks. Context also helps here – if there is one study that links coffee to cancer but 20 studies that find no link, and you only ever report on the one study, you’re once again prioritizing clickbait over journalistic responsibility. This is again directly applicable to the mask issue – when journalists veer from “don’t wear masks, you idiots” to “actually everyone should wear masks, here’s how to make one out of a t-shirt” it not only confuses and deceives the public, it actively depletes the ability of the actual experts to communicate accurate information to the public and have people act on that information.

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Now, if you happen to be a journalist, after reading that diatribe you might be wondering who the hell I am to be telling you how to cover science news. Good question. If only you could take that critical thinking and apply it to doing your actual job, you might actually be able to do some good in the world.

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Family Purity Day is Violence

(I wrote this in an expat discussion forum. Reposting here for permalink status.)

The WHO defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, or against a group or community that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.”

I think it is incontrovertible that violence is being done to Georgia’s LGBTQ population. For example, in the cancelling of this year’s IDAHOTB demonstration, we can clearly see that threatened physical force, in concert with past actual physical force, has intimidated Georgia’s LGBTQ rights advocates to the point where they have been functionally deprived of their human rights to freedom of speech and assembly. We have seen LGBTQ Georgians beaten, chased from the public square, and even killed.

The question is, who is participating in this violence? It is easy to blame the men who throw the stones (or swing the stools). But what about those who lead them – physically and spiritually? If Ilia II calls gays “diseased” and says they have no right to protest, and black-robed priests lead a march of thousands to lynch a small group of at most a few dozen demonstrators, injuring 28, and then Ilia later condemns the violence, what are we to believe? Does anyone really have any doubt about what his role was in the violence?

In commemorating that date as Family Purity Day, the Church is doing additional harm to Georgia’s queer community and individuals. It is a clear and transparent move to deprive Georgia’s LGBTQ movement of its international connections and to ensure a ready group of demonstrators each year to once again drive this movement underground. It also clearly communicates that LGBTQ individuals have no role in the family – that they are “impure.” If this is not psychological violence, I don’t know what is.

How can any honest person fail to see the harm done to Georgia’s LGBTQ population by the celebration of Family Purity Day? The psychological harm. The removal of human rights. The threat – the highly credible threat – of physical harm to anyone who dares to show up and ask society to stop bullying, ostracizing, beating, and ultimately murdering LGBTQ human beings?

Any defense at all of Family Purity Day is not just a defense of that violence – it is a continuation of that violence. It is a message to LGBTQ Georgians that their voices and their lives do not matter, that the injured and dead Georgians who just wanted to live their lives like anyone else deserve to be erased from history.

People will call me names, will say I am full of hatred, will equate writing this post with the murder of human beings – those are silencing tactics, and they are hurtful. They are ways of discrediting and disregarding the voices of oppressed minorities. They have been used against every group ever to advocate for civil rights. Do not be fooled.

If you are against violence, you are against Family Purity Day. If you are not against Family Purity Day, you are not against violence. And you are entitled to your opinion, but be aware that expressing the opinion that Family Purity Day is anything other than an ongoing persecution of an extremely vulnerable Georgian minority is hurtful, and people will get hurt by it. Some will post vomit emojis, some will walk away and say nothing, and some will write multiple 600-word essays in response. But the inescapable fact is that if you support this travesty in any way you are causing real pain to real people.

Posted in Civics, Politics, Sex and Gender | 1 Comment

Dead Links and the Dirty Ground

As part of my Blogging Renaissance* I decided to update my blogroll.  Hoo boy.  The link rot is real.

Apparently I haven’t actually gone through and removed dead links from my sidebar since sometime in 2012.  That makes sense, since my son was born at the end of 2012, and my life became somewhat busier accordingly.  Of course the real nail in the coffin of this blog was going from teaching in Georgian public schools to private schools with an International Baccalaureate curriculum.  I’ve promised to talk a little bit about what that’s like – and believe me, I have *many opinions* about the IB that I’d like to share – but that’s for another time and post.  Suffice it to say that IB schools come with an… enhanced workload.

So my link pruning process is simple.  I go through all my links and check if they still link to anything.  If they don’t I delete them – a few former Georgia bloggers have deleted their blogs entirely, so those links aren’t really worth keeping (I suppose I could try searching them in the Internet Archive, but maybe it’s better to just let some things go).  If the link is still alive, I review the content and make sure it’s still in the right category. For example, if it’s a blog that hasn’t had a post since 2012 (there were a surprising number of these), I move the link from “Georgia Blogs” to “Inactive Georgia Blogs”.  If it’s an active blog, but the person no longer writes about Georgia, the link goes to “Former Georgia Blogs”.

That process has taken me on a fun little trip down memory lane.  I stalked caught up with some old friends.  I read some stories about people’s flights out of the country at end of the 2011-2012 school year (that was the last year that TLG was trying to be huge; for the next year they downsized 75% of their teachers, which probably accounts for the surprising number of blogs that cut off abruptly in 2012).   I thought about some of the friends I’ve made who have come and gone.  It’s bittersweet.

But the whole process got me thinking about how the English-speaking Georgia-focused internet has changed since I came here.  When I was researching Georgia in summer 2010, I found maybe three blogs about Georgia, none of which were still active.  Then TLG brought hundreds of foreigners in, and maybe ten percent of us blogged, which really resulted in a sort of Georgia blog explosion, so by 2012 my Georgia blogroll alone was like 40 entries long.  But then something else happened.  Georgian Wanderers took off, Georgia started getting more press coverage in travel sections of newspapers throughout the Western world, and the government’s efforts to transition from Russian to English as Georgia’s second language started to bear some serious fruit.  TripAdvisor and Google Maps set up shop in Georgia.  Suddenly you didn’t need to wade through some random blogger’s personal anecdotes to find the information you wanted.  Georgia became more legible.

In a way this mirrors the process of the transition between Georgia as a country with three fast food restaurants – all of them McDonald’s – to a country with a fairly well-developed market in Western amenities, including a selection of fast food restaurants, shopping malls, foreign clothing brands, etc.  It’s very obvious how much the country has changed every time I take a ride down Chavchavadze in Tbilisi and think back to the first time I saw it, seven years ago.  For people who left in 2012 and came back after 2015 or so, the change can be jarring.

I personally really like the direction that Georgia is heading.  I like being able to find information quickly on the internet.  I like Google Maps.  I like Wendy’s.  I especially like the plethora of non-smoking restaurants and the burgeoning craft beer scene in Tbilisi, which I promise to talk about more in my Hamburger Revolution post.  But recognizing the difference between Georgia 2017 and Georgia 2012 means I have to recognize that this blog has a new purpose.  I can no longer reasonably expect to be one of the few reasonably comprehensive sources of information about the country available in English.  There is less value in “this is what it’s like in Georgia” style posts, partially because there are now so many of them and partially because “what it’s like in Georgia” is less relevant to expats than it used to be, given the large number of Western-style accommodations and resources.

But, you know, things are still happening, so I’ll talk about them.  I’ll aim to do some restaurant reviews.  Like I said before I’ll do some education posts.  I’ll try to update my blogroll with modern links to the various media agencies that now cover Georgia in English.  And every once in a while I’ll try to stir up some trouble, just to keep things interesting.

So anyway.  Enjoy my new blogroll!


*i.e. my three-week-long plan to procrastinate from the pile of work I have to do this Winter Break

[video: Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground – The White Stripes]
Posted in Administrative, Changes | 1 Comment

A Blogging Renaissance

First of all, Merry Christmas!  Even though the day is over here in Georgia, it’s still Christmas back in the States.  Of course in Georgia it’s just another Monday, which I realized when I got stuck in traffic trying to go to a friend’s house at 5pm.  Yeah, traffic in Tbilisi has become highly problematic.

I’ve decided to kick my blog into high gear.  Get back on the horse, as it were.  That means more posts, which means widened scope.  I’m going to resolve to do three posts per week.  Can I keep this up?  I have no idea!  But I’m going to try, because I am crazy.

I intended this blog as a travelogue.  When I left the US I planned to use Georgia as a jumping-off point and move on to teaching in Asia and then the Middle East, which apparently pays the best.  I thought I would write about a different country every year or so.  Somewhere along the way I became sort of addicted to Georgia, so I can no longer reasonably claim to be “peripatetic”, which is fine because people don’t really know what that word means anyway.  But I am still a “pedagogue”, which means “teacher”.  So I figure I can write about teaching instead of/in addition to travel, and that will probably give me a bunch of interesting topics to explore so it isn’t just me posting once every five months.

Conveniently I am doing a Master’s in Education.  That should give me plenty of interesting things to complain write about.  I am also now teaching Global Politics.  So perhaps writing about issues that pertain to Global Politics would be okay.  We’ll see!

Topics I’d like to cover in the next few posts:

  • Approaches to behavior in Georgian schools
  • Differentiation in teaching
  • Fabrika, The Tbilisi Burger Revolution, and how things have changed in seven years
  • The International Baccalaureate (IB)
  • etc.

So stay tuned! (#deadmetaphor)

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